When an event or function is processed instantaneously, it is said to occur in real-time. To say something takes place in real-time is the same as saying it is happening "live" or "on-the-fly." For example, the graphics in a 3D action game are rendered in real-time by the computer's video card. This means the graphics are updated so quickly, there is no noticeable delay experienced by the user. While some computer systems may be capable of rendering more frames per second than other systems, the graphics are still being processed in real-time.
While video games often require real-time rendering, not all graphics are rendered in real-time. For example, some complex 3D models and animations created for movies are not rendered in real-time, but instead are pre-rendered on a computer system so they can be played back in real-time. As graphics cards get increasingly faster, they are capable of rendering some 3D animations in real-time that previously would need to be pre-rendered.
Real-time also describes the way streaming media is processed. Instead of waiting for a file to completely download, the information is played back as it is downloaded. This allows for news broadcasts, sound clips, and other streaming audio and video data to be played live from the Internet. Thanks to real-time processing, people can access information without having to wait for it. This is an important benefit since these days, anything that takes longer than 5 seconds seems like a long time.
Updated: January 8, 2007