Today we’re going to dive into one of the more confusing topics in live streaming: encoding software and hardware. Encoders are essential for every live broadcast. For many consumer-grade streamers, encoders are invisible. But if you’re interested in higher-quality streaming, you’ll need to consider how to set up an RTMP encoder.
In this post, we’ll cover a few topics. First, we’ll define some important terms. Then, we’ll examine how encoding fits into a live video streaming workflow. After that, we’ll detail how to configure an RTMP encoder and connect it to an online video platform. Finally, we’ll review some of the common and popular encoders on the market.
Let’s get started.
Definitions: hardware vs. software encoders, and RTMP
Let’s start by defining our terms.
What is an encoder?
The word encoder refers to “codecs.” The term “codec” refers to an encoder/decoder: a computer program that compresses data files so that they are smaller in size. The details of this process aren’t important for this subject.
But, it is important to know that there are many different codecs in use. Some are optimized for minimum size. These codecs are often used by video cameras. Other codecs are optimized for live streaming.
A live video encoder exists for this purpose. On one end, video footage from a camera is fed to the encoder. In real-time, this footage is transcoded into a different format.
Hardware vs. software encoders
There are two types of encoders: hardware and software. A software encoder is an application that runs on a device such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone. It uses the device’s processing power to transcode video and deliver it.
A hardware encoder, by contrast, is a dedicated device. They come in various forms. Some are small, designed for mounting on a camera. Others are backpack-mounted or rack-mounted for use in studios or broadcast vehicles.
There are some pros and cons to using both hardware and software encoders. We won’t cover these in this article, but you can read more about them here.
What is RTMP?
Most encoders use the format RTMP. RTMP stands for Real-Time Messaging Protocol. RTMP is a delivery method designed for live-streaming. It’s not a codec, but RTMP commonly uses the H.264 codec. Simply put, the purpose of a live streaming encoder is to transcode video feeds into RTMP or another live streaming protocol and send them out to a streaming server.
The RTMP protocol isn’t used anymore to deliver streams to viewers. Most often, a modern protocol like HLS is preferred. However, RTMP is still the standard for delivering your streams to your online video platform.
To clarify, your video will follow this path:
- Recorded by camera
- Fed to RTMP encoder, prepared for delivery using the RTMP protocol
- Sent to your online video platform
- Prepared for delivery to viewers using the HLS protocol
- Sent to viewers
Configuring your RTMP encoder in 6 steps
Now that we understand the basic terms, we can dive into the details of how to configure an RTMP encoder.
1. Connecting your video sources
The first step is to connect your video sources. The method that you use to do this differs depending on whether you’re using hardware or a software encoder.
If you’re using a hardware encoder, the method is simple. Generally, hardware encoders have dedicated cable inputs for video cameras. These may include SDI inputs as well as HDMI. Additionally, some encoders support cameras via Wi-fi. Generally, these systems are plug-and-play.
The method for connecting cameras to software encoders may be a little more complex. Generally, this involves installing a “capture card” on a desktop computer. Laptops and other devices can use external capture cards that often attach via USB.
Once your camera is physically connected to the encoder device, it should be auto-detected. You can select it from a dropdown menu of “inputs.”
2. Create a new live channel and connect to your online video platform
The next step in setting up your RTMP encoder is to create a new live channel. This actually occurs via your online video platform. To do this using Dacast, follow these steps:
- Log into your account
- Click “Live Channels” in the left-hand sidebar
- Click the orange “Create” button in the upper right
- Enter a title for your new live channel, then click “add new” (Note the slider labeled “on/off.” You’ll need to toggle this when you’re ready to begin streaming)
- Click the “Encoder Setup” tab in the top-center of the screen
- This tab shows three simple setup steps. The first step involves selecting a publishing point (optional) and selecting a bitrate, resolution, and aspect ratio (also optional). The settings you select in your encoder (in step 3, below) will override these settings.
- The second step allows you to select an encoder. Select the option that matches the encoder you’re using, or select “other RTMP encoder.”
- Finally, the third step on the right side of the window will show a stream URL, a login, and a password. Leave this window open.
After your new live channel is created, you’ll need to link your encoder to Dacast. This involves navigating your encoder settings, usually labeled something like “Broadcast Settings” or “Output.” Enter your Dacast stream URL, username, and password here. Your encoder is now connected to your online video platform.
3. Select video and audio encoding options
The next step is to select your video and audio settings. First, this involves selecting a resolution, such as 1920 x 1080 (full HD) or 720 x 480 (standard definition). In this step, you’ll also select a bit rate and a codec. It’s most common to use H.264 for video, and AAC for audio.
To choose these settings correctly, you’ll need an understanding of your internet speed and that of your target audience. You might want to look at our recommended encoder settings.
4. Embed video player on your website
At this point, you’re pretty much done setting up your RTMP encoder. However, we recommend that you carry out a brief test stream at this point. A test stream begins with embedding a video player on your website. Since this is just a test, you may wish to use a private webpage.
The exact method for embedding a live stream video player depends on the online video platform you’re using. If you’re using Dacast, we provide simple embed codes that can be pasted into any website to display your video. Learn more about how to embed a video player here.
5. Conduct a test stream
Now you’re ready to begin a test stream. First, visit the Dacast back office and hit the toggle to turn your live channel “on.” Next, turn on your video cameras and start recording. Since this is a test, it doesn’t matter what you’re streaming. Finally, begin your live stream from the encoder you’re using to stream.
Visit the web page you embedded your video player on and take a look. Is the stream playing? Test it out with a desktop computer as well as a mobile device.
If you’re having problems here, you’ll need to do some troubleshooting. Troubleshooting can be frustrating, so try to be as systematic as possible. Check every link in the system. Ensure that cables are connected and that settings are correct. If you need more help, consider contacting technical support.
6. Start streaming
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’re now fully configured your RTMP encoder and are ready to begin live streaming. Feel free to now copy your video player over to whatever web page or site you plan to stream on. You can begin your live stream whenever you are ready to do so!
Popular RTMP encoders for live video streaming
Before we wrap up, we’d like to go over a brief list of some of the more popular RTMP encoders on the market. If you’re looking for an encoder, this list can help you narrow down your options and shop around. It isn’t exhaustive, but it will help get you started:
Configuring an RTMP encoder can be very confusing. That’s especially true if it’s your first time streaming. However, with some direction, the process becomes pretty straightforward. Our aim in this article has been to help you understand the process so that live streaming becomes simpler for you.
Any questions? Let us know by leaving a comment below! We have experience with most kinds of live video streaming encoders, so we can probably help no matter what issues you’re experiencing. For exclusive offers and regular live streaming tips, join our LinkedIn group. Want more details on the Dacast streaming platform, including secure video upload and China video hosting for VOD? You can review our live streaming pricing plans to decide which fits you best.
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By Max Wilbert.