We live in an age where traditional, physical media is quickly becoming a thing of the past, especially when it comes to our entertainment. Back in the 1990’s, everyone was looking for local cable deals and if you wanted to watch a movie, you went to a Blockbuster; if you wanted to read a book, you went to the library; if you wanted to listen to music, you made a run to the CD section of Walmart or Virgin Music. Now, you just get on the Internet.

The revolution that is online, digital streaming has completely shaken the entertainment industry to its core. With declining sales of physical media, publishers and distributors have had to get creative to stay in business. For you, who just want to enjoy your favorite TV shows, music, games, and books, streaming is an absolute godsend. But if you’ve never used it before, you may be asking, “What is digital streaming?” and “How do I use it?”

This guide will be your comprehensive introduction to online streaming, and offer you some suggestions to get you started.

What is Online Streaming?

Streaming, in layman’s terms, means that you’re using the Internet to watch and listen to media, rather than a piece of hardware. As I mentioned above, CDs, Cassette Tapes, DVDs, and print books used to be the norm. Streaming eliminates the need for physical media, and you no longer have to worry about whether or not a store carries what you’re looking for, or if your items will get damaged or broken.

How Does it Work?

Streaming works by compressing the data that makes up a movie, song, game, or book, and then sends it directly to your device. Though similar to a digital download, in that you don’t need the physical media to watch or listen, unlike a digital copy, streaming doesn’t download anything onto your device, meaning that you save your storage space.

What do I Need to Use Streaming?

First and foremost, you’ll need an Internet connection. Since the data used to stream your movie, TV show, or music is fed to your device in real time, the faster your connection, and the more bandwidth you’re alloted, the better your experience will be.

Second, you’ll need a device that supports streaming. This isn’t hard to find, since most TVs, and all computers and phones, support streaming, so it’s really up to you, based on your preference and the services you want to use. There are devices that specialize in consolidating the different streaming services onto one device, such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which will allow you to access plenty of great content, and can be customized to improve your streaming experience.

Does Streaming Cost Anything?

That depends on what you’re trying to stream. There are plenty of free uploading and streaming services, like YouTube and Vimeo, that allow you to stream a wide variety of content without paying any money (although you’ll have to endure some ads throughout). Most streaming services, especially those that offer movies and TV shows, do charge a premium.

Outside of subscription fees, the only other costs are what you pay your Internet service provider, and for your streaming device. You may also have to pay for individual movies, TV show seasons, and songs that aren’t included in a subscription.

Do I Have to Have Cable/Satellite TV to Stream TV Shows?

No, you don’t, and in fact, that’s one of the main advantages of streaming. Cable and Satellite TV packages often have you pay a high fee for channels that you probably don’t ever watch anyway. With streaming, you only pay for what you want. Certain services also offer live streaming TV as part of their subscription.

Are There Any Risks with Streaming?

The biggest risk of streaming is that, since all of this is data, the streaming services can, and often do, swap out their catalogue for new content. They’re like any other user, and only have so much data storage available, so to free up space, they’ll swap out TV shows and movies frequently for newer titles. For you, it means that you might lose access to your favorite content.

The only other risk, depending on your internet connection and the quality of the streaming service, is frequent interruptions. You’ve been on webpages that took forever to load due to a poor connection; streaming is the same. If your internet is slow, you can expect frequent periods where your content stops playing, in order to buffer, and may even time out on you.

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