What is a Streaming Service

With so many people learning how to cut the cord with cable TV, streaming video services have become common. Nearly everyone knows the names Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. These movie and TV platforms provide an excellent alternative to cable TV, but exactly what is a streaming service and what do they do?

What is streaming on the internet

Downloading vs streaming content

There are two main ways to get content to your computer, through downloading it, and by streaming it. Downloading means that you use your computer or some other device to connect to a server somewhere and ask for a specific file. Once you’ve transferred that file, generally over the internet, you have it on your local computer, and you can then enjoy it to your heart’s content. This is pretty much how we did things in the old days. You know, before Spotify, Amazon Prime, CDs, and the wheel.

We’re able to get lots of different kinds of content or data this way. Everything from movies and pictures to songs and computer files. However, since we’re talking about getting content to our devices, I’m assuming we want movies, music, and TV shows for the most part. In that case, we’re probably talking about progressive downloads. Progressive downloading basically just means that you’re able to start watching or listening to the content before it’s completely downloaded to the device you’re on. It kind of feels like streaming, but there are definitely differences.

For instance, once you download a file onto your computer, you can then listen to or watch it as many times as you’d like. Also, it stays there until you delete it. And, you can move it from device to device as long as you know how and have the right connectivity.

So, how is streaming different?

With streaming, like with progressive downloads, you can consume your content before it’s finished downloading. But with streaming, you can start your show as soon as the stream begins. Streaming relies on a strong, fast internet connection to provide this feature. If your internet connection is fast, the data that’s transmitted can begin as soon as you press play.

Another difference between the two is that in order to delete content after a progressive download, you have to manually delete the media file as I mentioned. On the other hand, streamed content is automatically deleted from your device. It’s normally stored briefly in a temporary spot on your computer or device, and when you’re done with that content it’s deleted for you.

Streaming problems and drawbacks

The fact that streaming is dependent on a strong internet connection has created some problems. One being that content often buffers when a connection is slow or spotty. You may have heard of buffering. If you’ve watched anything online, you’ve for sure experienced it.

A buffer is a kind of memory area on your device that stores the streamed media content. As you watch a movie, the buffer is storing the next couple of minutes or so of whatever you’re watching or listening to. However, when an internet signal isn’t fast enough, the content is interrupted until the buffer can store more media and catch up.

Almost all serious problems that you’ll experience with streaming content will be based on internet trouble. Either your internet will go out, or your streaming service’s will. Also, however, the streaming service may encounter technical issues at their data center or who know what else. No matter what happens, it’s time for a puzzle.

A very brief history of broadcast television

As TV sets grew more and more commonplace in the US in the late 1940s, so did the number of licensed television stations. However, during the Korean War, broadcast television was moved to the back burner. This allowed local areas to create their own community antenna television systems. These systems transmitted distant signals to local communities and would eventually become the basis for cable TV.

The 1950s represented the golden age of television as many people call it. Network shows became increasingly popular, such as I Love Lucy and The Lone Ranger. As televisions entered more households over the years, they became fixtures in family entertainment and everyday life. There were more and more TV networks, which then gave birth to the era of cable TV.

Established in 1997, Netflix is most likely the most recognizable subscription-based streaming service out there. They’ve even made their way into our cultural language and idioms. Initially, Netflix allowed customers to rent DVDs through the mail; however, as DVD sales decreased, they transitioned into online streaming, becoming one of the very first video streaming services. Their switch to video-on-demand through the internet helped them become the biggest online streaming video service on the market today.

Streaming devices

The funny thing is that I remember the days of getting DVDs in the mail with Netflix. I also remember when they started their streaming service.

It was in 2007 that Netflix proposed a new plan to offer videos streamed online. As it grew in popularity, TV shows began to outnumber movies on their site. Other providers began to follow suit, and as more people switched to streaming, demand for devices that offered these platforms in one central location grew. In more recent years, certain streaming devices have risen to the top of the market.

The major players in streaming devices

The Roku Streaming Stick has proven to be a top choice for many consumers. It’s an affordable, intuitive device that supports most video streaming services, as well as many music streaming platforms. The home menu is incredibly straightforward, and it plugs into an HDMI outlet on your TV, so there is no need for extra hardware or cords.

Another top choice is the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Though very similar to the Roku, the Fire Stick can be controlled by Alexa. As it is an Amazon product, the Fire Stick gives preference to Amazon Prime programming. It’s similarly priced and also plugs into an HDMI outlet.

If you’re looking for a device to match your other Apple products, the Apple TV 4K is the best choice for you. Although it’s one of the most expensive devices on the streaming service market, hardcore Apple enthusiasts won’t stream with anything else. Like most good streaming devices these days, it supports 4K streaming, so the quality is excellent. You can use Siri to control the device; however, it doesn’t support non-Apple music streaming programs.

The best option for your budget may be the Google Chromecast. As long as your device, such as a computer or phone, has the streaming service installed, such as YouTube or Hulu, you can cast it to your TV. This alternative is relatively straightforward if you know exactly what you want to watch. However, it can be a little limiting for indecisive viewers since browsing for movies can be more difficult.

I started with Chromecast way back when, but have moved on to the Fire TV Stick and Roku. The interfaces on those two devices are just far superior in my opinion.

Streaming live sports and other events

Live sports and events aren’t just for cable TV anymore. Instead, streaming services are implementing extra plans or add-ons available for viewers wanting to catch the latest game or live event. Some popular streaming services that feature sports programming include Fubo TV, Hulu, ESPN+, Playstation Vue, and Youtube TV. With some research, you’ll also find that there are other service providers that are even free, such as the NBC Sports App. Be aware that those free ones are often very limited in terms of what sports they show.

Streaming live games and events is still in the early phases and has received mixed reviews. Some services focus on one sport or specialize in eSports, so depending on your viewing preferences, specific services might be better suited for you.

Ditching cable continues to be harder on sports fans than almost any other segment of viewers.

The future of streaming

Some streaming services have implemented streaming into games and apps as well. Relatively recently, video game companies have introduced cloud gaming. With cloud gaming, you can rent games in a similar way to renting movies on Netflix. This means that consumers aren’t forced to buy high-end gaming rigs and new consoles, and can instead use their own PCs.

Streaming games has also made downloading easier. For example, a game download can include a certain amount of levels. Once you reach the last level, the game will automatically begin downloading the next few levels. This allows for a faster download, which uses less data, and takes up less space on your device. Though this is still in the beginning phases, it has become a fast-growing venture with Microsoft, EA, and Google adapting their own services.

Because of the popularity of streaming services, the need for cable TV has dwindled over the years. As these streaming services put out original content exclusive to their subscribers, cable network channels are forced to compete, and many customers have seen this reflected in higher bills.

Surveys have also stated that consumers are more satisfied with the customer service and experience from online streaming services compared to cable companies, resulting in millions of people cutting the cord on cable. Other experts say that viewers won’t kick cable companies to the curb so quickly, but it looks like streaming services won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

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