Streaming Streaming TV, Movies, & More 1,269 1269 people found this article helpful Internet Streaming: What It Is and How It Works Watch movies and TV without a cable subscription by Sam Costello Writer Sam Costello has been writing about tech since 2000. His writing has appeared in publications such as CNN.com, PC World, InfoWord, and many others. our editorial process Facebook Twitter Sam Costello Updated on April 10, 2020 reviewed by Ryan Perian Lifewire Tech Review Board Member Ryan Perian is a certified IT specialist who holds numerous IT certifications and has 12+ years' experience working in the IT industry support and management positions. our review board Article reviewed on Apr 08, 2020 Ryan Perian Cut The Cord Cut The Cord Introduction Before You Cut the Cord How to Cut the Cord Internet Streaming: What It Is and How It Works Get Internet w/o Cable or Phone Get Internet With a Bluetooth Phone Discover Cable Alternatives Android TV Vue from Playstation AT&T TV Now CBS All Access YouTube TV All About Hulu Sling TV Devices To Have on Hand What are Dongles? Benefits of TV Antennas Apple TV Amazon Fire TV Chromecast The Ultimate Guide to Roku Tweet Share Email Streaming is a technology used to deliver content to computers and mobile devices over the internet. Streaming transmits data—usually audio and video, but increasingly other kinds as well—as a continuous flow, which allows the recipients to begin to watch or listen almost immediately without having to wait for a download to complete. Two Kinds of Downloads Miguel Co / Lifewire The internet has two main ways to view media: streaming and progressive downloads. Streaming is the quickest means of accessing internet-based content, but it's not the only method. Progressive download is another option that was around for years before streaming was possible. The key differences between the two are when you can start watching and what happens to the content after you view it. Progressive downloads are the traditional kind of download that anyone who's used the internet is familiar with. When you download an app or game or buy music from the iTunes Store, you need to download the entire thing before you can use it. That's a progressive download. Streaming lets you start using the content before the entire file downloads. When you play a song on Apple Music or Spotify, you can click Play and start listening almost immediately. You don't have to wait for the song to download before the music starts. This is one of the major advantages of streaming: It delivers data to you as you need it. The other major difference between streaming and downloads is what happens to the data after you use it. For downloads, the item stays on your device until you delete it. For streams, your device automatically deletes the data after you use it. A song you stream from Spotify isn't saved to your computer (unless you save it for offline listening, which is a kind of download). Requirements for Streaming Content Streaming requires a relatively fast internet connection; just how fast depends on the type of media you are streaming. While each streaming service can be a little different in terms of requirements, a safe bet for services like Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix are 2-3Mbps for SD, 5-6Mbps for HD, and 13-25Mbps for UHD and 4K content. Keep in mind, if others are on your network (family members watching their own videos), it could affect what you are trying to watch. Live Streaming Live streaming is the same as the streaming discussed above, but it's specifically used for internet content delivered in real-time as it happens. Live streaming is popular with live television shows, gaming broadcasts, and special one-time events or sports. Streaming Games and Apps Streaming has traditionally delivered audio and video, but Apple has recently implemented technology that allows streaming to work with games and apps, too. This technique, called on-demand resources, structures games and apps to include a core set of functions when the user first downloads them and then streams new content as the user needs it. For example, a game might include its first four levels in the initial download and then automatically download levels five and six when you start playing level four. This approach is useful because it means downloads are quicker and use less data, which is especially important if you have a data limit on your phone plan. It also means that apps take up less space on the device they're installed on. Problems With Streaming Because streaming delivers data as you need it, slow or interrupted internet connections can cause problems. For example, if you have streamed only the first 30 seconds of a song, and your internet connection drops before any more of the song has loaded on your device, the song stops playing. The most common streaming error that crops up has to do with buffering. The buffer is a program's temporary memory that stores the streamed content. The buffer is always filling up with the content you need next. For example, if you watch a movie, the buffer stores the next few minutes of video while you're watching the current content. If your internet connection is slow, the buffer won't fill up quickly enough, and the stream either stops or the quality of the audio or video decreases to compensate.