When it comes to streaming live video at the professional level, creating a pleasant experience for your viewers is of utmost importance. Keeping latency low is one thing that contributes to the viewer’s experience since it allows viewers to watch the events on the screen in close to real-time.
Different industries will benefit more than others from low latency live streaming, but it is generally a great practice in professional broadcasting.
In this post, we will explain what low latency streaming is and take a look at the features you should look for when choosing a low latency streaming solution. We will wrap things up by mentioning a few great encoders for low latency streaming.
Let’s get started.
In live streaming, video latency is the delay between when a video frame is captured and when that frame is displayed to the viewer. For example, if you’re watching a live sporting event, the latency is the time between a play happening in real life and when the play appears on your screen.
Latency takes place in a broadcast because processing and sending live video takes time. It doesn’t take much time, of course. Nonetheless, each step in the process results in a tiny delay, resulting from the time required for:
For streaming video, high latency and lagging can ruin a broadcast in many different ways. First, it can contribute to a sense of lagging that can ruin the viewer’s experience. Low latency streaming is especially important for certain types of content like sports.
Minimizing latency helps relay the content you’re broadcasting to your viewers in more of a “real-time” fashion. It helps keep them connected and engaged since it’s the closest thing to attending your event in real life.
According to Encoding.com, most live streams have latency in the 30-120 second range—sometimes more. In fact, there are two parts to latency: startup time and the lag between the event taking place and the live stream showing it on a viewer’s screen. Both are important to the viewer’s experience. Unfortunately, reducing one latency component can increase the other, in some cases.
We’ve established that low latency is often the preferred way to stream, but you’re likely wondering why this is the case.
As far as startup time, studies have shown that longer startups deter viewers and negatively impact their experiences. Online videos with a start-up time exceeding even two seconds have significantly higher streaming video abandonment rates. Each incremental second lag propels another 6% of viewers to jump ship.
Low latency during the broadcast itself is critical in a variety of situations. Here are a few scenarios in which low latency streaming media solutions are especially critical:
Using low latency streaming helps viewers to watch these events unfold in almost real-time, which creates a more lifelike experience.
There are very few low latency video streaming platforms on the market today. Each offers a different combination of price, usability, and features.
Let’s take a look at some of the features that you should look for when choosing a solution for live streaming without delay.
The best low latency video streaming platforms use the HLS streaming protocol. “HLS” is short for “HTTP Live Streaming” and it was designed by Apple to work with HTML5 video players. Both of these technologies are successors to the ancient Adobe Flash Player technology.
Most HLS streams start with RTMP ingest which is automatically converted to HLS for delivery by the video platform. This provides a high-quality stream to viewers but can introduce a latency of 30 seconds or more.
The reason that RTMP is still used for video ingestion rather than using HLS for both deliveries and ingest is that HLS on its own has a much higher latency. The RTMP ingest/HLS delivery combo makes it possible to stream on an all-device HTML5 video player while reaping RTMP’s benefit of low latency.
Paired with the right CDN, this technology can help decrease your latency into the 12-15 second zone.
As we mentioned, low latency streaming requires a combination of features. Just because a streaming solution has one or two of these features doesn’t mean they have ultra low latency video streaming.
If it is not published on their website, you’ll want to specifically ask a sales representative for the streaming solution how many seconds of latency their platform has. Under 15 seconds is typically ideal for most types of professional broadcasting, whereas ultra-low latency tends to be as fast as under 1 second.
A latency of 10 seconds or less is within the range of cable TV and most other professional broadcasts, whereas ultra-low latency tends to be as fast as under 1 second. Dacast, for example, offers HLS delivery with RTMP ingest for low latency streaming. This reduces latency to 15 seconds or less.
We’re constantly working to reduce our latency so that our users can produce live streams that are even close to real-time streaming. We’ve recently partnered with Limelight CDN with the launch of our UApp to reduce latency even more.
If you are new to professional broadcasting, you’re going to want to choose a low latency streaming solution that is easy to use. Unless your role at your company is dedicated to producing live streams, you likely don’t have the time for a steep learning curve.
Choose a streaming solution that is both simple to use and has a reliable customer support team that is there to help you when you need it.
