Video Streaming Content Delivery – What to Look for in a CDN in 2022
Creating a positive viewer experience is very important in professional online video broadcasting. Businesses need to deliver an enjoyable viewing experience for their investment in video to be effective.
When people watch a poor-quality stream, they get upset before they even know it. Investing in professional cameras, microphones, lighting equipment, and encoder are some answers to this issue, but they require some additional support.
In this post, we’re going to discuss the importance of prioritizing video streaming delivery. We’ll start with the basics of streaming delivery before we look at some of the technical components that contribute to video content delivery.
We’ll also talk about what a CDN is and why professional broadcasters should use one. From there, we’ll look at four key elements of such a video CDN network. To wrap things up, we’ll discuss accessing a CDN through an online video platform.
Table of Contents
- Video Streaming Delivery: The Basics
- What Affects Video Content Delivery?
- What is a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?
- How Do CDNs Work?
- What to Look for in a CDN
- How to Access a Powerful CDN
- Which CDN Does Dacast Use?
Video Streaming Delivery: The Basics
The State of Streaming Research Report from IBM reported that 63% of live stream viewers cited buffering issues as the most serious issue they experience. That number was an increase from the previous year.
Buffering and similar issues are directly related to video streaming delivery. Delivering video streams over the internet is a highly complex process that requires a lot of technology working behind the scenes.
Professional broadcasters have different goals with their video content. Some are looking to generate revenue and others are trying to increase brand awareness. The common goal of most broadcasters is to create a pleasant user experience to keep their audience engaged and content.
Fortunately, there are a variety of factors that broadcasters can control to optimize their video content delivery.
What Affects Video Content Delivery?
There are different components that broadcasters can control that affect video content delivery, including internet connection, video player, streaming protocols, adaptive bitrate streaming, and CDNs.
Let’s explore each of these factors.
A strong internet connection is a must for streaming over the internet. This applies to both the broadcaster and viewers. An unstable connection on either end can affect the video delivery and reduce the quality of the stream.
A good internet upload speed for streaming is anything between 672 kbps to 61.5 Mbps. Typically, you want your internet speed to be at least double the video bandwidth that you plan to stream with.
Your video player plays a huge role in streaming delivery because it is the technology that makes your content accessible to viewers. Apple’s HTML5 video player is currently the only standard option since it is most widely compatible with browsers and operating systems.
The beauty of HTML5 video players is that they are open-source, so broadcasters can customize them to meet their streaming needs. As you tweak your video player, you must maintain the best streaming practices for your given video host so that everything functions properly with delivery.
A streaming protocol is a technology that is used to carry a video signal from its origin to viewers. HLS is currently the most widely used protocol for streaming delivery because it is compatible with the HTML5 video player and other related streaming technology.
When Adobe’s Flash player was still the standard video player for online streaming, RTMP was the primary protocol used for streaming delivery.
WebRTC is used for streaming in real time and it’s becoming more and more popular. WebRTC was developed for virtual meetings where participants need to interact with each other. When the pandemic caused many people to shift to virtual work, WebRTC was one of the technologies that made it possible.
SRT is another newer technology that could potentially replace HLS for video streaming delivery down the line. These streaming technologies are very powerful and efficient. However, they are still quite futuristic since related live streaming technology has not caught up to them, so there is not yet widespread compatibility.
Adaptive Bitrate Streaming
As we mentioned, the viewers’ individual internet connections affect the quality of the video that is delivered to them. While broadcasters can’t control these varying internet connections, they can accommodate them.
Adaptive bitrate streaming is the technology that many broadcasters use to accommodate viewers with different internet speeds. How this works is the video player automatically assesses the internet connection of each user and sends them the appropriate rendition, or different sized version, of the video based on what their connection can handle.
Adaptive bitrate streaming requires the support of a compatible video player and streaming protocols. It also requires video transcoding tools to create the different renditions of the stream.
Content Delivery Networks
CDNs are important for delivering high-quality streams and ensuring a positive user experience. The importance of CDNs is rooted in the fact that live streaming is a bandwidth-intensive, demanding process. Video files are large and can overload slow internet connections.
Using a live streaming CDN helps reduce buffering, lagging, and other issues that affect video streaming delivery quality. It sends the video content to the servers rather than directly to the viewers. From there the servers distribute it accordingly.
This extra step in the process helps to cut out the lagging and buffering that comes with transmitting bulky media files.
What is a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?
A Content Distribution Network, which is also known as a “content delivery network” or “CDN” for short, is a system of servers spread out over different geographical regions that deliver media to users that are far from the source.
When it comes to video streaming delivery, CDNs are one of the most significant considerations. Some of the types of media that CDNs distribute include text, images, video, and much more.
A CDN is a network of servers distributed around the world and linked via high-speed internet cables. CDNs use software to intelligently distribute traffic throughout the network. This helps route data fast to the closest servers to any user.
CDNs are essential for professional broadcasting since they allow you to bring high-quality video content to your users around the globe.
How Do CDNs Work?
As we mentioned, video streaming CDNs are made up of a collection of servers in different geographic locations. Content jumps from your video host to the closest server, then from that server to another, until it reaches the viewer’s screen.
