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A Short Guide to Enjoying Webcasts 
 
by Scott Nesbitt July 22, 2005

Viewing video on the Web is popular. This article introduces Webcasts, and gives advice on how to get around some of the problems you might encounter when viewing them.

In its early days, the World Wide Web was a static, almost lifeless place. You only had text and graphics, with the occasional bit of animation thrown in for good measure. Then, someone came up with the bright idea to add video to the mix. The only problem was that you generally had to download each video you wanted, and play it offline. This took longer than the video’s running time, and the whole process was an overall disappointment.

But you no longer need to wait for video to download before watching it, although you still can if you want to. Today, you can view rich visual content through for webcasting. Webcasting is the use of the Web to broadcast video, whether pre-recorded or as an event is happening. The video you see is as varied as the people producing it, and can range from the nightly news to live feeds from a film festival or press conference.

How It Works

Webcasting differs from the traditional click-and-download that you’re used to. It relies on push technology. Push technology sends (“pushes”) content to your Web browser when you click a link. It’s sort of like changing channels on a TV. The information is there, and is waiting for you to tune into the right station to view it.

What gives a Webcast its flexibility is the ability to stream information. Streaming sends data so that your computer can deal with it in a stable, continuous flow. Unlike downloading, streaming starts playing Webcast before all of it reaches you. It's the next best thing to viewing content in real time.

The only drawback of streaming is that your computer must be able to gather the information and present it to you as it arrives. If it can’t, the computer and the software you’re using to view the Webcast must be able to buffer the video. Buffering saves the data you haven’t viewed in memory until your viewing software catches up with the video stream.

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