Live streaming over the internet has evolved at a rapid rate over the past decade. New technology has improved and simplified the streaming experience for broadcasters and viewers alike.
Over the past year, in particular, the value of live streaming in every facet of life has really shone through. Live streaming makes it possible to host virtual events and reach viewers both near and far.
In this post, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about video streaming technology. We’re going to take a look at how streaming video works in general before looking at different types of live streaming technology and notable broadcasting tools and equipment. To wrap things up, we will review a couple of types of emerging streaming technology in 2021.
Online video streaming is a science that is still being optimized. However, the technology that is currently available is very powerful and makes it possible to stream video live.
Viewers from around the world can attend a single event without leaving the comfort of their homes. This has revolutionized the way that we learn and carry out business. It has even changed the way that we consume media and engage in activities for leisure.
There is so much that goes on behind the scenes to bring viewers high-quality video content as it plays out in real-time. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of these technologies, it is important to understand the path that a video takes from the time it is recorded on a camera until it reaches viewers’ screens.
The online video streaming setup typically looks like this:
This setup may vary, depending on the specific tools you’re using.
From reviewing the video streaming setup we mentioned above, you can see that there are a lot of moving parts. Several different types of video streaming technology come together to create a seamless streaming experience.
The four major types of streaming technology include streaming protocols, codecs, video players, and content delivery networks. Each of these key components works together to transmit video from point A to point B.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these technologies and the roles that they play in online video streaming.
Streaming protocols are standardized methods of delivering media across the internet. They take small chunks of data to make them light enough to carry over a variety of internet connections.
Protocols are important for broadcasting because they carry the content from one point to the next in the video streaming process.
There are several streaming protocols that are important for live streaming. Let’s take a look at a few that are most commonly used today.
The HTTPS Live Streaming (HLS) protocol is one of the most important protocols in streaming today. This protocol was founded by Apple to work with the HTML5 video player. It is used to deliver the media from the content delivery network to the user-facing player.
HLS can also be used for ingesting media from the encoder to the online video platform, but since HLS encoders are not that popular yet, HLS delivery is typically paired with RTMP ingest.
Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) is another very important protocol that broadcasters use today. This was created to deliver content to Adobe’s Flash player, but since this video player has died out, it has assumed another role in streaming.
Today, this protocol is used for RTMP ingest. That means that it transports videos from the encoder to the online video platform or directly to the content delivery network.
RTMP provides the benefit of low-latency streaming and access to affordable RTMP encoders.
Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) is a lesser-known protocol that is actually quite important. It is often confused with RTMP, but the two are not one and the same.
RTSP is used to carry commands from the user to the video player. For example, it tells the video player when the user is clicking Play, Pause, Fast-Forward, and other in-player commands.
RTSP is also valuable because it allows viewers to access video content before it is completely downloaded. This enhances the viewer experience because it doesn’t keep them waiting to play their desired content.
MPEG-DASH is an open-source streaming standard that is structured similarly to HLS. What sets this standard apart is that it was the first to support adaptive bitrate streaming. This allows viewers to automatically access a stream in the quality that is best suited for their internet speed. That way, people with slower internet don’t experience excessive lagging and buffering.
MPEG-DASH is typically lumped in with streaming protocols, but it actually operates with the help of TCP, which is another protocol.
This standard is slowly gaining the support of related technology, so its compatibility is growing.
When you record a video on a camera, the RAW video files are made up of thousands of still frames that produce the fluid motion that we know as video. However, these files are very bulky which makes them un-streamable. In order for them to be made streamable, they need to be converted into a digital file.
In order to convert videos into a digital file, stills that are duplicates and deemed unnecessary are thrown out or compressed for transportation. A codec, which is a portmanteau for “coder-decoder,” is the technology that makes that happen.
Basically, a codec packs up the video files that it receives, transports them from one stop in the streaming process to the next. They keep their contents compact to make it easy for them to travel over the internet.
The tools that use codecs are called “encoders.” There are both hardware and software encoders, and we will talk more about these tools a little later on.
A video player is a user-facing technology that lets viewers see a video stream. In the past, Adobe’s Flash player was the standard, but since it was not compatible with mobile streaming, it has since become obsolete.
The HTML5 video player has since become the industry standard. This video player was founded by Apple to support mobile video streaming. The HTML5 video player is supported on pretty much any internet-enabled device thinkable, including smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and gaming consoles. HTML5 is also compatible with most browsers and operating systems.
In addition to ultra-compatibility, the HTML5 video player is very secure and easily customizable. Since it has so many benefits for broadcasters, HTML5 is the standard for most live streaming platforms.
A content delivery network (CDN) is a series of servers that are strategically placed over a geographic region to deliver high-quality content to locations that are remote from the stream’s source.
