How Does Video Streaming Work: The Science Behind It

How Does Video Streaming Work: The Science Behind It
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Back in the 1990s, watching videos online was never fun. You could compare it to driving in stop-and-go traffic during very heavy rain. Most computers then were slow and had a dial-up internet connection. So, the majority of the time, the media was only buffering, and it was pixelated and choppy. Nevertheless, it always made us curious about how does video streaming work.

It has been a long time since then, and streaming media has come a long way. It was found that in 2006 itself, people were watching over a million streaming videos in one single day on YouTube. In the same year, ABC began streaming its popular TV shows on the web.

Streaming media has become a part of our daily lives, which is why it would be awesome to know how does this whole thing work. So, let’s dive into this subject.

How Does Video Streaming Work?

In simple terms, streaming is a kind of technology that is used to deliver content to mobile, tablets, and computers over the internet. Streaming will transmit data—typically video and audio, but other kinds too—as a continuous flow. This will allow the recipient to watch or listen to them almost right away.

The Kinds of Downloads

In order for streaming to make sense, it is essential that you understand more about how the data, which is the audio, video, emails and so on, come on to your device. There are two ways that the content is downloaded over the internet.

Streaming is undoubtedly the quickest way if you want to access content that is internet-based. However, it isn’t the only way. Progressive download is the other option, which was used for a very long time before streaming became possible.

  • Progressive Downloads

These are the very traditional kinds of download we all do and are familiar with. To give an example, this would be when you download a game or an app from the store. In order to use it, you need to download the whole thing first on to your device, which makes it a progressive download.

  • Streaming

This is different. Streaming will allow you to use the content even before the whole file is downloaded on your device. For example, when you stream an audio file on Prime Music or Spotify, you can instantly click play, and it starts playing.

There is no waiting for the whole song to download in order to listen to it. This is a massive advantage for streaming as it delivers you the data the second you need it.

The biggest differences between progressive download and streaming are determined by when you can begin using the content and what happens to it once you are done with it. When it comes to what you do with the data for both the kinds of downloads, there is a difference too. For traditional downloads, the data is stored on your device’s memory until you choose to delete it yourself.

Streaming, on the other hand, deletes the data automatically. There are options to save it for offline listening on certain streaming services, but that gets counted as a download itself.

What Are the Requirements for Streaming Video/Audio?

The most important requirement for streaming is a steady and fast internet connection. Streaming also depends on the kind of media you choose to stream. In general, a 2Mbps connection is the bare minimum that is needed for streaming.

This is ideal for standard definition videos without any buffering, skips, or reduction in the video quality. If you want to stream HD and 4K content, you will need five and nine Mbps minimum, respectively.

What Is Live Streaming? Is it Any Different?

Live streaming works the exact same way as we mentioned earlier for regular streaming. The only difference is that, in live streaming, streaming is specifically used for the content to be delivered in real time, literally at the moment when it happens.

Live streaming is very popular. You will often find live streaming for some special television shows or sports. One of the most popular live streaming events on the planet is the Apple Keynote Event that happens every September to launch their new iPhones and other Apple devices.

Streaming Apps and Games

While you would think that streaming is something that is exclusive only for videos and audios, the truth is, you can also stream games and apps. In fact, Apple very recently launched this new technology that will allow streaming services to work with apps and games as well.

This technology, which is called on-demand resources, allows apps and games to include a core set of functions and features when you first download it. It then allows to stream new content as and when the user requires it.

To make this simpler, let us give you an example. When you first download a game, all you get are the first five levels that come with the initial download. Once you reach and start playing level five, the sixth and seventh level will automatically start to download.

This is a great approach, as the downloads will be quicker and it will use lesser data. This is very important if you have a phone plan with a data limit. This also means that the app will take lesser storage space on the device.

Issues with Streaming

While there are hardly any issues that arise from streaming, the only time you will face issues is when you have slow or interrupted internet connections. This will cause your videos to stop and buffer constantly.

A buffer is a program’s temporary memory that will store the streamed content. The buffer always fills up the content that is needed next to view. What does this mean? Let us give you an example.

When you are watching a movie online, the buffer will already store a couple of minutes more of the movie while you watch the current content. The amount of data it is capable of storing entirely depends on how slow or fast your internet connection is.


So, do you now know how does video streaming work? The truth is that there is no elaborate science behind it. It is a fairly simple technology, don’t you think? What streaming mainly depends on is the speed of your internet or Wi-Fi connection. Be sure to choose a plan that is fast or at least offers a speed of 10 Mbps for a seamless video viewing experience.

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