A   S t r e a m i n g   M e d i a   P r i m e r :    
W H A T   I S   S T R E A M I N G   M E D I A ?
Traditional download lets you save and redistribute media
I S   F L A S H   S T R E A M I N G ?
The downloadable approach is good for the end user who wants to keep the content and 
replay it whenever they like. In 1999, the phenomenal popularity of the 2 1/2 minute 
The Macromedia  Flash  (SWF) format 
movie trailer for  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace  a whopping big 25 MB fi le at 
was designed to deliver low bandwidth 
480x216 resolution (good quality) was proof that media hungry Internet audiences are 
motion graphics specifi cally for the Web. 
willing to be forgiving of long waits for large fi les. But if an artist or publisher does 
It's great strength lies in generating 
smooth vector animations.  
not want end users to be able to save and freely redistribute their media content, the 
downloadable approach is problematic that's the story of MP3s and Napster.
According to our defi nition of  true 
streaming,  Macromedia Flash anima 
Progressive download can get hung up
tions and other SWF format fi les are not 
Unlike traditional download, progressive download (also known as pseudo streaming 
streaming media. However, SWF fi les do 
and, in QuickTime, fast start streaming) allows playback to begin before the fi le is 
share some of the important character 
completely downloaded. Progressive download allows playback of content that has been 
istics of streaming media. 
received to continue, while the remainder is still being downloaded. Progressive down 
SWF fi les do:
load, therefore, allows the end user to view the beginning of the fi le, as the remainder is 
  
Deliver content with motion and 
being downloaded, and to quit the download if the content is not worth the wait. 
sound, as well as with interactivity 
Like streaming, progressive download does allow audiences to see and hear the content 
However, SWF fi les do not deliver full 
immediately as it is being downloaded but only if the download speed can be main 
motion video. AVI and MPEG fi les cannot 
tained at the rate needed to keep up with playback. If the Internet connection becomes 
be imported into Flash. QuickTime 
busy, causing the download to slow or stall, audio and video playback may not always 
(MOV) fi les can be imported, but do not 
become part of the Flash fi le and cannot 
stay synchronized, playback may become choppy or, as is often the case, may come to a 
be viewed with the Flash player. A utility 
halt, as the player waits for the download to catch up. 
can be used to reduce a video fi le to a 
Progressive download also leaves a copy of content behind
sequence of still bitmap images which 
can then be used in a series of key 
Unlike streaming, progressive download writes the media fi le to disk, leaving a copy of 
frames to simulate video, but the 
the content in the memory of the receiving device. Streaming media is processed, played, 
resulting movie does not deliver the 
and discarded, leaving no physical copy behind.
same quality as streaming video opti 
Despite the drawbacks of progressive download, it can be a good alternative if true 
mized in a native streaming fi le format 
streaming is not possible. Progressive download can be easier and less costly to imple 
and  played back on a video player.  
Furthermore, Flash fi les are limited in 
ment than true streaming. All the production techniques described in this Primer should 
size to 16,000 frames. At 15 frames per 
be applied to preparing media for progressive download, as well as for streaming. 
second, that's approximately 17 minutes 
True streaming is based on a different architecture
worth of material.  
Streaming media requires a different architecture from that used for downloadable 
  
Begin to play before the fi le is 
media an architecture that supports a higher level interactivity over the Web, and offers 
entirely downloaded
a wealth of additional advantages. Streaming allows you to browse through and jump 
However, SWF delivery is really pro 
back and forth in the content as opposed to progressive download, which requires 
gressive download. Served from a Web 
server and transmitted via HTTP, Flash 
viewing from beginning to end. Streaming supports both on demand and live content 
playback will stall if network congestion 
to be transmitted over the Web in real time, allowing audiences anywhere in the world 
is encountered, and transmission cannot 
to playback media whenever and however they need or want it, and to experience live 
be adjusted to accommodate real time 
events as they happen.
conditions as can true streaming.
True streaming requires a specialized media server
  
Can only play back using the media 
Downloadable media fi les including those prepared for progressive download are 
player that is part of the Flash 
architecture
typically served from a standard Web server that does not have any ability to adjust 
transmission to the uncontrollable fl uctuations in connection speed that are inherent in 
However, SWF fi les can be created using 
a variety of other software tools in 
the Internet environment. 
addition to Macromedia Flash, including 
Streaming exploits new Web transfer protocols, as well as communication techniques 
namic Media
but not limited to Adobe LiveMotion 
between clients and servers, to facilitate the continuous playback of synchronized audio 
y
and Adobe After Effects.
and video in real time. Streaming media fi les are usually encoded in several versions, 
According to the Macromedia Web site, 
optimized for different data rates. The streaming media server delivers the appropriate 
 Flash was created to make small, 
version, either as selected by the end user manually or as indicated by browser default 
streamable, vector based fi les for Web 
settings. In some cases, the server can automatically select the best version, based on 
obe D
delivery. This is  where Flash performs 
information brought back from the client regarding the platform and the connection 
d
best.  it's important for users to ask 
A
themselves, `Is this program designed to 
speed. Depending on the intelligence built into the media server and client player 
do what I am attempting''
software, the stream can be dynamically adjusted, at one or both ends, if the 
connection slows down. 
6
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