Streaming multimedia is a form of multimedia, which itself is media that uses different forms of content. Combinations of text, audio, still images, animation, video, and interactivity content forms are typical modes of multimedia presentation.
The streaming variant is being sent, in a continuous flow, to the user of the content by the streaming provider. In this context, examples of the content stream include audio and video.
The streaming refers to the method of delivery of the content flow rather than to the nature of the content. Apart from telecommunications networks, most systems for delivering content are either streaming, such as radio and television, or non-streaming, such as audio CDs, video cassettes, and books. The term ‘to stream’ means, quite simply, to deliver media in this particular manner.
The first attempts were made, in mid-20th century, to display media on computers. However, due to the high cost and very limited capabilities of computer hardware at that time, development did not proceed at any pace for many years.
By the 1990s, personal computers had become sufficiently powerful to display a variety of media forms. The main technical problems associated with streaming at that time were:
Having sufficient CPU power, which refers to the central processor, that can execute computer programmes, and also bus bandwidth, which is the capacity of the system to transfer data over a connection, in order to support the required rates of data flow.
Creating low latency, which allows delays too swift for human detection between an input being processed and the corresponding output providing real time characteristics, interrupt paths in the OS, or operating system, to prevent buffer underrun, which occurs when a buffer, which is a storage device used to compensate for a difference in rate of flow of data between devices used to communicate between two devices or processes, is fed with data at a lower speed than the data is being read from it.
However, computer networks had still not developed fully, and so media content was normally processed over non-streaming channels, such as CD ROMs.
Between the late 1990s and into the next century, there were significant advances in the internet, such as:
An increase in network bandwidth, especially in the last mile, which referred to the final leg of delivering connectivity from the communications provider to a customer.
Greater access to networks, especially the internet.
The application of standard protocols and formats, such as TCP/IP, HTTP, and HTML.
Significantly greater commercialisation of the Internet.
With the advent of powerful home computers and advanced operating systems, these advances in computer networking enabled streaming media to become a practical and affordable proposition for the nation at large.
Another advance was the introduction of stand-alone Internet radio devices, which are hardware devices that receive and play audio from internet radio stations or the user’s PC or other embedded media servers. For the first time, this provided listeners with the ability to listen to audio streams without the requirement of a PC.
In general, multimedia content is large, so media storage and transmission costs are still significant. In order to compensate for this, media is generally compressed, such as in a ZIP file format, which provides compression, and also acts as an archiver, storing many source files in a single destination output file, for both storage and streaming.
A media stream can be either on demand or live. In the case of on demand streams, the content is stored on a server for long periods of time, and is available for transmission on request. Live streams, on the other hand, are only available at one particular time, such as in a video stream of a live sporting event.