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Streaming: What is it and how does it work?

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You can't ignore it anymore, everything is streamed these days. And with GOOD reason! But do you also know how it works?

Streaming is the transmission of data in a continuous stream, such as music, games, movies and TV shows that are distributed directly over computer networks (such as the Internet). It is a way of sharing content where the user can immediately view the content without downloading it first.

In this article, I'll explain what streaming content exactly is, how it works and what the pros and cons are.

What is streaming

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How does streaming work?

Have you ever used a music service like Spotify or Apple Music, a video player like YouTube of Netflix, use an app like Twitch, or certain types of games? Then you've already seen streaming in action! Streaming is the sending and receiving of data packets in a continuous stream over a network.

Streaming is an English term used for digital audio and video files that are sent over a network. You do not need to download the entire file first. Streaming allows the server to start playing from any point in time.

How exactly does streaming work?

Streaming works as follows:

  • Your computer or phone receives data packets that correspond to the beginning of a movie.
  • You can play the content right away while the rest of the data is still being sent.
  • As long as you have a reliable internet connection, the entire movie can be played at once without interruptions.

Why is streaming so useful?

Streaming is a great way to watch content because you don't have to waste time downloading files. It's also a convenient way to transfer data because you don't need to send large files. In addition, streaming is a versatile technology that can be used for audio, video, games and more.

What is Streaming?

Streaming is a way of distributing content such as movies, series and live and recorded TV programs over the Internet. Instead of the traditional “broadcast” model, where a TV show is broadcast to hundreds of thousands or millions of people at once, regardless of whether they watch or not, streaming is “on demand”. Viewers request the stream and only receive it.

How does streaming work?

Streaming works by preparing the content at a certain party and then sending it to the viewer via the internet. The stream is requested and then delivered to the viewer.

Why stream?

Streaming offers many advantages over traditional TV. Viewers can choose from a wide variety of content, including movies, series, and live and recorded TV programs. In addition, streaming is flexible, allowing viewers to choose when and where to watch.

How streaming works: a layman's guide

The base

Streaming is a way to watch or listen to content, such as music or movies, without having to download the file. Instead, the file is broken into small pieces and sent to your browser, where the audio player interprets the data as sound. Once enough pieces have been received, the player will begin playing.

How it works

Streaming uses servers or cloud platforms. Big companies like Netflix have dedicated networks to deliver their content. The most popular content is cached a short distance from where it is streamed. This is to avoid delays and save bandwidth.

What you need

To stream you need a stable and fast internet connection. It must be at least 2 Mbps (megabits per second) for smooth streaming. If you want to view images in HD or 4K, you need a faster connection of at least 5 Mbps.


Streaming allows you to watch TV series online without having to download large files beforehand. You don't have to take up space on your hard drive and you have access to a plethora of streaming options, such as music services, video players, social streaming platforms and many games and apps.

The difference between streaming and downloading

Downloading is not the same as streaming. When you download a movie or song, the file is saved to your hard drive. Streaming plays media without downloading the file.

The advantages of downloading are that you do not suffer from buffering problems and that you can store your favorite content in a convenient place. But downloading does take up space on your hard drive.

How it works

Streaming works by sending a digital file live to the device you are watching. You can stream movies and series from the internet with your computer, laptop, television, game console, smartphone or tablets. This can be done with any device with an internet connection and streaming functionality.

In short, streaming is the ultimate way to watch or listen to content without having to download the file. You have access to a plethora of streaming options, such as music services, video players, social streaming platforms, and many games and apps. And you don't have to take up space on your hard drive. What else do you want?

What types of content can you stream?

Audio and Video

Audio and video are the most traditional streaming options, including music, podcasts, TV shows and movies. But more and more streaming options are emerging, including games, apps, and even live events.

Music and other audio

Streaming audio has become extremely popular. You can now stream millions of songs from a wide variety of artists without downloading a single file. Music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music offer countless songs that you can stream at the touch of a button. You can also stream or download podcasts to listen to later.


Video was streaming's first big hit, starting with services like YouTube. Instead of having to download large multimedia files, streaming video compresses (packs) the data into packets and sends it to your device where it is decompressed (unpacked) and displayed. The most popular streaming services at the moment are YouTube, Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Google Play and Disney+.

Games and apps

Game streaming, or cloud gaming, works in a similar way to audio and video streaming. Streaming games saves space and load on your device's processor by placing the game files on a corporate game server. Apple now has a number of games where only the most important functionality needs to be downloaded. Google Stadia is a similar service.

What is Live Streaming and how does it work?

The Basics

Live streaming is just like any other type of streaming, but especially for sports events or political debates, for example. Small amounts of data are stored on your device and played back as you watch, then erased when you continue watching.

How it works

When you watch a live stream, you are visiting a website (for example, a news or sports website) that is hosted on a web server. That web server is connected to a media server that beams the content to your device via RTP (Real Time Protocol) and RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol). Those protocols allow a video file to be sent in a more compact (compressed) form and then viewed in a higher quality (decompressed) on your device.

Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms have recently started implementing live streaming elements such as:

  • Facebook Live
  • Instagram Live

While watching a live frame, you never receive the file itself, but only the parts needed to watch live at any given time.

