A streaming media player is a software program which is equipped to handle streaming media, which means that media is constantly delivered to the program over an Internet connection and played for the consumer. Some programs are proprietary, designed to work with specific systems, while others can handle multiple platforms, and are designed for people who want more flexibility. Many are available for free as downloads on the program websites.
The design of a streaming media player can vary. Many are equipped to handle video and audio, with controls which allow people to skip, stop, pause, and back up. Although users cannot download or save the media, they can manipulate it in the streaming media player, to some extent, and the player also usually fetches a small buffer to keep the playback clean in the event of fluctuating quality on the Internet connection or similar problems. Some can also save a space so that if someone is disconnected, she or he can pick up where the streaming media left off. Many programs also play CDs, DVDs, and other media.
People can access streaming media in a number of ways. A streaming media player may have a search function which allows the user to look for specific content or to type in the address of a specific site to retrieve media. People can also click links to streaming media on the Internet and the player will open automatically to play the media.
Streaming media players may also be embedded into a website. Popular video services such as YouTube and Hulu use this technique. In this case, the player loads into the page when the page is loaded, and a user clicks a button to start. The user can also hit a full screen button, adjust the volume, or jump around in the timeline to skip back or forward to a specific area of interest. Embedded streaming media players may also have code which people can use to lift the embedded content and put it on their own websites.
In the case of an embedded streaming media player, it is usually necessary to have a plugin installed in the browser. If the plugin is not installed, a small icon will appear, prompting a user to download and activate the plugin. Plugins are made available for free by the companies which design streaming media platforms so that websites have an incentive to use those platforms, knowing that users can access the plugins they need to view content for free.