What is Live Streaming Technology, and How Does it Work?

what is live streaming

Every time you watch a video over the internet, you enjoy the fruits of video streaming technology. Live streaming technology is how videos are streamed over the internet, live, in real-time, as they are being recorded. 

Live streaming technology is the internet’s response to live television broadcasts, with the most popular being news shows and sports. 

However, live streaming technology is much more accessible than live television broadcasts and is something your business can do! Today, we will explain what live streaming technology is and how it works, so you can put it to use for your business! 

Live content holds viewers’ attention as much as 20 times longer than on-demand content, allowing you to build a solid connection with your viewers. There are so many use-cases for live streaming across industries that it just makes sense to start creating live content for your business! 

Here at Dacast, we are a live streaming and video hosting service, putting us in a perfect position to help answer your question, “What is live streaming technology, and how does video live streaming platforms work?”

In this post, we will discuss what live streaming is and how live streaming works. We will briefly discuss live streaming use cases before diving into the various live streaming software platform technology’s ins and outs.

To wrap things up, we will cover a few important live streaming equipment and software broadcasters use to bring their streams to life. You will walk away with an understanding of how video streaming works and exactly what live streaming is.

Table of Contents

  • What is Live Streaming Technology?
  • How Does Live Streaming Work?
  • Uses for Live Streaming
  • The Technical Setup for Live Streaming
    • What is Video Encoding?
    • What is Video Transcoding?
    • What is a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?
    • What is an HTML5 Video Player?
    • Important Live Streaming Protocols
  • Live Streaming Equipment & Software
  • FAQ
  • Conclusion

What is Live Streaming Technology?

Live streaming technology is all the software and hardware used to transmit video content to viewers as it is being filmed in real-time. Video files are large, and in order to transmit video live, dedicated technology and streaming devices are needed for this process.

What is live streaming technology? It is the technology that allows people to view video broadcasts in real-time, right as they are happening. But unlike live TV, these broadcasts are transmitted through the internet and can be viewed only on internet-connected devices like smartphones and laptops.

Live streaming technology includes things such as: 

  • Video encoders
  • Video transcoders
  • Content Delivery Network (CDN)
  • HTML5 Video Player

Don’t worry if you don’t know what all those pieces of technology are! We will explain them in more detail below.

How Does Live Streaming Work?

how does live streaming work?
Live streaming is an important tool for business, remote learning, and remote event attendance.

Getting a little more formal, live streaming works by getting your video to your viewers through varying streaming protocols over the internet in real-time. The goal of live streaming is to complete this process without any video latency

Video latency is the delay between recording something and your viewers seeing the content on their screen. The goal is for viewers to experience what you are registering as close as possible to real-time. You should always strive to reduce your live stream’s latency.

Uses for Live Streaming 

Live streaming is used for many purposes in various industries. At its core, streaming content is meant to help people attend events, expos, and experiences they cannot attend in person. 

Businesses and other organizations use live streaming to engage with their audiences across social media platforms. The live streaming of video allows more people to participate in live events regardless of location.

Some of the most popular live streaming use cases include:

The possibilities are endless when it comes to streaming live video. You can get creative and incorporate it in any way that makes sense for your brand.

The Technical Setup for Live Streaming

In the past, the ability to send a video file over the internet in real-time seemed impossible. However, live streaming technology has made leaps and bounds over the past decade. Today, broadcasters can capture a video and have it appear on their viewers’ screens in seconds.

Streaming uses a series of protocols, projects, and live streaming equipment to transmit high-quality live videos back to viewers. Still not sure what that means? No worries! Let’s dive into what the most common technical setup for live streaming is:

  1. First, you use a video camera or webcam to capture video. 
  2. Second, the video is sent to an encoder. This encoder may be located inside of a hardware encoder or through a software encoder. 
  3. The encoder takes the RAW files from your camera and converts them into smaller files that can be streamed online. 
  4. The encoder ingests the now streamable video into an online video platform via RTMP.
  5. The online video platform uses a content delivery network (CDN) to deliver the video to viewers via an HTML5 video player via HLS.

These terms may be confusing at first glance, which is understandable since this process is highly technical. Let’s take some time to explore what exactly HTML5 video players, encoding, transcoding, CDNs, and the various protocols are and why they are important in the live streaming process.

To fully understand what live streaming means, you need to understand the technical setup and technology required to live stream.

What is an HTML5 Video Player?