Why streaming over the internet is a good idea

Play immediately

With streaming, you don't have to wait a minute for your favorite music or movie to download. You can immediately listen or watch what you want.

Avoid high costs and piracy

If you were to buy a CD or digital download of every band you like, it would be quite expensive. And downloading albums from torrent sites is illegal. Streaming lets you listen to or watch all the content you want for a small monthly fee.

Save space

Unlike downloading, streaming does not store large files on your device. You get access to endless music and movies without filling up your hard drive.

Access live content

If you want to follow important live events such as political debates or sports matches, but don't have a TV, live streaming is the solution. You can view it through your laptop or other device.

Access foreign content

Are you abroad, but still want to watch your favorite TV series from home? With a VPN you can change your IP address to stream your favorite content from your home country.

Improve your streaming experience with these tips

Strengthen your WiFi network

Give your Wirelessnetwork and increase your internet speed to get a better streaming experience. Try boosting the Wi-Fi signal in your home to increase the streaming speed.

Reduce buffering

Buffering can be caused by more than just internet speed. Check out our tips to reduce buffering while streaming.

Unlock streaming options

If you're abroad and find your regular streaming options blocked, use a VPN to unlock websites you want to stream from.

Avoid provider restrictions

Your ISP may throttle your internet speed if they notice you are using a lot of bandwidth. Use a VPN to avoid provider restrictions so you can stream as much as you want.

Protect yourself on public Wi-Fi networks

Use a VPN to protect your usernames and passwords on public Wi-Fi networks.

Clean up your devices

Your computer may have a hard time streaming if it's cluttered with unnecessary files and other digital leftovers. Clean up your PC or speed up your Mac for better overall performance.

Make sure you have enough memory

If your computer is running out of RAM, it may have problems streaming if you use a bunch of other apps at the same time. In rare cases, you may even need to upgrade your RAM for better streaming performance.

Optimize your PC for games

Whether you want to stream games or play online, it's always a good idea to boost your gaming computer for optimal gameplay.

Streaming: the advantages and disadvantages

The advantages

Streaming is the new normal. It's a convenient way to watch and listen to content wherever you are. If you have a fast and stable internet connection, you can enjoy a smooth streaming experience. No more waiting for your favorite show or song to download, just stream it.

The cons

While streaming is convenient, there are also a few drawbacks to consider. If you don't have a fast, stable internet connection, buffering media can be a pain. The quality can also be inconsistent depending on the streaming service you use. Subscription costs can also add up if you use multiple streaming services. And if you're concerned about privacy, it's good to know that streaming services collect your data. Artists have also criticized streaming services, claiming that the platforms make it difficult for them to collect appropriate compensation for their work.

Can streaming be dangerous?

How do I know if a streaming site is safe?

If you're looking for a streaming site, it's important to know if it's safe. Big names like Netflix and Spotify are reliable, but there are also many questionable sites. If the site is not well known, but still offers many popular movies and TV series, they may be streaming illegally (i.e. piracy). If the site has the latest titles, for example movies that are still playing in theaters, they are often illegal.

How do I know if I've landed on an unsafe site?

If you've landed on a website you don't trust, it's important to pay attention to whether you'll be bombarded with ads on your device as soon as you open the streaming site. These ads may contain malicious software, which can infect your device when displayed. To prevent this, it is recommended to use an ad blocker.

How can I be sure a streaming site is legal?

If you're not sure if a site is legal, the best place to search is "[streaming site] + reviews" or "is [streaming site] legal". It is also important to pay attention to other things that indicate unsafe websites. And make sure you protect yourself against malicious downloads, viruses and other malware with a strong virus scanner and malware removal software.

Is streaming a crime?

It's a question many people ask themselves: is streaming legal or not? Well, we can reassure you that streaming is not illegal at all, if you do it through legal streaming services. Think of Netflix, Disney +, Spotify, Google Stadia and Storytel. If you take out a subscription with one of these websites, you are completely within the law.

Legal streaming services

If you're looking for a legal streaming service, you have a few options. Here are a few examples:

  • Netflix: the most famous streaming service, where you can watch movies and series.
  • Disney+: Disney's streaming service, where you can watch movies and series.
  • Spotify: the streaming service for music and audio books.
  • Google Stadia: the streaming service for games.
  • Storytel: the streaming service for audiobooks.

It's legal!

So if you are looking for a legal way to stream movies, series, music, audiobooks or games, then you have come to the right place with the above streaming services. So you don't have to worry about breaking the law. Streaming is legal!


Now you know that streaming is a convenient way to watch and listen to content that doesn't require you to download the entire file first, and the magic behind it is really just a continuous stream of data over the internet.

Once you have the right equipment, it's time to enjoy all the beauty streaming has to offer! STREAMING is the future!

Always something to do for the holidays or rainy day?

Play Choice now has the ultimate activity book collection, with over 60 pages of fun coloring pages and educational puzzles.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of is a content marketer, father and loves trying out new toys. As a child he came into contact with everything related to games when his mother started the Tinnen Soldaat in Ede. Now he and his team create helpful blog articles to help loyal readers with fun play ideas.