What’s the Difference Between Streaming and Downloading Media?

  • Streaming is playing media on a device which is stored on another eg Netflix
  • Downloading is when you download media to your device and play it eg iTunes
  • When you stream you continuously use data every time you listen or view vs downloading which is uses data only once. Playback is from your own device.

Consumption of online content has gone through a transition over the past couple of years. Internet usage is currently transitioning through to the post-download era as streaming becomes the primary method of consuming online content.  Streaming now dominates both video and audio markets, with market leaders such as Netflix and Spotify heading the transition to streaming. The key difference between streaming and downloading is simply that streaming accesses content which is stored on another, whilst downloading is when you download that content to your own device and play it from there.

Streaming vs Downloading

Streaming

  • Access content from another device, server or provider.
  • Content typically needs to buffer for a few seconds before playing (dependent on the speed of your internet connection).
  • For video streaming, your connection speed needs to be typically above 5 Mbps. If you do not have this speed you may experience buffering, which is the content pausing as it streams ahead.
  • To stream the highest quality video 4K, you will need a connection speed of 25 Mbps minimum to have a buffer free experience.
  • Streaming content online is either made available free, such as FreeView, or a monthly subscription format such as Netflix or Spotify.
  • Streaming at times can use more data than downloading, for example when music is streamed through Spotify, it needs to use data each time you play the same song.

Downloading

  • Download content to your device from another device, server or provider.
  •  No buffering involved but you will require to wait for the content to download to your device before accessing it.
  • You can transfer this content from device to device. Although this can be limited depending on the copyright of the content.
  •  The content is only accessible from the device you downloaded it to.
  •  Usually less data intensive as the content is downloaded once and can be played many times.