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What is Streaming?

Generally speaking, streamed data can be any information/data that is delivered from a server to a host where the data represents information that must be delivered in real time. This could be video, audio, graphics, slide shows, web tours, combinations of these, or any other real time application.

Streaming can probably best be looked at from an educator's perspective as no more than a broadcast, whether live (synchronous, or stored (asynchronous).

One benefit that streaming provides is the enabling of a broadcast from nearly any location that is served by the Texas A&M Network, or any capable device with an IP address, and then delivering that broadcast to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, depending upon course requirements and student needs, of course.

Technical Considerations

Streaming technologies have seen some pretty fierce competition among the main players who have been pushing this means of content delivery. Video formats such as MPEG are standards based encoding formats that currently do not lend themselves to streaming as easily as the proprietary formats such as Quick Time and Real Networks…. in today's network environment.

Formats

  • MPEG I - Motion Picture Experts Group Standard. Various standardized MPEG encoding schemes have been developed to address the wide range of needs for the delivery of digital video. MPEG I is used extensively. MPEG I is relatively inexpensive to encode and can be decoded by most desktop PC's today with many popular software applications, which are included in most desktop operating systems today.
  • MPEG II- This higher bit rate/quality format (1.5Mbs - 50Mbs) is used commercially for distribution of most digital video that the public currently uses. Digital Satellite service providers DVD production/authoring houses, and Digital Television broadcasters use the MPEG II format. Making use of the higher bit rate and improved encoding algorithms, MPEG II is capable of achieving broadcast quality.
  • MPEG IV - This variable bit rate encoding scheme is the underlying encoding method that is useful for streaming applications where the users have a wide variety of connection speeds. The client - server connection adjusts the stream rate according to connection bandwidth and monitored performance. Windows media makes use of MPEG-IV, although in a proprietary way. The Quicktime player also can receive MPEG-IV and conforms more closely to the MPEG-IV standard.
  • Apple- QuickTime has been used extensively in the graphics design and production industry for years. The use of this format by so many media industry professionals and the development of affordable codecs, powerful production tools, and free robust player software keeps this format in strong contention to be a dominant system for years to come. QuickTime has the ability to be encoded and streamed at multiple bit rates. This can help to ensure that the user receives the best possible experience available for the connection speed they have at the time while simultaneously making the same content available to those connected at the lowest speeds, the dreaded 28.8 modem.
  • Real Networks has developed a proprietary streaming system that provides many useful tools for deploying, managing, serving, and streaming content. Their system has seen wild growth since it's introduction and continues to improve as more providers adopt it. Streamed content may be encoded on the fly at multiple bit rates, enabling user access to content even if connected to the Internet via a 28.8 modem, production values notwithstanding. Continuous improvement in Real Network's system have resulted in VHS quality video at bit rates half of that needed for MPEG I.
  • On-demand vs Live Streaming Streaming live content or delivering on-demand content pose different problems that need to be resolved for success.
  • Live Streaming - Live streaming of video/audio is relatively easy and inexpensive to originate. Streams for video/audio or any real time content may be encoded at multiple rates to permit access even to those using a 28.8 modem while simultaneously providing higher rate streams for the highest quality experience to those at on campus locations or anyone with a faster connection to the Internet. See format descriptions above.

While streaming permits users access to content from any location, it is unlikely that the instructor will be able to successfully interact real time with the potentially hundreds or even thousands of users viewing. Live streaming should be viewed as a tool to be used not exclusively but as an adjunct to existing distance learning efforts where more flexibility in time & location are desired. A feature that shouldn't be overlooked however, is the ability to save/store live streamed content for possible inclusion later in on-line course work. For instance, video encoded today for a live stream may be stored on a local file server and clips of the video could be plugged into a fully developed on-line course offering.

  • On-demand Streaming - On-demand means just that. Fully realized, whenever the content is required, it is available to those that request it, wherever they happen to be (connected to the Internet that is). On - demand streams may be archived live streams as mentioned above or be included in fully produced on - line course offerings.
  • Near - demand Streaming - Near demand streaming refers to a situation where content is not available 24 - 7, but rather is provided on-demand within time constraints. For example, digital media may be uploaded to a streaming server daily, weekly, or monthly, permitting access for only the time period specified or archived streaming content may actually be scheduled for broadcast at a specific time as requested by educators.

On/Near Demand Streaming Issues

Do you have the rights to encode, stream, or otherwise use the content in the manner that you desire?

Digital rights management is currently a very hot issue with many commercial entities vying for the right to manage (and subsequently profit from) all internet delivered content.

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