Streaming Media

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Streaming media has become a tool used by web developers on many websites. If you have recently seen websites with diffferent types of media, it was most likely some form of streaming movies, streaming TV, streaming radio or streaming video. With streaming media, video, audio and animation can be on your website - all made possible by streaming media. Continue reading to learn more about this cool tool.

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What is Streaming Media?
Streaming refers generally to the ability to split sound, video, or animation files into little pieces and to serve them a piece at a time, so that a player on the receiving end can begin playing the pieces it has already received without having to wait to find out what else might be coming along.

There are two main types of streaming that you may come across. Most web hosts will claim to have the ability to "stream" RealAudio, RealVideo, Quicktime or other multimedia formats, but it is important to understand that this usually refers to "streamed downloading", otherwise known as "progressive streaming".

Progressive Streaming
With progressive streaming, a file is downloaded from the server, but it is served in such a way that the player knows it can start playing as soon as it receives the start of the file, and that the rest of the file will follow. With this type of streaming, the entire file will still be downloaded and stored on the visitor's computer.

Many hosts aren't very supportive of sites that serve a lot of multimedia files, since these files use the most disk space and bandwidth and cost the host the most money, so be sure to get an idea of your host's attitude towards multimedia files before signing up. In addition, some hosts (especially free hosts) place restrictions on the types of files that can be stored on the server (for example, some hosts don't allow mp3, avi, or mpeg files to be uploaded.

Real-time Streaming
If you are serious about streaming, or serving a lot of multimedia files, you probably want to consider a web host that offers real-time or server-based streaming.

With real-time streaming, the media is usually broadcast to your browser directly from a special server that is dedicated to managing streaming connections with the media player. Three popular types of streaming servers are the QuickTime Streaming Server from Apple, the Real Networks Server or the Windows Media Server.

With real-time streaming, the file is stored on the streaming server, but the entire file isn't downloaded to the player, it is broadcast a moment at a time, so that the player just plays what it has received as it receives it, much like a television. Unlike with television, however, real-time streaming allows you to jump around or skip ahead to any location in the media clip.

Real-time streaming is great for live broadcasts, long movies, spoken audio, presentations, and other files where the viewer may want to skip around, or doesn't want to download a huge video file.

Real-time streaming servers usually cost money and are therefore rarely included in low-cost hosting packages. Some web hosts offer streaming servers for an additional fee, and some web hosts don't support real-time streaming at all. Also different hosts support different server types. Real Networks' Server is the most common, with Quicktime being a bit harder to find.

Do I need Streaming Media?
If you plan to have streaming audio or video, especially if you think you will need real-time streaming, you will need to be sure that your web host offers the streaming server you prefer. Be aware that streaming media takes up more web space and bandwidth than a typical web site, so plan ahead, since you will also want a hosting package with these additional resources.

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