Internet Streaming: How Exactly does it Work

internet streaming

Streaming is an online method of watching video content or listening to audio content. You don’t have to download the heavy multimedia files in this process. Streaming works in real-time and all you need is a stable internet connection to enjoy all your preferred content. The convenience of this mechanism has given birth to a good number of streaming services. Some top names are Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and so on.

We all skim through reviews, user testimonials, comparisons of various ISPs to ensure smooth streaming sessions. When I had to switch to a new ISP, I read more than five WOW vs Comcast comparisons to finally pick one. Because I hate lags and interruptions in streaming while I’m in the midst of a thrilling series.

If we compare the contemporary fast streaming services with the first websites which were developed, we have come a long way. In the past, the sites had a couple of images and a few chunks of text. Today, we can stream long movies in high definition, as and when we like.

What is Streaming?

If it is to be described in simpler terms, streaming includes movie-specific streaming sites, sites that air live TV channels, even music and podcasts on any internet-connected device. The media file that is being streamed is stored remotely on a client device. And it transmits over the internet a few seconds at a time.

Video and audio data is broken down and converted into data packets. Each of these packets contains a small piece of the file. The browser on the client device has audio and video players, which intercept these data packets and interpret them as audio or video.

The Difference between Downloading and Streaming

  • Streaming is done in real-time. It is more efficient and you can start watching it as you press the play button.
  • When downloading, you have to wait until the whole thing is downloaded to view it.
  • When a video file is downloaded, it takes a good amount of space on the hard drive of the device.
  • When streamed, the browser simply plays the video. It doesn’t have to copy and save it. The video keeps loading a little bit at a time and the content is not saved locally.

What is Buffering?

The media players on which the content is streamed load a few seconds ahead of time of the content being streamed. This ensures that the audio or video content continues to play without any delay or interruptions. This is done to avoid pauses especially if the connection breaks briefly. This process is called buffering. Buffering makes the video-playing process continuous and smooth.

Factors Which Slow Down Streaming


From the Network’s Perspective


  • Network latency could be a cause. There are a variety of factors, which impact latency. This includes where the content that is being accessed is stored.
  • Another cause could be Network congestion. The streaming performance can be degraded when too much data is being sent via the network.


From the User’s Perspective


  • Wi-Fi problems can be an issue. Try restarting your LAN router or you can switch from Wi-Fi to Ethernet to improve the streaming performance.
  • The slow performance of client devices can be another problem. Playing videos requires good processing power. If the streaming device is generally slow or has many other processes running, the streaming performance is impacted.
  • If you are not getting enough bandwidth, your streaming speed can be affected. A minimum of 4 Mbps is required in order to stream video. And if you want to watch it in HD quality, you will probably need more.

Tricks to Have Fast Streaming

You should know that streaming is also subject to the same sort of performance degradations and delays as are the other forms of web content. Since the streamed content is actually stored somewhere else, the hosting location plays a significant and impacting role. This is true for all other types of content, which are there on the internet.

Let’s say If I’m – a WOW subscriber in New Jersey – trying to stream a series on Netflix from a server in Los Gatos, even on the best WOW speed, the video content will have to travel thousands of miles to reach the viewer. It translates to a long buffering time. For this very reason, streaming providers such as Netflix and others use CDN (content delivery networks) to store content in various locations across the globe. This makes the availability of the content easier for and closer to the users.

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