HTML5 Video Player
An HTML5 all-device player is virtually essential for live streaming.

Basically, any time you watch a video online, you are using a video player to watch that video. 

Back in the day, the most popular video player was Adobe’s Flash video player. However, Adobe’s Flash player didn’t have the compatibility to work with mobile devices, and its security wasn’t reliable, making it obsolete in the early 2020s. 

Now, the most popular video player is the HTML5 video player. You have probably viewed content on an HTML 5 video player hundreds of times without realizing it. It is the most popular video player because it works with almost all internet-enabled devices and browsers. 

Two other reasons why the HTML5 video player is so popular is because it is secure and customizable. What does that mean exactly?

Security: HTML5 video player can be embedded directly onto a website; it doesn’t require any plugins, which are a primary method hackers use to take control of your website and content. 

Customizable: There are lots of ways you can customize the HTML5 video player, such as:

  • Autoplay – decide if the video will autoplay when it is loaded or not. 
  • Loop – decide if a video will loop again when it ends
  • Muted – decide if a video will play with the audio or not by default 
  • Width and height – determine the size of the player
  • Controls – determine what video controls the user will have access to, such as pause, rewind, etc. 
  • Style – determine what the video player will look like. You can add custom colors, branding, etc., to the video player.

This video player works with HLS delivery, which we will talk about a little bit further on. HTML5 video player makes live streaming video accessible on a wide range of devices.

What is Video Encoding?

As we mentioned, the RAW video files that cameras capture are very large and impossible to stream over the internet. Video encoders solve this problem by converting these massive files into streamable digital files.

RAW video files include a collection of thousands of still frames that move fluidly when moved quickly in succession. Naturally, many of the still frames are duplicates. Encoders use codecs, a portmanteau for “coder-decoder,” to compress video files by removing unnecessary still frames. 

Video encoding makes your RAW video files small enough to send and stream over the internet. In live streaming, your encoded files are sent to a CDN. From here, they’re then sent to the viewers’ devices, where they’re decoded and converted back to video files for viewing. 

What is Video Transcoding?

Transcoding, often confused with encoding, is also essential to live streaming. This technological process makes multi-bitrate and adaptive bitrate streaming possible. 

Bitrate refers to the quality of a video. Video transcoding produces multiple renditions, or versions, of one video file in various qualities. This makes multi-bitrate streaming possible. Many broadcasters prefer multi-bitrate streaming because it allows users to access a rendition that works best for their internet connection.

Adaptive bitrate video players automatically choose the appropriate rendition based on a viewer’s internet speed. This helps avoid lagging and buffering if a viewer has a poor internet connection.

Basically, this allows the viewer to watch a live stream video in the best resolution possible for their internet connection and device, helping to ensure a great user experience. 

What is a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?

A content delivery network (CDN) is a series of servers strategically placed around a geographic region that delivers content to viewers who are physically distant from the location where the video originates.

With servers worldwide, 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 as close to real-time as possible.

This makes it crucial to look for a CDN provider that has multiple endpoints around the globe. It ensures that there will always be a CDN server close to your viewers when you launch your live streams. This is especially important if you want to stream to China as it requires Chinese servers. 

That said, a high-quality live streaming CDN can revolutionize and streamline that entire process.

Important Live Streaming Protocols

There are a variety of streaming protocols that work behind the scenes to carry videos through the live streaming process.

These protocols are highly technical, and most broadcasters that use a dedicated streaming solution don’t typically have to worry about these since they are working behind the scenes. However, it is a good idea to at least be familiar with what is happening on the back-end.

Let’s look at a few of the most popular video streaming protocols.

HLS

HLS, short for HTTP Live Streaming, is a protocol Apple created to deliver media to the HTML5 video player. This protocol is what makes mobile streaming possible. 

It is known for both its security and compatibility. HLS is primarily used for delivery but can also be used for ingesting. However, since RTMP encoders are more easily accessible and can be converted to HLS, it is not common to use HLS for ingest.

RTMP

RTMP, short for Real-Time Messaging Protocol, has been important for live streaming since Flash player was the standard video player. This transport protocol used to be responsible for live stream delivery, but now it is responsible for RTMP ingest from the encoder.

RTMP is often paired with HLS delivery for the optimal streaming setup. This combination yields low latency and reliable security.

