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How Broadcasting Over the Internet Works

All the technologies that have successfully managed to broadcast video and audio over the Net do it the same way: by using packet streaming.

Each file you use is built up of 1's and 0's. They form together to create logical sections, or packets, that then form the final product. For a Word document there is only one packet: the file. A Web page is made of several packets: the HTML document, individual graphic files, style sheets, scripts, and more. A video file is similar; it's comprised of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of packets. When you're playing a video you don't need all the packets at any one time. In fact, all you need are the packets for any one instance in time. For this reason, you can perform "streaming" for video. The net result is that for a feature movie you don't need to download the whole movie—only the current instance. You'll see this in any QuickTime movie. The movie starts playing before you have the file completely downloaded. For long events, such as the two-hour MacWorld keynote presentation, you might have only the next 30–45 seconds of video downloaded ahead of where you are.

All video-streaming systems perform buffering, which is a technique of downloading more video than you need without having to download the entire movie. You do this in case there are any bumps in the Internet connection. Your movie will always play even if Internet speeds move up and down.

When it comes down to brass tacks, there are four key companies driving what we can and can't do with video:

  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Macromedia
  • RealNeworks

Each company brings its own skills and reasoning for using its tools. You need to work with each to find out what you really need.

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