Streaming videos online may be one of the most common uses of the internet. Whether streaming movies, watching YouTube videos, skimming through Vine clips, or using any other form of streaming media, the average internet user spends an incredible amount of time watching streaming media. To put this in perspective, 6 billion hours of YouTube video are watched by users per month. 100 million internet surfers watch streaming media every single day, and if you were to watch all of the video content transmitted by the internet in 1 month, it would take you 5 million years.
If you were to ask the average internet user to define streaming video, you would probably get a confused answer. Something along the lines of, “video that just comes off the internet without having to download it” would be the best answer you might get, unless you ask an IT professional. And to a certain extent, this definition is correct.
One way of watching media on your computer is by downloading and then playing it once it has been downloaded in its entirety. All of the data is on your computer, which you can save, allowing you to watch at any time without an internet connection. Streaming video is watching the media as a constant stream of data that plays as soon as it reaches your device. The data flows constantly, and if the internet connection is disrupted, the data will stop and the media will be halted until the connection is stable again.
When streaming media first became a technical possibility, it took a long time for internet users to watch or listen to anything. The data flow was slow and often it took longer to reach the computer than for it to be played, and the media would load and play in fits and starts. The technology has since improved, allowing for modern internet surfers with stable internet access to watch an entire movie via streaming media without any pauses or delays.
Normally, streamed media begins as high quality digital data, known as raw data. This data is compressed and sent immediately over the internet, where it can be played without being downloaded or saved to the hard drive. The compression of this data tends to reduce the quality, so that some frames are left out or pixilated when they are viewed as streaming media.
Compression of this sort is why so many streamed videos appear in poor quality, or why sound clips may skip slightly when being played. In order to transmit the data compactly and quickly, some level of quality had to be sacrificed. The level in which the video is originally shot and compressed as well as the speed at which it is transmitted over the internet can all have an effect on quality when the streamed video is finally viewed on your computer.
Video streaming has further enhanced the connection of internet users on a global scale. With the vast improvements in technology in recent years and in those to come, the world is becoming a smaller place.