The “cloud” is a term thrown around a lot these days, but it is not always fully understood. The basic concept: Instead of keeping data on local storage belonging to the consumer, it’s stored on a company’s servers. The data is then accessible to the customer from any Internet-connected device, including cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions and other media players — making it a perfect fit for a hustle-and-bustle society constantly on the move.

“It revolves around what customers want now, which is convenience,” said Steve Rissi, CEDIA technical project manager. “Having a central database they can access from any location on any device is very convenient.”

Although cloud content delivery encapsulates other areas, the most utilized is streaming audio and video via the Internet. The statistics don’t lie: streamed content is now in the mainstream, even to those in rural areas. In April 2012, Calix, a provider of broadband systems, released a study of Internet usage of rural Americans that showed video streaming accounting for 67 percent of downstream Internet traffic there.

With smart TVs (those with Internet connectivity) on the rise, expect even more growth. Parks Associates, a market research firm, believes almost one-half of all HDTVs shipped in 2012 will be smart TVs. The same study said 71 percent of those with smart TVs watched online shows at least once a month, an increase of 20 percent over 2011.

CEDIA member companies are quickly picking up on this trend. In the 2011 CEDIA Expo Attendee Survey, 52 percent said they would be offering cloud computing/streaming media services within the next two years.

Popular video streaming services include iTunes, VUDU, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and of course, Netflix, which by some estimations, accounts for almost 30 percent of all Internet traffic on any given night. Most of these services charge a monthly fee to access a database of movies, although VUDU and iTunes are different, opting to charge for renting or buying movies or TV episodes on an individual basis.

Audio streaming programs in wide use include Pandora Radio, Rhapsody, Slacker Radio and Spotify, among others. Some of these providers offer free versions of their software and apps, but most either charge a monthly fee or offer premium versions (sans ads) for a price.

Because streaming content depends on an Internet connection to access and process the media, the importance of a consistent, strong connection is paramount. Weak connections can lead to buffering delays and poor-quality video. As such, Rissi recommends that the device processing and rendering video should be, if possible, connected directly to the network. In most cases, this would be through an Ethernet cable. “Most of the time, wireless is not fast enough, especially in maintaining video quality,” Rissi maintained. “If you want a high-quality video and audience experience, run a hard line — you’ll get a lot better readability.”

However, Rissi believes the answer may come from the improvement of infrastructure — namely, fiber optic cable lines, which will, he says, create a nearly “unlimited pipeline” for data to travel though.

Despite the potential downside, cloud content delivery will continue to become more popular, making it essential that businesses know how to set up a good system for their clients. “Cloud services aren’t going away,” Rissi emphasized.

The cloud has applicability to the security field for storage of video surveillance footage, which has the added advantage of being safely stored away from the structure being protected.

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