To provide video over the Internet, you need to have a server. Hosting your own streaming server is a good idea only if you already have a Web server with at least a T1 line running to it. However, if you have a Web server with no more than phone or ISDN lines you will not be able to stream video.
Many people who create video content would rather spend their days shooting and editing video than maintaining an ordinary Web server, much less one that streams video. For them, a remote server hosted by someone else is a good idea. If you do have your own Web server, you can provide a hyperlink to the video hosting company’s website. Alternately, you could keep all your Web content–including your video content–on a remote video streaming server and avoid the need for maintaining a Web server of your own. Another advantage of enlisting a remote host: a large video serving company could also draw more people to your video than you could draw to your own web page alone.
There are many considerations to keep in mind when choosing a streaming server. The first and foremost is how many “streams” you are allotted. A single stream would allow only one viewer to watch one video clip at a time. The more streams that are available, the more viewers who can watch at one time. For many Web sites, 10 streams would be plenty. If you had 20 minutes of streamed video on demand, 10 streams would allow up to 720 people to watch that video in a 24-hour period. Some servers charge you by the number of streams you want available to potential viewers, while others charge you by the number of streams they actually served to viewers of your video. If you are going through the trouble of having someone else host your video, you should choose one of the multiple protocol streaming software packages.
Along with choosing a server, you will need to decide what software you want to use to serve your video. Each package has its own features and drawbacks. Some programs require clients to download browser plug-ins to watch the video; others do not; still others cram a plug-in into your browser with the power of Java. The streamers that don’t require a plug-in transmit video through the Web’s HTTP protocol. These are convenient for the user because they are easiest to setup and use. However, they do not take advantage of alternative protocols that are designed to deliver video more quickly and accurately. Non-HTTP software packages use “non-reliable” protocols to send everything but the control information and are thus inherently faster.
When shopping for a streaming server company, consider the amount of bandwidth that it makes available for your content. The more bandwidth you have, the faster and better your video will stream to viewers. Some servers may use a process known as multicasting. Multicasting sends only one stream of video to a collection of servers. Those servers then re-transmit the video to viewers in their area. This process saves bandwidth on the backbone of the Internet, and allows for more video to be streamed without clogging the ‘net with video. The downside is that multicasting eliminates the on-demand aspect, you can watch a multicast only while it is being transmitted; you can’t initiate one on your own.
Choosing the right server is the most important decision you make after deciding that streaming video is for you. If the idea of setting up a high-bandwidth video server makes your head spin with unknown acronyms and arcane nerdspeak, then choose a remote video hosting company to stream your video for you.