Beginners Guide to Media Streaming

Beginners Guide to Media Streaming

If media streaming is something that you are still trying to understand and get a handle on, this guide is for you. 

Media streaming has become extremely popular in the last few years. When you think about it, you probably have seen different forms of media streaming for a long time. 

The VCR recorded live TV and time shifted live TV to play back your favorite shows at a later time. The Reel to Reel tape,  8-Track tape, record player, cassette tape and CD players all streamed music from a live concert to your stereo. These were analog devices. While much of this technology fell out of favor when computers came along. Now most all our media is saved and stored in a digital format. 

Media streaming is still alive and well, although the equipment we use today is very different. Today's hardware of choice are little boxes known as media streamers that can take a digital video files or music files and send them over a single HDMI cable to our televisions. Many streamers are no larger than a hockey puck. Roku and Amazon have streaming sticks that are a little larger than a USB thumb drive.

Media Streaming Equipment

With the invention of the iPod the way we listened to music changed forever. A small portable device no larger than a pack of gum, can now hold a thousand music CDs. This gives us the ability to carry our entire music library with us everywhere. It's not a huge leap to think that someday the same thing would happen with our DVD and Blue-Ray Movie collections. We now have the ability to archive and store every movie we own coping it into a digital file format that can be played back onto our large screen televisions using a media streamer.

There are hundreds of different devices out there that will stream and play media files to a television. 

HDMI today is pretty much the universal standard and almost every media streamer built today includes a HDMI port. Some devices also offer RED, BLUE, GREEN, outputs known as component video. This is an older standard that is still pretty common. When choosing a media streamer make sure the required video connections are available to properly attach what is needed for your television.


Download vs Streaming

There are a few different ways to get the digital media files to your media player or streamer.
  1. Play or stream a file directly from the internet and play it on your TV. (YouTube)
  2. Play a downloaded file from a USB pen drive or attached drive to the device.
  3. Stream a downloaded file, copied DVD or recorded video directly from a computer.
There are network connections to consider as well when thinking about which device to buy. Every device will offer either WiFI for a wireless streaming connection to the internet. A hard wired connection requires an Ethernet port. This uses a Category 5e or Category 6 Ethernet cable which must be run from your media player to your Router. Some basic networking knowledge will be required but it is really pretty easy to set this up. Ask in the forum if you have questions or run into problems and someone will jump in and help out.

Media Streaming File Formats

This is where things get a little murky as not every device will play every file format. The good thing is almost all of them will play .AVI, and .MKV which are the two most common if you download video content. Mp4 is another common video extension favored by Apple TV and Roku. Another popular video file in the Windows world is .WMV

Before purchasing a media player, make sure that it will play these common file formats. A computer will play pretty much anything but often one must download codecs that tell the software how to play these files. A favorite piece of software that works on iDevices, Windows, Mac and Android is called VLC Media Player.

Finally, not every device is HD 1080p compatible. Some like the 2nd generation AppleTV only will play 720P HD. Although some people can hardly tell the difference.

Hopefully this helps to make Media Streaming a little clearer, and for more info please be sure to read:  Media Streamer vs Media Player vs-HTPC