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Streaming media is multimedia that is constantly received by and presented to an end-user while being delivered by a provider. The verb "to stream" refers to the process of delivering media in this manner; the term refers to the delivery method of the medium, rather than the medium itself, and is an alternative to file downloading.

A client media player can begin to play the data (such as a movie) before the entire file has been transmitted. Distinguishing delivery method from the media distributed applies specifically to telecommunications networks, as most of the delivery systems are either inherently streaming (e.g. radio, television) or inherently non-streaming (e.g. books, video cassettes, audio CDs). For example, in the 1930s, elevator music was among the earliest popularly available streaming media; nowadays Internet television is a common form of streamed media. The term "streaming media" can apply to media other than video and audio such as live closed captioning, ticker tape, and real-time text, which are all considered "streaming text". The term "streaming" was first used in the early 1990s as a better description for video on demand on IP networks; at the time such video was usually referred to as "store and forward video", which was misleading nomenclature. Live streaming, which refers to content delivered live over the Internet, requires a form of source media (e.g. a video camera, an audio interface, screen capture software), an encoder to digitize the content, a media publisher, and a content delivery network to distribute and deliver the content. The primary technical issues related to streaming were: having enough CPU power and bus bandwidth to support the required data rates creating low-latency interrupt paths in the operating system to prevent buffer under run.

However, computer networks were still limited, and media were usually delivered over non-streaming channels, such as by downloading a digital file from a remote server and then saving it to a local drive on the end user's computer or storing it as a digital file and playing it back from CD-ROMs.

New technologies : During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Internet users saw:
greater network bandwidth, especially in the last mile increased access to networks, especially the Internet use of standard protocols and formats, such as TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML commercialization of the Internet. "Severe Tire Damage" was the first band to perform live on the Internet. On June 24, 1993, the band was playing a gig at Xerox PARC while elsewhere in the building, scientists were discussing new technology (the Mbone) for broadcasting on the Internet using multicasting. As proof of their technology, the band was broadcast and could be seen live in Australia and elsewhere. Microsoft Research developed Microsoft TV application which was compiled under MS Windows Studio Suite and tested in conjunction with Connectix Quick Cam. Real Networks was also a pioneer in the streaming media markets, when it broadcast a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners over the Internet in 1995. The first symphonic concert on the internet took place at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Washington on November 10, 1995. The concert was a collaboration between The Seattle Symphony and various guest musicians such as Slash (Guns 'n Roses, Velvet Revolver), Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam), and Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees).

When Word Magazine launched in 1995, they featured the first-ever streaming soundtracks on the Internet. Using local downtown musicians the first music stream was "Big Wheel" by Karthik Swaminathan and the second being "When We Were Poor" by Karthik Swaminathan with Marc Ribot and Christine Bard.

Business developments : Microsoft developed a media player known as ActiveMovie in 1995 that allowed streaming media and included a proprietary streaming format, which was the precursor to the streaming feature later in Windows Media Player 6.4 in 1999. In June 1999 Apple also introduced a streaming media format in its QuickTime 4 application. It was later also widely adopted on websites along with RealPlayer and Windows Media streaming formats. The competing formats on websites required each user to download the respective applications for streaming and resulted in many users having to have all three applications on their computer for general compatibility.

Around 2002, the interest in a single, unified, streaming format and the widespread adoption of Adobe Flash prompted the development of a video streaming format through Flash, which is the format used in Flash-based players on many popular video hosting sites today such as YouTube. Increasing consumer demand for live streaming has prompted YouTube to implement a new live streaming service to users. Presently the company also offers a (secured) link returning the available connection speed of the user.

Consumerization of streaming : These advances in computer networking, combined with powerful home computers and modern operating systems, made streaming media practical and affordable for ordinary consumers. Stand-alone Internet radio devices emerged to offer listeners a no-computer option for listening to audio streams. These audio streaming services have become increasingly popular over recent years, as streaming music hit a record of 118.1 billion streams in 2013. In general, multimedia content has a large volume, so media storage and transmission costs are still significant. To offset this somewhat, media are generally compressed for both storage and streaming.

Increasing consumer demand for streaming of high definition (HD) content has led the industry to develop a number of technologies such as WirelessHD or ITU-T G.hn, which are optimized for streaming HD content without forcing the user to install new networking cables. In 1996, digital pioneer Marc Scarpa produced the first large-scale, online, live broadcast in history, the Adam Yauch-led Tibetan Freedom Concert, an event that would define the format of social change broadcasts. Scarpa continued to pioneer in the streaming media world with projects such as Woodstock '99, Townhall with President Clinton, and more recently Covered CA's campaign "Tell a Friend Get Covered" which was live streamed on YouTube.

Today, a media stream can be streamed either live or on demand. Live streams are generally provided by a means called "true streaming". True streaming sends the information straight to the computer or device without saving the file to a hard disk. On-demand streaming is provided by a means called progressive streaming or progressive download. Progressive streaming saves the file to a hard disk and then is played from that location. On-demand streams are often saved to hard disks and servers for extended amounts of time; while the live streams are only available at one time only (e.g., during the football game).

Streaming media is increasingly being coupled with use of social media. For example, sites such as YouTube encourage social interaction in webcasts through features such as live chat, online surveys, and more. Furthermore, streaming media is increasingly being used for social business and e-learning. Due the popularity of the streaming medias, many developers have introduced free HD movie streaming apps for the people who use smaller devices such as tablets and smartphones for everyday need.

Protocols:

  • The audio stream is compressed using an audio codec such as MP3, Vorbis, AAC or Opus.
     

  • The video stream is compressed using a video codec such as H.264, HEVC, VP8 or VP9.
     

  • Encoded audio and video streams are assembled in a container bitstream such as MP4, FLV, WebM, ASF or ISMA.
     

  • The bit stream is delivered from a streaming server to a streaming client using a transport protocol, such as Adobe's RTMP or RTP. Newer technologies such as Apple's HLS, Microsoft's Smooth Streaming, Adobe's HDS and non-proprietary formats such as MPEG-DASH have emerged to enable adaptive bitrate streaming over HTTP as an alternative to using proprietary transport protocols. Often, a streaming transport protocol is used to send video from an event venue to a cloud transcoding service and CDN, who then use HTTP based transport protocols to distribute the video to individual homes.
     

  • The streaming client may interact with the streaming server using a control protocol, such as MMS or RTSP.

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