It is also a good idea to make sure your streaming solution works seamlessly with professional equipment as well as with the laptop or computer you plan to work with. For example, Dacast simply requires a consumer-grade laptop to run (i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM minimum). You can also use the OBS Studio software encoder with Dacast, which is free to use.
Compare that to hardware encoders or workstations that typically cost $1,000 and up (some cost $10k+), and you can save substantial amounts of money. This makes it easier than ever to stream professional-grade broadcasts without a massive budget.
For example, a service like IBM Cloud Video restricts features like API access to plans costing over $999 per month.
These aren’t cherry-picked examples. Almost every live streaming platform on the market requires a bit of an investment to access more advanced features.
Dacast offers live streaming starting at just $39 per month and all access to premium features starting at $188 per month billed annually. This includes all the features that are restricted to these other streaming solutions.
VOD hosting, live streaming, API access, monetization, 24/7 tech support, and all security features are included with every Dacast plan.
Sixty-three percent of live stream viewers last year cited buffering issues as the most serious issue they experience, and that number is an increase from the previous year.
Lagging and buffering point to a serious issue. The best solution to this problem is to use a robust CDN or Content Delivery Network.
A CDN is a network of thousands of servers distributed to data centers around the world. These services help deliver content to users fast. They do this by automatically duplicating data and using intelligent routing algorithms to find the fastest path to any given viewer.
This process speeds up delivery, reduces buffering and lagging issues, and further minimizes latency. It also provides a level of redundancy, security, and scalability so that your video can reach any size audience.
Not all CDNs are created equal. Some are much smaller and slower than others, and some CDNs don’t support live streaming video at all. Dacast works with Limelight, which is regarded as one of the most reliable CDNs on the market.
Now that you have a better understanding of what to look for in a low latency streaming service, let’s take a look at some of the top solutions with integrated low latency live streaming options.
We will compare our platform, Dacast, with the Limelight CDN, and cloud streaming alternative Wowza.
First up is Dacast. The Dacast video streaming platform includes both live streaming and video on demand hosting, as well as a wide range of professional broadcasting features.
These features include:
Dacast now offers low latency streaming as a standard feature. This reduces latency to 10 seconds or less on average, a major improvement over standard HLS live streaming.
Broadcasters can contact Dacast directly to learn more about custom-priced high volume plans.
Limelight, which is one of Dacast’s content delivery partners, offers some support for hosting live streams with low latency.
The package that broadcasters would use in this situation would be “Video Delivery,” not to be confused with their “Content Delivery” package.
Although this platform is capable of live video hosting and management, it is much more limited in terms of features as compared to Dacast.
That said, here are a few of the features of this platform:
Limelight is a low latency streaming service by nature. The platform uses WebRTC technology and UDP data transfer protocol to make this possible.
Limelight does not have live streaming hosting prices listed on their website, but you can request a free trial to get started.
Some features of this low latency streaming service include:
Wowza’s low latency streaming media solutions deliver with less than 10-second latency.
As we mentioned, Wowza Streaming Cloud is the product from Wowza that is most comparable to the ones we mentioned above.
Within Live Event Pricing, monthly plans include:
All of these Live Event plans include full brand control, multi-bitrate streaming, and HD and UHD streaming.
As we mentioned, low latency streaming is the culmination of several great features that you’ll find on your video streaming solution. However, you’ll also need some support from some external tools.
One of the most important tools for live streaming is a video encoder.
A great free encoder to start with is OBS Studio. It’s compatible with Windows and Mac and includes a wide range of mixing and production tools. Plus, it supports the wide variety of plugins, scripts, and custom themes that are available for OBS.
As you become more experienced, you may want to invest in a paid encoding tool. We recommend exploring different hardware and software encoders.
Low latency streaming is very important in the world of professional broadcasting. Pay close attention to the offerings that support low delay streaming when comparing video streaming solutions.
Dacast’s low latency streaming platform and other features make it the best solution on the market today.
If you’re looking for a platform today, we can help you get started. We offer a white-label video hosting and live streaming platform and a 30-day free trial. That way, you can test out all the features before committing.
Create a Dacast account to get started today. No credit card required.
Do you have further questions or comments about these software applications? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. For regular live streaming tips and exclusive offers, you can join the Dacast LinkedIn group.
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