The hardware behind live streaming

Posted on Monday, Sep 02 2019 @ 18:48 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
This year marks my twentieth year on the Internet. A lot has changed in those two decades. When I made my first steps on the Internet, I used a 33.6k modem in combination with a dial-up Internet subscription. That quickly turned into a 56k modem, which was still awfully slow, and a couple of years later the switch to 10Mbps cable Internet felt like I had made a giant leap forward.

But even in the early years of the previous decade, it was hard to imagine live streaming. Sure, we were doing some basic stuff online like multi-player video games and some Java-based web games, but anything more than web radio wasn’t really that common.

The golden age of streaming
As more people got faster Internet connections, and as the backbone of the Internet got stronger, this started to change. Video streaming seemed marvelous at first and the launch of YouTube in 2005 really made it mainstream. Nowadays streaming makes up the bulk of downstream Internet traffic, a recent Global Internet Phenomena Report from Sandvine reveals Netflix alone accounts for nearly 15 percent of Internet bandwidth globally. YouTube makes up another 11.4 percent and other types of HTTP media and MPEG transport streams add up to another 17.5 percent of global Internet traffic.

That makes streaming truly massive, it absolutely dwarfs the 7.8 percent that’s used by web browsing. Besides entertainment, streaming is also used for business tasks including VoIP, voice calling and the streaming of applications.

Early attempts at streaming/cloud computing
The concept of a “net box” was introduced in the 90s by companies like Sun Microsystems and Oracle. The idea back then was to introduce scaled-down, inexpensive computers that did not feature a hard disk drive.

At the time, it was a really controversial idea that was totally different to what Microsoft and the rest of the PC industry were pushing. Perhaps it was 15 years too early but these days the idea of getting your data and software from the Internet is not as outlandish as it was back then.

Most people use at least one form of cloud computing on a daily or weekly basis. This includes basic stuff like using web-based e-mail, which stores both the application and the data on the web. More advanced forms include Microsoft’s Office 365 or the Google Apps, or business applications like Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure, as well as virtualized environments that are streamed over the web.

How streaming works To get a basic understanding of how streaming works, we’ll take a brief look at the underlying concepts of video streaming. Basically, there are two ways to watch a video that you retrieve from the Internet. The first method is to download the file entirely. This is how things were done before streaming became mainstream. The downside here is that you need to download the entire file before you can start watching it. This takes a long time and is also inconvenient if you only want to watch or preview certain parts of the video clip. You also need local storage space to save the video clip, which can be a problem on devices with limited storage space like mobile devices. Streaming on the other hand is basically a continuous transmission of data. The video is broken down into small packets, which contain a small part of the original video. This flow of data gets interpreted by your browser, and buffering techniques are used to ensure the content can keep playing if the Internet connection is briefly disrupted. For media consumption, streaming is without a doubt the preferred method on the web. Besides being very user friendly, streaming is also easy on your storage disk as little is saved locally.

How streaming changed online gambling
Online gambling is a billion dollar industry and just like the rest of online entertainment it has jumped onboard the streaming train. Long gone are the days you need to head to brick-and-mortar casinos to satisfy your gambling cravings.

These days you have places like canadian live casino that offer live casino games that let you play in real-time with human dealers, physical cards, and real roulette wheels. This is a major step up versus the online casinos of the past that offered boring Java-based games. Thanks to the evolution of streaming technology, you can enjoy real-life casino games from the comfort of your own home. Players can view the dealer and the table or games via high-quality camera live streams and can interact via chat.

Typically, some more high-tech is involved including chips or tags in the cards that get scanned and registered by the casino software. The gambling firms have done their best to ensure these live casino games match the offline experience as good as possible.

The future of streaming
What is next for streaming? Video gaming remains the holy grail of streaming. A lot of companies have tried to bring video game streaming to the masses, but so far the technology hasn’t been able to replace physical media or video game download services like Steam. The problem is that you need not only a fast Internet connection, but also low latency or otherwise your gaming experience will feel very sluggish.

In the near-future, this may change as tech heavy-weights are jumping into the battle. One of the big announcements of last year was Google’s Stadia. This is a new cloud gaming platform that is expected to be introduced later this year.

Google Stadia promises to be capable of streaming video games at a resolution of up to 4K! Whether it will catch on remains to be seen but cloud gaming has the potential to significantly change the gaming industry.

If you want to play high-end video games at high quality settings, you need expensive hardware. The CPU is no longer as important as it used to be, but you definitely need an expensive GPU if you want to play games at high-resolutions. If Google Stadia is successful, gamers may no longer need to buy expensive hardware but could just share the hardware that’s inside Google’s Stadia servers.

To conclude this article: streaming remains the future.