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Chapter 5. Introduction to Streaming Media

Chapter 5. Introduction to Streaming Media

Internet streaming media changed the Web as we knew it— changed it from a static text- and graphics-based medium into a multimedia experience populated by sound and moving pictures. Now streaming media is poised to become the de facto global media broadcasting and distribution standard, incorporating all other media, including television, radio, and film. The low cost, convenience, worldwide reach, and technical simplicity of using one global communications standard makes web broadcasting irresistible to media publishers, broadcasters, corporations, and individuals. Businesses and individuals once denied access to such powerful means of communication are now using the Web to connect with people all over the world.

The remarkable technology that allows a web site visitor to click on a button and seconds later listen to a sporting event, tradeshow keynote, or CD-quality music is the result of a rather simple but powerful technical innovation—streaming media. Streaming works by first compressing a digital audio file and then breaking it into small packets, which are sent, one after another, over the Internet. When the packets reach their destination (the requesting user), they are decompressed and reassembled into a form that can be played by the user's system. To maintain the illusion of seamless play, the packets are "buffered" so a number of them are downloaded to the user's machine before playback. As those buffered or preloaded packets play, more packets are being downloaded and queued up for playback. However, when the stream of packets gets too slow (due to network congestion), the client audio player has nothing to play, and you get the all-too-familiar drop-out that every user has encountered.


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