Choosing Streaming Media Hosting

Choosing Streaming Media Hosting

There are several ways that you can implement streaming media on your web site, and the cost associated with each varies depending on the scale and quality.

First, determine whether you want to: a) do-it-yourself, or, b) outsource.

If streaming in-house, cost will vary from $3,500 to $20,000, depending on hardware, software, licenses, and bandwidth. Basic requirements are:

* 500MHz Processor
* 128K RAM
* Video Capture Card
* Minimum 7200rpm Hard Drive, preferably SCSI
* Minimum 128K DSL*
* Encoding Software -Free (Windows Media, Basic Real Producer)
* Video Editing Software (Adobe Premier, Final Cut)
*can use cable modems but amount of traffic on the network is unreliable and may degrade the quality of streams you provide
Pros: full control streaming
Cons: no live web cast (you’d need a reliable dedicated connection whose rate does not fluctuate); limited to your ISP’s backbone carrier so you may experience congestion or a limited bandwidth due to the ISP’s network1

If outsourcing, here are some suggestions for choosing both a streaming media hosting provider and a hosting plan:

1. Determine what level of deployment you want (or need) from the following:
* Web (HTTP) servers – upload on-demand content to the server; file will download rather than “stream”
o Pros: Easiest and least expensive method.
o Cons: File quality may suffer since web servers deliver content as fast as they can, whether or not the end user is ready or can handle the delivery
* Shared server -
o Pros: true streaming; streaming server features (ex. pause, rewind, fast forward control); host is responsible for keeping the server functioning.
o Cons: minimal control over the server; no control over other customers’ streaming traffic (if one customer gets lots of hits, service degradation could occur for other customers on that server)
* Colocation or dedicated severs – colocation requires you to own, load, and maintain hardware and software on the server, while dedicated means the provider leases the hardware to you and will load and maintain the operating system; you’re responsible for all applications (i.e.: streaming server software) on the box.
o Pros: full control over streaming
o Cons: you need to understand and maintain (24×7) the streaming server application; Costs $500 – $2000 per month, depending on hardware, software, and bandwidth requirements
* Content delivery network (CDN) – you place your content on the host’s network and it’s replicated throughout the network; host is responsible for maintaining hardware and software
o Pros: a highly redundant and distributed network.
o Cons: price2
2. Determine disk space requirement.
Streaming media hosts generally price services based on the amount of disk space required to store your files, so calculating your disk space requirement could help you avoid signing up for an account that is too small (or big) to host your media.

But first you need to remember that bit rates are used to measure media clip* size, and that 8 bits = 1 byte.

The simplest method:
1. encode media files in format** you need
2. add up the file sizes.

*Media clips are usually encoded at a lower bit rate than the target audience’s connection speed (40 Kpbs for 56 Kbps modem users, 100 Kbps for users with high-speed access).
**RealNetworks and Windows Media measure playback in bits per second; QuickTime measures playback in bytes per second.

Another way:
1. convert your running time to seconds (ex. 2:40 clip = 160 seconds)
2. multiply this by the streaming bit rate (ex. 100 Kbps) to calculate the total bits to be streamed (160s x 100 Kbps = 16,000 kilobits)
3. convert to bits to bytes (16,000 kilobits/8 = 2,000 kilobytes = 2 megabytes) Therefore, a 2:40 clip will require 2MB of disk space
4. repeat calculation for each file at each bit rate and in each format
5. total them to know how much disk space is required.3

But if you’re in a hurry and need an accurate calculation of how much disk space is required for your media files and/or you plan to use multiple bit rate technology, then you can just go to StreamingCalculator.com or use the Streaming Media Bandwidth Usage Calculator.

3. Consider the following factors:
* Service requirements (ex. tech support, encoding, back-ups, media reports/metrics, management)
* Amount of bandwidth (determine the additional charge per Mg beyond the package you’ve chosen)
* Surcharges (hidden or obvious)
* Setup fees (if any)
* Length of contract
* Upgrade/downgrade fees
* Reporting costs

4. Choose your plan.

For those wishing to host audio file sites, Radio ToolBox – Streaming Host Providers – offers a listing of providers complete with reviews, available services etc.

References:

1. Do It Yourself vs. Outsourcing. The advantages and disadvantages of buying stream hosting
2. Streaming Media Inc. – ‘Choosing a Hosting Provider The things to look for when outsourcing hosting solutions,’ by Steve Stevenson
3. ‘How Do Your Media Add Up?,’ by Nancy Crowell
*technology introduced by RealNetworks (SureStream) and Windows Media (Intelligent Streaming) that combines multiple bit rates into a single file; works by enabling the streaming server to shift bit rates during playback to optimize the end-user’s viewing experience; in case of network congestion, the streaming server can downshift the bit rate to prevent the clip from rebuffering or pausing to buffer more data and vice versa, if congestion clears during playback.

 

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