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How Does Streaming Technology Work?

It feels like streaming is everywhere these days, from video content to music to video games. Coincidentally, it also happens that innovations in cloud streaming have allowed these entertainment mediums to flourish in “as-a-service” type offerings. Just how have the innovations in technology allowed streaming services to grow and expand? Let’s investigate.

What is Streaming?

Remember the good old days when you couldn’t stream video without it being a massive time sink or spending loads of time waiting for the video to buffer? Gone are those days. Streaming is the continuous transmission of video or audio content over the Internet. It’s what powers services like YouTube, Spotify, and other music and video streaming services. Even some games can be streamed over the Internet now. Essentially, the data for these files are stored on a server somewhere, then get sent a little bit at a time to the user.

The Difference Between Downloading and Streaming

It used to be the case that you would have to download the entire file before you could use it on your PC, but streaming offers a better approach. Rather than saving a copy of the file to your hard drive, streaming allows users to simply play them from their web browser through an Internet connection.

All that said, a big difference between downloading and streaming is that, well, it requires an Internet connection. Without a good one, your connection will not be stable, creating problems for whatever you are trying to stream. For example, a video might need to buffer if your Internet connection cannot keep up with the rate of download. In a lot of ways, you can compare it to the way that many companies rely on the cloud for their computing. While it is great to have the content ready and available locally, sometimes accessing it through the Internet is easier and more efficient. However, without that connection, access is cut off.

The Technology

When you stream something from the Internet, the file is split into data packets containing video and audio. These data packets are essentially compressed files that are designed to be sent and unpacked at their destination. Ultimately, how the streaming provider goes about doing this is up to them, and it is largely based on the purpose of the streaming and what value it provides to their customers.

For example, when streaming video content from Netflix, the quality of the video and audio is a pretty big deal. In comparison, a video conference with multiple attendees might prioritize connection with others for real-time interaction over the quality of video and audio.

Two of the more common transfer protocols used by streaming services are user datagram protocol (UDP) and transmission control protocol (TCP). They are typically used for two different types of streaming. TCP provides a dedicated connection between the server and the client to ensure that all of the content is received properly. UDP, on the other hand, cuts some corners, so to speak. The result is that TCP makes for a more reliable connection compared to UDP, but UDP offers a faster and more efficient connection.

In the aforementioned example, you might see how the two can be used for two different purposes. TCP is better when the content delivered needs to be lossless, while UDP is better in situations when some loss is acceptable. In the end, streaming providers go with the option that allows them to provide the best services possible to their clients based on the goods and services they are rendering.

We hope you learned something interesting and new about the technology behind streaming services with today’s blog. What are some topics you would like to see us cover in the future? Be sure to let us know in the comments.