How it works is the streaming CDN sends the content to a network of servers. Users select their desired content via video players connected to the online video platform. From there, the CDN will redirect the request from the originating site’s server to a server in the CDN that is closest to the user and deliver the cached content.
By having servers placed closer to both the origination point and the destination, content can be delivered much faster.
Many broadcasters access CDNs via partnerships formed via their selected online video platform. Dacast, for example, partners with Akamai, Limelight, and other top-tier CDNs to provide fast, high-quality streaming to viewers around the world.
Take a look at our comparison of video CDNs for video streaming to learn more about the top options on the market.
There are several tools, including a variety of hardware and software, that brings all of this technology to life to make broadcasting easy for professionals without much technical know-how.
Let’s take a look at a few important tools for online video streaming.
One of the most important video streaming tools is an online video platform (OVP). This tool brings all of the other technology together and streamlines the broadcasting experience. A well-equipped OVP makes it possible for even brand new broadcasters to get into the online video streaming game.
Streaming equipment to capture your stream is non-negotiable. You need a reliable camera and audio capturing tools to record your stream.
There are quite a few different cameras you can choose from for online video streaming, ranging from a simple webcam to a professional camcorder. We recommend checking out our list of suggested live streaming cameras to see some of the top options on the market.
As for audio capture equipment, sometimes the microphone that is built into the camera will do, but an external microphone is a quick fix that will take your audio quality to the next level. A simple handheld or lapel clip microphone is a small investment that can give your stream a more professional touch.
Encoding is another important part of the online streaming process. As we discussed before, encoding is what converts RAW videos to digital videos, which is important for streaming over the internet.
Broadcasters can choose from hardware and software encoders. In general, hardware encoders are much more expensive, but they are dedicated devices, which makes them a bit more powerful. Software encoders are much more affordable, and some are even free. Encoding software is almost as powerful as hardware encoders, and they can be updated like any other software.
Video streaming technology is still evolving at a rapid rate. New developments continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and improve different aspects of online streaming. For example, some emerging technology is simply improving quality and experience while another new technology is exploring uncharted territories.
Here are a few examples of innovative streaming technology that you should keep an eye out for as they continue to develop and grow in popularity.
WebRTC is an emerging streaming project that was founded by Google to support real-time latency and peer-to-peer streaming.
WebRTC is currently used in a number of video conferencing apps, but online video platforms are slowly adapting to support this protocol to tap into its ultra-low latency capabilities. Although WebRTC is still a work in progress the future of the project will depend on how related live streaming tools adapt to support it.
SRT is a developing streaming protocol that is known for low latency and reliable security. With those two characteristics and others, SRT is capable of streaming at a level that matches the combined forces of RTMP and HLS.
Another major benefit of SRT is that it is responsive. That means that it adjusts its carrying capacity based on the speed of the internet to avoid buffering, lagging, and failure.
At this time, very few online video platforms support SRT, but this protocol will likely continue to grow in popularity as more video streaming tools become accommodating.
Immersive video streaming is another hot streaming technology that lies before us. This is a style of experiential streaming that helps viewers feel like they are in the video. There are a few types of immersive streaming including virtual reality and 360 video streaming.
360 video streaming uses a filming style that captures video from what would be the viewers’ point of view. This relatively easy content to create, and it can be accessed on a regular video player. Simple cinematic elements can help to improve the user experience.
Virtual reality (VR) is a bit more advanced, and it requires a special headset for viewers to consume and experience. It also takes some more advanced work on the development side. In VR, viewers can move freely around the augmented reality.
Immersive streaming can be a great tool in both professional and casual settings. Immersive streaming has been used to enhance different areas of business, and it is also used for entertainment purposes.
This technology is still developing, so it will be interesting to see where it goes.
In recent years, high-definition 4K streaming was seen as an incredible feat. However, 5K and 6K streaming are on the horizon as cameras become more advanced and streaming infrastructure becomes more powerful.
Although cameras are capable of 5K and 6K streaming, the rest of the streaming technology is still catching up.
CAPTION: Are you ready to start streaming online?
Online video streaming is very important to businesses and organizations that are looking to engage with their current audiences and extend their reach to new viewers.
Although some of the live streaming software technology we’ve mentioned in this post might sound complex or confusing, most broadcasters can get away with just knowing the basics. When you use a professional streaming solution, like Dacast, a lot of the “behind the scenes” technology is automatically configured. However, having a general idea of how it all works will help you make educated decisions throughout the process.
Looking for a powerful online video platform to help you start streaming? Dacast may be the option for you. Our platform is equipped with all of the tools that broadcasters need to host, manage, and deliver high-quality video content. Dacast offers white-label streaming, global content delivery, video monetization, top-notch security, and more.
You can try Dacast risk-free for 30 days by signing up for a free trial. Test all of our features and host a stream to see how our platform can work for you. Sign up today to get started. No contract, sign-up fees, or credit card required.
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