Streaming media is the method used to deliver multimedia elements - usually video or audio - from a data streaming service provider to an end user. It uses basic HTTP, TCP/IP and HTML protocols.
Streaming delivers media as a serial, steady stream. Unlike other download methods, where data order is not important, streaming media is sent/received according to availability. An example is P2P sharing, such as torrent, where streaming media must be delivered in the correct order.
Streaming media is used to stream prerecorded media files, like videos and music, but also may be distributed as part of a live broadcast, like a Web meeting or tutorial session. A client program with an audio/video (A/V) codec is required for media streaming. This program is usually embedded in other applications that connect to the Internet, like a Web browser or media player, and a server used for media delivery.
Using the codec, the client receives and converts the data in real time to video and audio output, while saving additional data in a buffer. If the download is slow and playback speed catches up with download speed, the experience may be choppy.
This type of media consumption took off in the late 1990s, as the world was introduced to innovations that led to increased network speed and bandwidth - two elements absolutely essential for proper streaming media functionality.
The de facto standard for streaming audio is RealAudio by Progressive Networks (now known as RealNetworks), while streaming video uses the Adobe Flash format.