Today, with the growing importance of video, some of the most common questions asked about delivering internet video are related to streaming method:
- What is the best way to deliver video?
- Is it through streamable media or through progressive downloads?
- Should I be considering adaptive streaming?
Understanding how streaming works and the principles behind some of the most popular methods can help can help in answering some common questions. Let’s take a look at the different methods of video delivery and help you decide one that works best for you.
Video streaming is done through specialized media servers that are optimized for transferring digital audio and video. A streaming server starts a two-way conversation with the viewer’s machine – one for transferring video and the other for controlling messages (play, pause stop etc.) between the video player and the server. The video player connects to the media server which starts transferring the ‘fragment’ of video being watched, plus a buffer. The whole video file is not transferred but the playback is smooth and immediate. Streaming also helps save bandwidth, as only a part of the video being watched is transferred along with a small buffer.
Progressive download method involves delivering the video through a regular HTTP server. In this technique, the video is downloaded and temporarily stored on the viewer’s machine. Video starts playing as soon as a part of it is available and simulates true streaming but with limited capabilities. To start playback from a particular point of the video, you will have to wait until that part is downloaded. Once fully downloaded, it’s possible to start playback at any point without having to wait. Since the method requires downloading of the whole video file, at times this may cause bandwidth wastage.
Adaptive streaming is a process in which multiple copies of the source video are generated at different bitrates. Videos are switched based on the viewer’s network connection and other variables. If the connection is good, a high quality video is delivered. But if the connection speed drops, a lower quality is delivered. Adaptive streaming thus provides the best of all possible worlds.
If your viewers are on a good connection, then you can save bandwidth by choosing the basic streaming method. If you are trying to reach viewers over slow connections, progressive streaming might be a good choice. If you are not sure of your viewer’s internet connectivity speeds, adaptive streaming can be a safe alternative to deliver the best viewing experience. The method you choose depends on your requirements.