What Is Streaming?

If you watch a video or listen to music online—whether it be on a smart phone, tablet, or computer—you're probably streaming the data.
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Written by Staff Writer • Posted on Apr 09, 2014

Have you heard the term streamingand wondered what it means? If you watch a video or listen to music online—whether it be on a smart phone, tablet, or computer—you're probably streaming the data. Wikipedia defines streaming media like so:

“[M]ultimedia that is constantly received by and presented to an end-user while being delivered by a provider. Its verb form, ‘to stream’, refers to the process of delivering media in this manner; the term refers to the delivery method of the medium rather than the medium itself.”

So streaming is a continuous steam of data delivered in “real time”—in the moment that data is consumed—rather than downloading the data for use at a later time. If you remember back before cable or broadband services, we had dialup. Because dialup was so slow if you wanted to watch a video or listen to music you had to download the media first, which took considerable time. Not only was downloading a slow process, but sound and video files can take up valuable space on the computer itself. Streaming allows you, the user, to experience data immediately, with a minimal wait and no downloads. It's pretty great.

Streaming does require a high speed Internet connection, so it has only become popular more recently, as home networks have become faster and more reliable. Usually when you're streaming content—a full-length movie, for example—it may take a few minutes to get started. That's because part of the file needs to be sent from the server where it exists online to your computer; this pre-loading of data on your computer is called buffering. Once the initial process of buffering begins, it continues in the background, transmitting bits of the file to your computer as you watch, so that your viewing goes uninterrupted. If there are hiccups—a busy server or a bad connection—your movie may be interrupted by more frequent instances of buffering.

Broadcasting agencies and service providers prefer streaming content, as it gives customers the ability to watch the content almost anywhere, at any time, on any device. It’s also harder for users to save content and distribute it illegally. The quality of video content often depends on the services used and the speed of your Internet connection.

There a lot of great service for streaming music and video with new ones popping up every day. Here are links to a number of popular streaming music and video services. Like other apps, these services all have pros and cons—some of which we will explore in future posts. Don't think you need all of them, because you just need the one or two that work best for you.

Music – Beats Music, Google Play, Grooveshark, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Last.fm, Sony Music, Pandora, Rhapsody, Rdio, Slacker, Spotify, Xbox Music

Video – Netflix, iTunes, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu, Cinema Now, Vevo, Crackle, Twitch, YouTube, Xbox Video, Sony Video Unlimited

Keep in mind that streaming data uses up bandwidth. Most providers have a limit on how much bandwidth you’re allowed each month.