How to Watch Streaming Video with a Computer
There are five major file types used for streaming video online. They all offer similar video quality, but
differ in their popularity with end users. Generally speaking, the five different formats are not compatible with
In order to watch streaming video with a computer, users must have the appropriate software installed. There are
some third party video players, however, that are designed to handle a variety of streaming video formats.
The most popular streaming video format is Flash. Flash files require a special plugin which allows users
to watch streaming video in a browser window, but the plugin is easily accessible and easy to install. Flash
files can be used for a broad range of multimedia content including games, which is a factor in their
Windows Media is a close second to Flash because it is included with the Windows operating system. Since most
computers operate on Windows, most computers can handle streaming Windows Media. Microsoft, however, frequently
changes the format of Windows Media, so users who don't update their computers may find their old Windows Media
Player to be incompatible with the new video files.
Apple Quicktime - RealMedia
Apple Quicktime and RealMedia share about the same market popularity which is much lower than either Flash or
Windows. One reason for this may be their emphasis on the paid versions of their media players. RealMedia is
particularly notorious for making it hard to find the free version of their player, and also discourage many
potential users with the large number of forms which must be filled out before being able to download the
Apple is not quite as bad as RealMedia, but their player is a huge download, and every time it starts you are
reminded to buy the full featured commercial player.
MP4 Video Streaming
The fifth major format used for video streaming is MP4 which is supported by several different players including
Quicktime and Windows Media Player. MP4 offers a slightly better file size/video quality ratio than the other
formats, but not enough to be noticeable by the average viewer.
Video files destined for streaming must be compressed to reduce the data transmission requirements. Without
compression there would be no video streaming, at least not at the data transmission rates that we currently use
for the Internet.
Streaming video compression is done with software called a
CODEC - COmpression/DECompression. There are many different codecs and each uses a different method to compress the
video. In order to see the video, a compatible codec must be present on the viewer's computer. If the correct codec
is not present the video cannot be viewed.
Most computer operating systems come complete with a set of standard codecs, but if you wish to watch a
streaming video file that uses another codec, you must find that codec and install it on your computer.
There are a variety of software tools that can tell you what kind of codec is required, and codec packs are
available from the Internet that contain the most popular ones.