There are three ways of getting audio and video files (which are usually very large) to the end user:
1. Download – Download the entire file over the Internet, save it to the user’s machine, and then play it from the hard disk. Requires users to sit through a download that can take quite a bit of time for average broadband home connections. I’ve seen many people get impatient for “blind” downloaded media content and abandon the download altogether. Downloading digital media is not a good experience for the audience.
2. Progressive Download – Download part of the file, and start playing the file as the last part of it downloads. The file is saved locally, as if it were downloaded, but playback begins before the download finishes. This method can be very inefficient if many users are attempting to consume your media. Network congestion often times makes the audience sit through minutes of rebuffering.
3. Streaming – Play the file directly from the network as it gets to the machine. This method never saves the file to the local hard disk. The media content is delivered “just in time” for playback. A good streaming media server is going to cache the content and give an optimized experience based on the users connection speed, and should start up very quickly after your audience requests it.0