There are various delivery methods of your broadband connection, including DSL, cable internet, fiber optics (a form of DSL that utilizes pure fiber wire as opposed to copper wire), satellite internet or wireless internet. You selected your internet provider based upon what options were available to you, what speed you wanted to pay for, and what price point you were willing to accept. There are also various methods of delivering a television subscription to you, including cable or satellite television. In fact, in most facets of the global marketplace, goods and services are delivered by various delivery avenues.
You can think of the streaming vs. downloading as simply a difference in delivering your content. There are both benefits and limitations to each one, Understanding these differences, and analyzing the pros and cons will help you decide which service is for you . . . because in-stream service subscriptions and online stores, there are some significant differences. This article is a very simplified explanation of very complicated technology but will help the average person get a handle on some of the terminology used.
Video is delivered from two different types of services. Streamed content is requested by an end-user, and is delivered over the internet via a streaming server, which is really specialized software. This software analyzes the supported format available, determines the connection’s bandwidth, as well as the media player being utilized; it then makes adjustments to the process to ensure a positive outcome on the other side. These adjustments, also known as buffering, are not necessarily a negative thing – simply the software responding to and making adjustments for the conditions available, to maximize the end-user experience. The software also reacts to any messages it receives from the media player, such as commands to play, pause, rewind, or fast forward. Streaming will require a minimum of 1.5 Mbps download capacity, but a higher bandwidth is highly recommended.
Streamed movies or TV shows are not stored on your computer, and they cannot be accessed again unless you request the content again online, either through an unlimited stream subscription queue or as a rental. It also generally requires specific software support on your end. There may be a program available from the service for you to download that will support the seamless interaction between your connection and their server (e.g. as in an app for your mobile device), or you will have specific instructions to follow to ensure success when you set up your home system. Playing streamed content requires you to access broadband networks.
Downloaded files are delivered from a web server. There is a lot of confusion between stream vs. download because web server downloads are sometimes referred to as an “http stream”. When a request is made, the webserver takes a compressed file and delivers it in bulk to the end user’s PC. The download time depends on the amount of bandwidth you have available, however, which means you might have to wait a while before enough of the file is downloaded so that you can begin viewing the content. Downloads are able to be stored on your PC (or in some cases cloud services for easy access) so that you can watch over and over again. You do not have to be connected to the internet to play downloaded video files.
A live stream is broadcasted directly over the internet live, and as such must use a streaming server in order to deliver a live product. It can either be free content, or a paid event. You will be instructed on which media players are required to view your live content, which often can be downloaded for free. Again, a minimum of 1.5 Mbps is recommended for the best viewing experience without hangups or hiccups.
On-demand subscriptions like Neflix and Hulu utilize streaming servers. Amazon Instant Video and iTunes have both stream and download options. Depending on which service you are interested in, you will need to determine any additional equipment requirements should you wish to view your content on a device other than your computer, like a gaming console, set-top box, or IE-TV.