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Understanding Streaming Video

Aug 18, 2007
There are two ways to view media such as video or audio on the internet and that is downloading and streaming video.

Downloading

When you download a file the entire file is saved on your computer's hard drive, which you then open and view at your leisure. The one major advantages is having quicker access to different parts of the file once downloaded, but it has the big disadvantage of you having to wait for the whole file to completely download before any of it can be viewed. If the file is quite small this may not be too much of a problem for you, but for large files it can tax your patience.

The easiest way to provide downloadable video files is to use a simple hyperlink to the file on your site or server. A slightly more advanced method is to embed the file in a web page on your site using special HTML code.

Making video files available this way is known as HTTP streaming or HTTP delivery. HTTP means Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, and is the same protocol used to deliver web pages. For this reason it is easy to set up and use on almost any website, without requiring additional software or special hosting plans.

Streaming

Streaming video works a bit differently, you or your visitors, the end users can start watching the file almost as soon as it begins downloading. The file is sent to the user in a constant stream, ideally, and the user watches it as it arrives. The main advantage with this method is that no waiting is involved, depending on the download speed of your service. Streaming media has additional advantages such as being able to broadcast live events, sometimes referred to as a webcast or netcast.

True streaming video must be delivered from a specialized streaming server.

Progressive Downloading

There is also a hybrid method known as progressive download. In this method the video file is downloaded but begins playing as soon as a portion of the file has been received. This simulates true streaming, but doesn't have all the advantages.

HTTP Streaming Video

This is the simplest and cheapest way to stream video from a website. Small to medium sized websites are more likely to use this method than the more expensive streaming servers.

For this method you don't need any special type of website or host, just a host server which recognises common video file types (most standard hosting accounts do this). Bear in mind you can't stream live video, since the HTTP method only works with complete files stored on the server. This method is very popular and will be used on this site and video syndication sites such as YouTube.

Create a Streaming Video File

There are many streaming video formats and the main one are probably familiar to you already. The most popular are Macromedia Flash, RealMedia, Windows Media, Quicktime and MPEG.

Each format has its pro and cons and people have their own preference. Ideally you should have files in all formats but this is far from practical and it is best to choose one or two at the most. Flash is the format recommended on this site and the Flash Player is usually found on the majority of computers connected to the internet.

There are two ways to create stored streaming video files

Once you have created you video in, let's say, .avi format then you need to prepare it for uploading to your web site ready for streaming by one of the following methods.

1. Use a conversion utility program. This takes an existing digital video file (avi) and converts it into the streaming format of your choice, in this case Flash video.
2. Export streaming files from video editing software such as Adobe Premiere or Ulead Video Studio.

Conversion Utilities

A conversion utility is a stand alone program which imports a video clip and exports it in a different format. Examples include RealNetworks Real Producer External Link and Sorenson Squeeze External Link. There are simpler, cheaper and even free software programs for converting videos into Flash format which are perfectly adequate for the scope of this web site.

Basically, you simply open a file and select which which format to save it as. You can set various parameters to optimise the final video. The program will then chug away for some time while it makes the conversion.
About the Author
Bruce Walls rights about the benefits of using video on your website to increase traffic. Read this article and more at WebsiteVideoGuide
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