These servers are called Internet Exchange Points and they are strategically placed to reduce the transmission time of the video so that your stream is delivered in as close to real-time as possible.
Content delivery speeds are partially determined by the number of “jumps” that content has to make between you and your viewer. For example, if a distant server is the host, web content on that server may take longer to load than it would if the host was nearby.
That said, a high-quality CDN can revolutionize and streamline that entire process.
What to Look for in a CDN
There are a few different aspects of certain CDNs that make them more useful than others.
These factors include:
- The number of servers in the network
- Geographic distribution of the servers
- Average performance
- Live streaming features
Let’s take some time to break down each of these aspects.
1. Number of Servers in the Network
A key element of a good CDN for live streaming is a large number of servers. The absolute size of the server network can be used as a proxy for scalability and overall speed.
The more servers in a network, the more bandwidth the network can handle.
This translates to less congestion for users and a better overall experience. A powerful live streaming CDN simply has a large number of servers available.
2. Geographic Distribution of the Servers
The distribution of servers is another key element for a live streaming CDN. CDNs operate via what’s called “PoP,” or Points of Presence. This refers to “edge” servers in the CDN network that deliver content directly to viewers.
The closer a given viewer is located to the nearest PoP edge server, the better their streaming experience is likely to be.
Many live streaming CDNs don’t have a huge distribution of edge servers. Typically, concentrations are high in major cities in the US and Europe. Once you start moving to other regions of the world, servers may be sparse or non-existent.
When this is the case, users located in these areas will see slower download speeds, lower-quality videos, more buffering problems, and longer video startup times.
Ideally, your live streaming CDN should have a wide global distribution of servers. These should be focused on the geographic region which contains your major target audience. For many broadcasters, their audience is global. If you’re streaming this sort of more general content, you must use a CDN that has a broad global distribution of CDN servers.
3. The Average Performance
The next important feature of a CDN is performance. Speed is related to size and several other factors. It’s hard to compare CDN speed directly since it can vary in any particular circumstance.
However, we can look at average performance to get a sense of CDN speed. Various CDN comparisons look at different providers and average out their performance across long periods to help you get a sense of which is fastest.
This is particularly important for live streaming as it leads to fewer viewing problems such as buffering issues.
4. Live Streaming Features
The final important element in a CDN for live streaming is its features. Some CDNs provide a greater range of features than others.
For example, on the Akamai CDN network, it’s fast and easy to launch as many simultaneous live streams as you desire. We call this live channel provisioning and it’s an advantage of this specific CDN network.
In contrast, some CDNs don’t support live streaming at all. Look for a CDN that offers the video hosting and live streaming features you need for your online video projects. CDN pricing may also be a factor here.
How to Access a Powerful CDN
There are many different CDN providers on the market today. Some of these options include Amazon’s Cloudfront, Microsoft’s Azure, Akamai, Limelight, and Cloudflare.
Here at Dacast, we believe that Akamai and Limelight are two of the best options available. That’s why we partner with both to deliver the content that is hosted on our streaming solution.
Akama has more than 240,000 servers, making it the largest server network of any CDN. Plus, its network is global, spanning a range of more than 130 countries, which is wider than any other CDN by far.
In one analysis of CDN throughput (a good metric for looking at live video streaming performance), Akamai was roughly 14% faster than CloudFront. International tests also tend to show a 15-20% speed advantage for Akamai as a result of its larger global distribution. This is particularly important for live streaming as it leads to fewer viewing problems such as buffering issues.
Limelight, on the other hand, has 135 PoPs in over 45 different cities. This CDN also has over 1000 ISPs and last-mile networks, which makes it effective for delivering high-quality content. Limelight’s innovative origin storage technology makes it 90-200% faster than other leading CDNs.
Which CDN Does Dacast Use?
Here at Dacast, we proudly partner with multiple top-tier CDNs to ensure high-quality video delivery to screens around the world. Dacast uses several CDNs, including Limelight and Akamai.
Since Dacast has an ICP certification, we are qualified to deliver content with China. In order to make China delivery possible, we have to use a CDN with the same clearance.
Our team is currently developing a multi-CDN platform, which will combine the resources of several CDNs and take our video streaming delivery to the next level. This advanced technology will enhance the performance of our existing infrastructure by improving video quality, reliability, and overall efficiency.
There are many things to consider when discussing video streaming delivery. Choosing an online video platform that is known for reliable content delivery with top-tier CDN partnerships, a powerful video player, and HLS delivery is a must if you’re looking to optimize your streaming delivery.
We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of some of the key features of CDNs for live streaming. There are concrete differences among the different CDN providers on the market. Understanding these differences, and which matter the most for live streaming, can help your video efforts succeed.
Using an online video platform such as Dacast is the best way to access a high-end CDN. It’s a more feature-rich and affordable option than using a CDN directly and will provide better performance.
If you want to see how live streaming with an online video platform paired with a powerful CDN works, we urge you to take advantage of our 14-day free trial. That way, you can test out streaming over the Akamai CDN right now.
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