Streaming Versus Downloading

This week, I’m going to compare streaming versus downloading. I had a lengthy conversation with my dad today trying to explain the difference between streaming and downloading. I thought this would make a great episode for those who are confused about it.

Eric Escobar
5-minute read
Episode #177

OK, first let’s define streaming and downloading. Downloading is when you take a file, whether that be a video, music, or some other data, and you copy it from a device or the Internet to your computer or phone. Downloading a file makes a copy of that file on whatever device you are using.

On the other hand, streaming is when your device receives data constantly. Think of streaming like your radio: you can listen to the content, but can’t save it (easily at least)..

“So what are the benefits, and when would you use each of these, Tech Talker?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. You probably run into streaming most frequently with services such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, etc.downloading versus streaming

These services are great because they allow you a huge selection of content that you don’t need to have stored on your local laptop, desktop, or phone. You would have to have a mountain of hard drives to be able to download the vast amount of music and video these services have if you wanted to view it without the Internet!

This means all you need is an Internet browser to listen to or watch all of that content. The only downside is that streaming content requires that you use data—sometimes a ton of it! As a quick example, my two cousins were on a road trip with their parents and they both wanted to watch Netflix. They both watched different movies on their smartphones, which used their family data plan. In just over an hour, they reached their data limit.

This has to do with the fact that they were streaming video. Video is one of the most data intensive types of content to stream. If you think about it, it makes sense: you’re viewing at least 30 pictures a second, along with audio. Watching Netflix on high resolution can burn through 2GB of data in no time at all.

Streaming music services aren’t nearly as bad because audio is not nearly as data intensive. You can listen to a lot of music before you reach your data limit!

Streaming excels when you’re on WiFi (or have an unlimited data plan) because then it doesn’t matter how much data you stream. It’s great when you have devices such as smartphones or laptops with solid state drives with little storage, because it means you don’t have to download the files directly to your device.

It’s also really nice because you can upload a video to Youtube, send the link to that video to anyone in the world, and they can watch it instantly instead of having to wait minutes to hours for the video to download before they can watch it. With this, you can watch the video before having to wait for it to download it.

OK, so streaming is pretty great, right? It is, but it has some drawbacks. For example, I’m writing this podcast while I’m trapped on a plane without any WiFi or cell data. That means I don’t have access to any streaming music or streaming video, such as Pandora or YouTube.

Another caveat to streaming is that it sucks up quite a bit of battery life on portable electronics. Not only are you watching a video or listening to audio when you stream content, but you’re also using the WiFi or cell phone radio in your device constantly in order to communicate with the Internet. This uses a massive amount of power, so much so that after you stream a movie, I bet you can feel your device getting warm!


About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.