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Introduction
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very much harder to justify. The intended audience of this book also includes people who might not already be fully conversant with streaming media, so the traditional medium of the book is necessary as a means of awakening the imagination of the reader to the creative possibilities and social impact of streaming technology. After all, even rocket scientists learn from books!
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CHAPTER
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The Medium
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Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use.
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What Is Streaming Media
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Ask a dozen people what streaming media is and you are likely to get a dozen different answers. In its most basic definition, the only difference between streaming media and media that you have in its entirety before accessing, is that with streaming, you can begin to access the media before you have received it all. In other words, while you are watching, the rest is arriving (Figure 2.1).
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Figure 2.1 How streaming works.
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Milk Milk
Downloading is like pouring the glass of milk, then drinking it.
Streaming is like drinking straight form the carton.
Data laid down into playback buffer 8 7 6
Viewer reads data from playback buffer sequentially Media Viewer
In the world of terrestrial television and radio, media always did stream. Even where analog transmission is used, your receiver is continuously receiving data, while simultaneously displaying what it already has (Figure 2.2). With an analog television, what is displayed is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much what is currently being received. This has changed a little with digital television, because the data consists of binary numbers, which can, theoretically, be stored; but the
The Medium
average digital television receiver doesn t store very much. Again, what you are viewing is pretty much what is currently being received. Streaming is the default.
Figure 2.2 Analog streaming.
Television Television Transmitter
Flow of Data
Why does streaming matter Who cares if you get to see what you are downloading before you have it all The answer lies in the rich array of digital media types that have been invented, the vastly expanded range of available channels for distribution of that digital media provided by the Internet, and the myriad ways that this digital media can be received and rendered for consumption. With a streaming model, the consumer of streaming media has the freedom to shift attention to another stream almost instantaneously. You can effectively channel surf through all the kinds of streaming media that exist, just as you can flip channels on a television. Once, media consisted of radio, television, books, newspapers, magazines, records, and videotapes. All of these were essentially analog, in that when you made copies, there was always some loss of quality involved. Also, the product was manufactured and distributed through a vast, expensive and slow network, owned and controlled by a handful of powerful media companies. With analog media, the producer of the content had great control and the most profitable products were those that appealed to a mass audience, since economies of scale applied to the manufacturing and distribution of media products. The advent of the desktop computer created an opportunity for the invention of new media types digital media. These include digital versions of all the old media types we ve already talked about, plus new ones like three-dimensional interactive multi-player games, virtual reality,
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live video chat, synchronized multimedia, animated vector graphics, and computer-generated imagery. Digital media, when copied, can perfectly reproduce the original and distribution is via communications networks, not as physical freight. Suddenly, the economics of production and distribution of digital media and access to the means of mass distribution have swung in favor of the small producer. Now it is possible to address niche audiences profitably and logistically, not just the mass market. Not only that, but new types of digital media are being invented all the time, creating new user experiences and applications; spawning new business opportunities and growth potential. The only way to get old media was to tune into a broadcast (either through the air or on a cable network) or by purchasing a physical object (tape, newspaper, or record). This meant that consumer choice was limited to what the owner of the broadcast medium wanted to show. The broadcaster dictated what would be shown and when. Consumer choice was also limited to whatever the manufacturers of physical media wanted to make (often, these were the same companies). Distribution of media was a non-trivial financial undertaking and the media was geared toward serving mass audiences, as we have already noted. People like what they know, so vast amounts of money were spent making sure that the public knew about products that the producers wanted to ship in volume. The more they knew about them, the more they bought. Broadcasting was harnessed in the service of promoting the sale of physical media products. Digital media can be served on the Internet, via phone lines and modem, a cable modem, a digital television broadcast (DTV) carrier, cell phone networks ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line), optical fiber connection, or a corporate Ethernet, via satellite, using infrared networks or via wireless LAN (Local Area Network) connections. Remember, these distribution paths are only the ones that carry TCP/IP (Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) traffic, in which the digital media are carried in small packets conforming to this widely used communications protocol. There are many other networks and protocols which can stream media. The fact that streaming media payloads are broken into tiny packets of data for delivery presents some significant problems. The Internet was designed to be resilient. Data is broken up into small packets and each packet finds its own route to the end-user. The Internet was designed this way so that if part of the network was destroyed or busy, subsequent packets could follow other routes. The lost packets could also be resent, the packets all assembled back into the correct order by the receiver, and the payload recovered in its entirety with no loss. But if packets get lost
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