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Streaming Audio – Sending Your Sounds to the World

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Streaming Audio – Sending Your Sounds to the World

Streaming audio is a method of providing audio distribution over the Internet. It can be used to download music or any kind of audio files, or can be used for real-time broadcasts from radio stations. When a user requests a sound file, the audio data begins “streaming” from the source to the user's computer. There is typically a small buffer which prevents the sound from stopping in case the data flow is interrupted.

Audio data is transferred in “packets” which are interpreted by the computer as they are received. Without streaming technology, the entire file would have to be downloaded before being accessed. Streaming audio allows end users to listen to large files without considerable download time. A typical audio stream will begin playing within 20 or 30 seconds after requesting it.

Before audio can be streamed, it must be compressed with the use of a codec. Uncompressed audio files are too large to conveniently transfer by Internet. Popular compression schemes include MP3, Real Audio, and Ogg Vorbis. Compressed audio files must be decompressed by a computer application as the streaming audio is received.

Streaming audio is available on a server which is accessible from anywhere on the Internet. Servers typically operate 24 hours a day so that the audio can be listened to any time. Audio players on the user's computer connect to the server and initiate the data transfer, allowing the user to listen to the music.

There are basically two types of streaming audio – “On Demand” and “Live”. On-demand audio can be listened to at any time, while live audio is broadcasts in real time. Many radio stations have live streaming audio so that users around the world can listen to their broadcasts.

Audio streaming is accomplished through the use of two Internet protocols - UDP and RTSP. These two protocols specify that if there is a loss of data in the data stream, delivery will continue. Even with small errors in the data the audio that is received is perceived as intact.

Audio streaming greatly increases the amount of audio data that is available to us. Rather than downloading complete files before listening to them, we can audition the first minute or two before deciding whether we want to hear the whole file.

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