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How Streaming Works: A Beginner’s Guide

What is streaming, and how does it work? Check out this guide to find out.

Streaming content has become increasingly popular over the past decade. First popularized by YouTube and Netflix, there are now scores of streaming service providers, including Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime. From original programming to classic films and documentaries, streaming gives customers seemingly endless options for entertainment. But what is it really, and how does it work?

What is Streaming?

Streaming is an activity that allows you to watch television and movies as well as listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or music on Internet-connected devices like smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, and the like. The media being watched or listened to is stored on a remote server and is transmitted across a high-speed Internet connection a few seconds at a time. It is not necessary to download any media files.

While many people associate the idea of streaming with already-recorded media content, streaming live TV or video content that is broadcast in real-time is also a great option for users.

How Did Streaming Start?

YouTube, launched in early 2005, was the first popular streaming platform. In December of that year, YouTube became much more well-known to the general population due to Saturday Night Live airing its first video. YouTube continued to gain notoriety and grew immensely popular throughout the mid-2000s.

Netflix was the next platform to gain popularity and market share as a streaming service. Founded in 1997 as a DVD rental mailing service, Netflix launched its streaming option in 2007. Since then, more and more streaming platforms have launched and grown in popularity.

How Does Streaming Work?

Streaming works in much the same way other content and files travel over the Internet. When you stream, audio content and video content are divided into small, high-quality data packets that are sent over the Internet. Each media file is only a small piece of the entire file, and the data packets are interpreted by an audio or video file in the video streaming device browser. 

Streamed media files, unlike typical downloads that are saved on your device, are automatically removed once they have been played. Although streaming content isn't permanently saved to the device, portions of it are temporarily cached to ensure smooth playback.

What Equipment is Needed for Streaming?

Streaming requires high-speed Internet and a compatible Internet-connected device. As you can imagine, Internet speed plays a big role in streaming. Most people stream with a high-speed WiFi connection — which means you’ll also need a modem and router — but streaming via an ethernet cable and just a modem works, too.

Video quality of streamed content depends on the type of Internet connection you have, the Internet package you’re paying for, the quality of the device you’re streaming to, and your modem and router.

Streaming Devices

If you have a smart TV, such as a Roku or Apple TV, streaming apps will already be installed. So long as you have a subscription to the streaming app, you’ll be able to sign in and start watching or listening immediately.

Another popular way to stream content is through a smartphone. You can download streaming apps onto your mobile devices and stream content using data or by connecting to WiFi.

Additionally, you can also stream content via AirPlay, gaming consoles, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and some smart home devices and hubs.

Do You Have to Pay for Streaming?

No, but be wary of rogue actors who operate unlawful websites that expose you to illegal action, malware, and other threats. The majority of streaming services have a monthly cost or yearly plan; however, there are some free and legal streaming platforms, including NBC’s Peacock, Pluto TV, and the Roku Channel.

Get Streaming with Help from SmartMove

As streaming becomes increasingly popular around the world, more households are relying on streaming services for their go-to entertainment. Make sure you have the Internet connection you need to stream everything you love. SmartMove can help you find the perfect Internet service provider today.

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