Differences Between Multicast and Unicast


There are two main ways that Windows Media servers send data to Windows Media Player clients: multicast and unicast.

When you are broadcasting live audio or video you can use either multicast or unicast. Your network environment and who your clients are determines what type of broadcast you should use.

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Unicast is a one-to one connection between the client and the server. Unicast uses IP delivery methods such as Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP), which are session-based protocols. When a Windows Media Player client connects using unicast to a Windows Media server, that client has a direct relationship to the server. Each unicast client that connects to the server takes up additional bandwidth. For example, if you have 10 clients all playing 100-kilobits per second (Kbps) streams, those clients as a group are taking up 1,000 Kbps. If you have only one client playing the 100 Kbps stream, only 100 Kbps is being used.


Multicast is a true broadcast. The multicast source relies on multicast-enabled routers to forward the packets to all client subnets that have clients listening. There is no direct relationship between the clients and Windows Media server. The Windows Media server generates an .nsc (NetShow channel) file when the multicast station is first created. Typically, the .nsc file is delivered to the client from a Web server. This file contains information that the Windows Media Player needs to listen for the multicast. This is similar to tuning into a station on a radio. Each client that listens to the multicast adds no additional overhead on the server. In fact, the server sends out only one stream per multicast station. The same load is experienced on the server whether only one client or 1,000 clients are listening

Important: Multicast on the Internet is generally not practical because only small sections of the Internet are multicast-enabled. Multicast in corporate environments where all routers are multicast-enabled can save quite a bit of bandwidth.

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