Streaming Media and the Future

I was a late adopter when it came to streaming technologies in terms of subscription based distribution. Its hard to avoid the news sites that insist on streaming video updates and stories, but when it comes to shows and movies, we have the freedom of choice. Forms of streaming media include internet radio, tv and movie services like netflix and Hulu, as well as open video services like youtube.

Internet radio is a very wide open and robust streaming medium, with many different types of services out there. Websites can host their own personal mixes that play when people visit their page, or you can have an actual internet radio subscription service with stations like normal or satellite radio. Additionally, there are popular mobile application like Pandora Radio that stream nonstop music on a variety of custom tailored stations depending on search criteria the users input. Of all streaming media, I think that this one has the brightest future. Unlike video formats, audio is much easier to stream at a high quality rate, and people can listen to music at any time while movies and TV shows would require a more focused attention. Video services, however, are where the money seems to be made.

Personally, I only use netflix when it comes to streaming video media, and that is because it has the benefit of primarily being a dvd/bluray mail rental service. As a video streaming service, netflix is a bit unique in that it only offers streaming of movies and shows that have been released on DVD, and that’s only if netflix can/has secured the separate rights for digital streaming distribution. Even then, there can be considerable delay between streaming availability and a DVD release, usually favoring DVD releases to help foster sales. Still, netflix has built its future plans around streaming of movies and tv shows, offering streaming service for PCs, Macs, and many media devices like the iPhone, iPad, Playstation 3, XBox 360, and Wii. As an added bonus, a person’s membership works on all of the devices, and they can be used simultaneously. This is something that Hulu only offers at a pro-rated fee.

Hulu is on a somewhat different part of the video streaming spectrum. Unlike netflix, Hulu does not limit itself to movies and TV shows that have been released on DVD. Specifically, Hulu offers TV episodes as quickly as they can secure the rights, sometimes immediately after they’re aired for the first time. This has made Hulu a very popular free video streaming service directly from the internet accessed on your web browser. but if you want to stream Hulu on another device like the iPad or PS3, you have to pay a monthly fee that is more than netflix’s, and doesn’t offer a disc mail service for full quality video.

Either way you go, video streaming will give mixed results. I have been pleasantly surprised and very disappointed by video streaming, and there are many factors that play into it. First, and foremost, your internet connection must be fast if you are hoping for good quality video. If you don’t have a good cable speed, HD is completely out of the question, and even regular video can end up being a blobby mess at times while the audio plays flawlessly. Second, what kind of video your service gets the rights for. These video services are aimed at making money, and thusly, the more popular movies and shows will get the better video quality. I can honestly say that using netflix to watch some old time favorites has given me mostly poorly transferred videos, some being cable rips from the Stars network. Third, there are limits to what you can do with streamed video. netflix and hulu don’t support fast forward or rewind, and jumping to a point in a video will usually result in a couple minutes of frozen video while it loads the buffer. Your audio is limited to a single option, be it english, french, spanish, stereo, or surround. If you don’t agree with it, you can’t change it. Still, there is a convenience in streaming video that I enjoy a lot, and it will probably become one of the big media formats of the future. It will not, however, replace retail releases. It has yet to be seen if physical media or digital download distribution will win out, but either way, that will remain the primary choice for top quality video entertainment until streaming and internet connection speeds can catch up.

Finally, there is youtube and its many competitors for free open video streaming. These services allow people to upload their own videos and share them with the world. While this service has resulted in an entire new way for people to share things, and even created a new type of journalism called vlogging, it doesn’t have a very stable future. Since youtube was bought, it has proven to be nothing but a huge money sink, and hasn’t provided any solid way to produce profits, or even self sustain. Now videos are often times forced to have ads played first, an annoyance that cannot be skipped. This type of streaming will remain, because it has become a large part of the internet, but it probably will not expand much beyond what it is now.

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