The streams that carry digital data

Published On: May 26, 2017 09:05 AM NPT By: Prajesh SJB Rana

When Apple announced the iPod in 2001, its successes was largely tired to the iTunes store as well. Before such mass digitalization of music, people used to carry around bulky cassette players or compact disk players to satiate their portable music needs. While the iPod worked with digitalized music files that people used to rip off of musical compact disks, Apple made it even simpler by providing digital music files directly from the record companies themselves. This led to a revolution in the way digital musical content was being consumed, people started buying music directly from the iTunes store and transferring them to their iPods. 

Apple was on the forefront of digitalization of music, and the synergy between their iPod compact music players and a comprehensive library of digital music helped Apple achieve a measure of success unseen by any other digital music player before it. But today, the iTunes store has lost most of its former grandeur with all digital music consumers opting for online streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music. So much so that even Apple has recently started their Apple Music streaming service since mid-2015. In a similar manner to music, various other types of content such as movies, videos and games have also found themselves streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. 

But transferring large quantities of data over the internet comes at the cost of bandwidth. And the only reason these streaming services are active today is because of remarkable increase in internet speed and bandwidth. Without a strong internet to support massive data streaming over large areas, streaming services would suffer from unimaginable load times as well as buffer. Even in Nepal, we have seen faster internet connections over fiber optic cables that make streaming possible and even if we don’t have access to legal streaming services, a plethora of third-party illegal streaming services have popped up to cater to our needs. Faster internet connections have also made streaming from peer-to-peer services like torrents possible which has further fueled the growth of streaming services even in third-world countries like Nepal. 

Streaming media over the internet is not a very new concept however because in 1993, the first live stream was broadcast. The live stream was a live performance of the band Severe Tire Damage that was broadcasted all over Australia and elsewhere. The technology kept developing over the years; in 1995 Microsoft Research developed a Microsoft TV application in conjunction with streaming service leader RealNetworks. In conjunction, they broadcasted a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners live on the internet. And today, with the help of more complex internet protocols like TCP/IP, Adobe Flash and HTML5 Video, streaming has gained such momentum that  even normal internet users have the ability to live-stream their days on social media networks like Facebook. 

But for a very long time, streaming services had been hindered by the limitation of internet connections. Which is why, streaming over local area networks gained momentum. Services like Splashtop and AllCast made it OS streaming possible which meant casting your desktop or laptop screen to portable devices like smartphones. This also meant streaming to devices like Chromecast, Roku, Xbox and smart TVs over your local area network was possible. There have also been instances where gamers would live stream games like Counter Strike and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) to spectators on the same network. Today, live streaming games to a global audience through services like YouTube Gaming and Twitch is commonplace. And because of this larger internet bandwidth, an additional video and audio stream for live commentary is also possible alongside game footage.

And with internet bandwidth growing by the day, there are even cloud-based gaming services. These services render games on powerful gaming-grade servers that produce game content and send the rendered game data to the client computer via the internet. While these services are still very experimental, games rendered on gaming PCs can easily be streamed to a portable device such as a smartphone or a tablet. Nvidia’s Shield tablets benefit from these services where they pair with a PC equipped with Nvidia GTX grade graphics card. The computer equipped with these graphics cards render games on the PC while streaming them to the Nvidia’s portable Shield tablets. 

Cloud-based computers like Google Chromebooks also depend heavily on a strong and stable internet connection. The whole idea behind these computers is that they are constructed mainly to work online, and while they have offline features as well, they are in their element when connected to the internet. Thus, they depend a lot on streaming services for functionality. 

In Nepal, however, internet service providers (ISPs) tend to offer volume-based packages. Streaming might drain the volume subscribing for such services offers a sense of convenience that is not offered by downloading. Since the digital content is downloaded in real-time, digital content consumed online will not leave any form of residue on the computer. Furthermore, some ISPs in Nepal even cache popular content from sites like YouTube which will not drain your volume. So, people tend to opt for streaming services solely for the convenience of not waiting for a download to complete and watch content as it is getting downloaded in real-time.    

Considering just how important streaming services have become today, a completely internet based content consumption community might not be such a far-fetched idea in the near future. We have seen many people already move towards streaming services today and with internet connections growing, it is only evident that the streaming services will grow further in the days to come.  

The writer is The Week’s tech guru. If you have any queries, write to us at and we will have him answer them for you.

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