What Is Streaming Video (Media)?

Streaming is huge. Here are the basics

Streaming media is video and audio data transmitted over a computer network for immediate playback rather than for file download and later offline playback. Examples of streaming video and audio include YouTube, internet radio and television broadcasts, and corporate webcasts.

What Does Streaming Mean?

Streaming media refers to any multimedia, like movies, TV, music, or podcasts, that you access and play over a network, like the internet. Streaming isn't the same thing as downloading.

When you download a file, it ends up on your computer for as long as you want to keep it; that's where you play it from. When you stream a file, it stays on the server wherever you found it and plays over the network to your computer. It does not become a file you keep on your computer.

Are Streaming Movies Different From Streaming Video?

Several terms are frequently kicked around when it comes to streaming. Streaming video and streaming movies are often referred to as two separate categories in the streaming world. Still, these are the same at a technical level.

A person navigating Netflix on a tablet
Netflix

All streaming movies are streaming video. Not all streaming video is a streaming movie. Technically, streaming a video from YouTube isn't any different than watching a movie on Netflix, except for, probably, the length. In either case, you're accessing a video file on a server somewhere on the web and playing it over your internet connection. However, a YouTube video isn't a movie. It's a short video. Meanwhile, on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other major streaming services, you can watch a full-length feature film that ran in theaters.

Using Streaming Media

High bandwidth network connections are generally needed to work with streaming media. Specific bandwidth requirements depend on the type of content. For example, watching a high-resolution streaming video requires more bandwidth than watching a low-resolution video or listening to music streams.

To access media streams, open an audio or video player on a computer, and then initiate a connection to a server system. On the internet, these media servers can be web servers or special-purpose devices set up specifically for high-performance streaming.

The bandwidth (throughput) of a media stream is its bit rate. If the bit rate is being maintained on the network and a given stream drops below the rate needed to support immediate playback, dropped video frames or loss of sound results. Streaming media systems normally use real-time data compression technology to lower the amount of bandwidth used on each connection. Some media streaming systems can also be set up to support Quality of Service (QoS) to maintain the necessary performance.

Requirements for Setting Up Computer Networks for Streaming

Streaming media used to be a big deal. When streaming first became popular, many people didn't have an internet connection that could support it. Now, though, almost everyone does.

The bare minimum requirement for streaming over the internet is usually put at 25 Mb/s or twenty-five megabits-per-second. The average cable internet provider usually offers 100 Mb/s or 200 Mb/s at their base price. Some providers offer 1 Gb/s speeds, which works out to around 1000 Mb/s.

ASUS RT-AC68U Wireless AC-1900 Router
ASUS

When it comes to your home network, you'll need a minimum of Wireless N capability on both the router and the device that you're streaming to. Most routers support either Wireless AC or Wireless AX. These are capable of speeds beyond those of Wireless N. In other words, don't worry too much about your router.

When it comes to streaming devices, Wireless N is the bare minimum all come equipped with. Whether you have an Amazon Fire device, an Apple TV, or a Roku, you won't find a device incapable of streaming.

You should keep an eye out for one more thing. There are two wireless signals, 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz. 2.4 GHz is the older of the two and more commonly used. Therefore, there's usually more interference on that signal. So, 5.0 GHz is generally considered the better option for streaming media. It isn't available on all devices, but check to see if you can take advantage of it.

apple tv
Apple, Inc.

Setting up Computer Networks for Streaming Media

Certain network protocols have been specially developed for streaming media, including Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). HTTP is also commonly used if the content to be streamed consists of files stored on a web server. Media player applications contain built-in support for the necessary protocols so that users typically do not need to change any settings on their computers to receive audio and video streams.

Examples of media players include:

When you think of streaming, you may think of the popular streaming services. These have apps for streaming devices and smart TVs or are available on the web through a browser. Unlike streaming players, these don't require any special configuration or inputting the address of a video. These are simple to use, browse to what you want, and select it.

A phone with Hulu showing on it.
Ted Soqui / Getty Images

Here are some of the most popular streaming services: