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Streaming video is content sent in compressed form over the Internet and displayed by the viewer in real time. With streaming video or streaming media, a Web user does not have to wait to download a file to play it. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous stream of data and is played as it arrives. The user needs a player, which is a special program that uncompresses and sends video data to the display and audio data to speakers. A player can be either an integral part of a browser or downloaded from the software maker's Web site.
Major streaming video and streaming media technologies include RealSystem G2 from RealNetwork, Microsoft Windows Media Technologies (including its NetShow Services and Theater Server), and VDO. Microsoft's approach uses the standard MPEG compression algorithm for video. The other approaches use proprietary algorithms. (The program that does the compression and decompression is sometimes called the codec.) Microsoft's technology offers streaming audio at up to 96 Kbps and streaming video at up to 8 Mbps (for the NetShow Theater Server). However, for most Web users, the streaming video will be limited to the data rates of the connection (for example, up to 128 Kbps with an ISDN connection). Microsoft's streaming media files are in its Advanced Streaming Format (ASF).
Streaming video is usually sent from prerecorded video files, but can be distributed as part of a live broadcast "feed." In a live broadcast, the video signal is converted into a compressed digital signal and transmitted from a special Web server that is able to do multicast, sending the same file to multiple users at the same time.