Streaming Terminology: What You Need to Know

Photo of Neon Question Marks

Streaming video is an exciting use of broadband internet access, but if you are not familiar with the technology some of the terms can be confusing. In this post, we'll go over some of the important terms. We'll take a look at the technical things you need to know about streaming video as well as some of the types of video services that are available.


For every second of play time, a video file takes up a certain amount of space. When you are streaming video, your internet connection must be fast enough to download the video file as it is playing. As the name implies, bitrates are measured in bits. This can be a bit confusing because most file sizes are measured in bytes. There are 8 bits in a byte. What this means is that a video file that is 1 megabyte per second, would have a bitrate of 8 megabits per second. In general, the larger the resolution of the video, the larger the bitrate will need to be. If two videos have the same resolution, the one with the higher bitrate will usually look better.

You may also come across the terms constant bitrate and variable bitrate. These are simple to understand. The more complex a given video frame is, the harder it is to compress. A simple video frame, say a pure white screen, is very easy to compress. This means that a complex image requires a higher bitrate to look good than a simple image does. Constant bitrate video is encoded at the same bitrate no matter how complex a given frame is. This is not very efficient.

Variable bitrate files take a look at the frame and use a lower bitrate for the frame if it is not overly complex. This means that you can have the quality of a higher bitrate when needed, and the decreased file size of a smaller bitrate when it is not needed. Because variable bitrate almost always results in smaller file sizes, the technology is often used for streaming video.

Download Speed

Your download speed is how fast your internet connection can download data. As mentioned earlier, your download speed must be higher than the bitrate of the video in order to stream it. If your download speed is not fast enough, the video will buffer and you will have interruptions in your viewing.

There are some things to understand about download speed. The download speed that your ISP gives you is not always the download speed that you will experience. If you are streaming at prime time, when all of the other households are also streaming, then you will have reduced speeds. Similarly, if several members of your own household are streaming videos, then you will also have reduced speeds.

You can check your actual download speed at any given time by visiting your Buckeye Broadband Speed Test. This service will let you know how your internet connection is performing under the current conditions. Internet speeds are measured in bits per second, just like video bitrates are.

Live Stream

Another term you have likely come across online is live stream. Fundamentally, a live stream is exactly like live TV. It is video that is being streamed to you as it is happening. In many cases, it is exactly like live TV. Things that are normally covered by 24-hour news sources, or even special broadcasts, like presidential addresses, are now streamed live to the internet as well.

The range of content available via live streaming goes much further than important newscasts though. There are a wide range of streamers (people who live stream) on sites like YouTube and Twitch. These people fill every niche imaginable. Some have regularly scheduled shows and others simply broadcast when they feel like it.

One thing to keep in mind is that live streams are often recorded and made available for viewing later. Despite the fact they are no longer live, some people may still refer to the recording as a live stream. Because of this, the term can be thought of to mean video that was at one point live.

Over-The-Top Media

Over-the-top media, otherwise known as OTT, is the delivery of video-based content that does not require the consumer to subscribe to a cable or satellite provider. The most popular OTT providers are services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. OTT services can be used via websites on personal computers or via apps on mobile devices, set-top boxes, video game consoles, and smart TVs. This gives the viewer much more freedom over where they can watch the shows and movies they want compared to traditional cable and satellite TV services.

The success of the OTT model has allowed the big players the financial ability to create their own original programming. This programming often has budgets that match or exceed that of cable channels. The end result is more quality entertainment for consumers across a more diverse set of providers.

TV Everywhere

OTT media services enabled many consumers to untether themselves from cable or satellite TV packages. TV everywhere is largely a way for those services to remain competitive in a world increasingly dominated by streaming video. Under the TV Everywhere (TVE) business model, cable or satellite customers are provided access to streaming video from cable TV channels as part of their television package.

This access can be through a specific channel's website or app, or it may be through a special app that the television provider makes available to users. The end result is the same though, you can have access to dozens of cable channels without having to be near a TV, but only if you pay for a television package. Depending on the channel, this access may be on-demand, live broadcast only, or a combination of the two.

This type of service opens up a large amount of content to people who do not wish to be tied to a television set. Content that they would not be able to get with services like Netflix or Hulu alone. A new addition to this level of service is our StreamTV, which builds more Live content into what is available to you with your cable package.

Filed Under: