Streaming audio media refers to any sort of audio file or media that is accessed through a device, such as a computer, through a streaming program or website. The term “streaming” refers to the way in which various types of media can be accessed while being transmitted, rather than waiting on a download and then accessing the content. There are a number of different ways these types of streams can be broadcast, including unicast and multicast methods. Streaming audio content can usually be broadcast and accessed through one of two basic systems: live streaming and on demand streaming.
Though often associated with the use of computers, streaming audio media can be accessed in a variety of ways using a number of different types of hardware. Streaming media usually consists of audio, video, or a combination of the two and can be viewed immediately rather than through downloading before viewing. One of the most popular applications for streaming audio media is an Internet radio station or similar service that functions much like a traditional radio station but transmits through the Internet rather than through radio waves. There are Internet radio devices that allow a person to connect to these websites even without a computer and listen to audio content.
Streaming audio media can be broadcast using a number of different protocols that handle the transmission of audio data. In general, these different methods all require proper encoding of audio content into a form that is easier to transmit, and then decoding that data back into an audio signal for listening. Different codecs are typically used to handle this encoding process, and the user listening to the media will typically need to have a certain codec specified by a streaming audio media service.
Two of the most common forms of streaming audio media protocols are unicasting and multicasting systems. A unicasting system will transmit streaming data to users individually, allowing each user to access the media at a different time and control the stream independently. Multicasting, on the other hand, transmits a single signal to all users, so all users are hearing the same content simultaneously.
These protocols also typically control whether streaming audio media consists of live streaming or on demand streaming. Live streaming typically refers to a live broadcast such as a live radio show or an audio performance. This can often only be received while it is happening and cannot be controlled by a user. An on demand stream would consist of streaming audio that has been saved on a server or data storage system and is being accessed by a user. This content can typically be enjoyed repeatedly and may be somewhat controllable by a user.