The differences between HTTP downloading and true streaming

When a user wishes to view video on your site, there are several possible methods that can allow said user to see the video. The easiest method is the create a hyperlink to the video file. This method is useful if you want the viewer to save the movie to their computer before viewing. This is fine for small files, but the bigger the file size, the longer the wait time and the less likely your viewers will want to wait for the entire movie to download before they can watch it. Delivering video files this way is known as HTTP streaming or HTTP delivery. HTTP means Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, and is the same protocol used to deliver web pages. For this reason it is easy to set up and use on almost any website, without requiring additional software or special hosting plans. Your web browser downloads images, text, javascript and more as you surf.

HTTP / HTTPS Progressive Downloading
This is a step up from hyperlinking to your video files. It is a temporary solution to the problems mentioned for downloading. The video file is embedded with code that is unique to each type of video, and as soon as enough of the video is downloaded to watch, the video will begin to play. If the user’s connection is fast enough, they can watch the video as it downloads. The disadvantage here is that the viewer cannot skip forward to any part of the video without first having to download a certain amount of the total video size (that amount varies by player. There are devices that only support progressive download, so you may be stuck using this method originally derived for images and large text files.


  • This solution does not require any special software or streaming applications
  • No firewall issues
  • Works well for short duration videos (advertising, trailers, marketing clips)
  • Encoding / Transcoding can be accomplished by non-professionals

The Disadvantages of HTTP Progressive:

  • Cannot move easily through the video (‘seek’). There are applications that can help: H264 Streaming Module for Nginx v2 / MP4StreamingLite
  • Lonnnngggg waits for startup … In other words, latency while initial buffer fills up.
  • Single quality video (no multiple qualities or video quality based on user’s connection speed
  • Content is as easy to download as YouTube or Vimeo. Anything can be downloaded at will.
  • Terrible for long term duration, or “long form” video.

True Streaming
This is the best way to deliver video to viewers if you want to allow the viewer to instantly skip to any part of the video or if you want to prevent the viewer from downloading the video file to their computer. True streaming works by delivering bits of video through a streaming server, which sends packets of data in real-time, effectively allowing the end user to view the data as it is arriving. This process is not possible with the HTTP protocol. Instead, RTSP is the protocol of choice for streaming media. It stands for real-time streaming protocol, and it is a method of routing video data to the end user. RTSP provides “VCR-style” control functionality such as pause, fast forward, reverse, and absolute positioning, which cannot be achieved with HTTP.


  • Multiple transport protocols (RTSP, RTMP, MMS, HTTP)
  • Live and on demand content
  • Play control (FF, Rewind, DVR functionality, pause)
  • No initial start up latency (theoretically)
  • Much better video security and DRM


  • Specialized server applications require professional deployment
  • Ports and protocols can cause firewall issues
  • Can lock your long term archives into proprietary formats that die (e.g. Real Video)

Which method should I use?
If you are serious about your videos, true streaming is the best option for delivering media to a global audience. With instant-access, built in download prevention, VCR style controls, and affordability, there’s never been a better time to start delivering streaming media to your audience. With GravityLab Multimedia, you can have the best of both worlds. We provide methods to access your streaming media via HTTP and RTSP, allowing you to choose which method is best for you. Check out our streaming video hosting plans
to see which plan best fits your needs.

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