Microsoft has a paper which compares two methods for streaming media files online.
It is a well written piece and I would recommend reading it.
Here I have tried to rephrase and summarize it for myself.
Others might find it useful too.
Basically the two approaches are
(a) A Normal Web-server (Also known as Progressive Download or HTTP Streaming)
(b) a specialized streaming server.
Normal web server uses existing infrastructure, whereas for (b) you need
to buy specialized software(not sure about hardware, but I guess an upgrade would be
(a) Uses the standard HTTP/TCP protocol set for transmitting the media file(s) but (b)
uses a customized variant of UDP or even TCP as the case might be. Hence (b) can
meet the real time requirements.
(a) is less secure as the browser stores the file in a cache which anyone can copy. With
(b) copying is not straightforward as of now ;-)
Due to specialized nature of (b) random access is supported even if the file
hasn't been downloaded completely. With (a) it's not possible.
Here is another useful article on the same topic.
PS : I just read about Rich Media Project, which claims to have several features
of a specialized streaming server but with much lower costs. It doesn't even need
any special software for that purpose.
Also, there is an open source streaming server called Red5 available as well, here.
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