RTSP

RTSP, which is short for Real-Time Streaming Protocol, is a protocol that is structured similarly to RTMP that is used for sending commands from the user to the video player. RTSP servers sit between the live stream and the viewer, issuing “play,” “pause,” and “record” commands.

This protocol is far less popular than the others we’ve mentioned, but it is still very important. 

SRT

SRT, which is short for Secure Reliable Transport, is a streaming protocol that helps to ensure secure streaming over public networks. It is capable of low latency and highly fast streaming. This protocol is also open-source, which makes it easy to implement.

At this point, SRT is not as popular as HLS and RTMP because it is relatively new, and the most popular broadcasting tools are not yet compatible. 

WebRTC

Although WebRTC is a project that combines protocols and other technology, it is worth mentioning here.

Google founded WebRTC in recent years to support peer-to-peer streaming. This project was designed to power web conferencing platforms such as Zoom and video chats. Still, since it is capable of streaming in real-time latency, online video platforms are beginning to incorporate it into their platform.

Live Streaming Equipment & Software

live streaming platform
The live streaming process requires a setup of various platform software and equipment.

The live broadcasting setup requires various live streaming equipment and software to bring the live stream to life. Each tool is available for broadcasters at any level in terms of functionality and cost.

Let’s look at the tools broadcasters need to host professional live streams. If you were wondering how live streaming works, these are the tools that make live streaming possible. 

Live Streaming Platform Solution

A live streaming solution is one of the most essential tools for live streaming at the professional level. It can also help you turn pre-recorded videos into live streams.

A well-equipped live streaming solution includes:

Dacast offers a powerful streaming solution that includes all the desired features we’ve mentioned and more. To see how Dacast stacks up to some of the best options on the market, please take a look at our live streaming solution comparison.

Camera

To live stream, a camera is a must. However, there is a wide range of appropriate cameras to choose from. You could go with anything from a simple webcam to a 4K streaming camera and all the way up to a television-grade camcorder. To start, you could also choose to use a smartphone with a high-quality camera. It eliminates the need to have any other devices as well.

Choose a camera depending on the purpose of your live stream. For example, a webcam stream should suffice if you are live streaming a college lecture to a couple of dozen students.

Once you move into more professional scenarios, like live streaming a national sporting event or large virtual event, it may be worth investing in more advanced recording equipment.

Microphones

While most cameras have built-in microphones, many live streamers opt for an external mic since it provides a simple way to improve the audio quality of a stream.

A simple lapel or handheld mic are two popular options since both are relatively inexpensive. If you’re on a shoestring budget, you could also use the built-in microphone in your smartphone. However, make sure you live stream from an area where there’s not a lot of ambient noise as that could hamper the audio quality. 

Broadcasting Software Solution

In addition to a live streaming solution, many broadcasters benefit from broadcasting software. These tools offer a wide range of functionality, including source switching, simulcasting, adding graphic overlays, editing streams in real-time, and even encoding.

OBS Studio is an example of an essential, free streaming software that many broadcasters start with. However, many benefit from upgrading to paid tools. Check out our broadcasting software comparison to check out the features and use cases of some of the top tools on the market.

Encoder

Encoders are essential to streaming live video because they help to convert videos into smaller, streamable files. Broadcasters have the option to choose between a hardware and software encoder.

Hardware encoders are dedicated tools for live stream encoding. They are more reliable, but they are also much more expensive. On the other hand, software encoders are also quite reliable and considerably less expensive. 

Some streaming setups may require a hardware encoder, but a software encoder should suffice for most professional broadcasters. 

Currently, most streaming solutions use RTMP ingest, so RTMP encoders are a safe bet. 

Those are the tools you need to start a live stream. 

FAQ

1. What is live streaming and how does it work?

Live streaming is a technology through which you can share your video and audio streams with your viewers in real-time over the internet, much like how live TV works. However, live streams only work through internet-enabled devices like smartphones and tablets. 

2. What is the difference between live TV and live streaming?

While both live streaming and live TV enable viewers to watch content in real-time, there’s a basic difference between the two. Live TV works through cable or satellite broadcasting transmission. On the other hand, live streaming solely works through the internet and requires internet-enabled devices.

3. What are the disadvantages of live streaming?

Some of the prime disadvantages of live streaming include:

  • Susceptible to internet connection issues
  • Viewer’s internet connection determines video quality
  • You can’t redo something that happens in the stream as it’s real time
  • Technical problems can hamper user experience

4. How do I stream live video?

To start live video streaming, all you need to do is follow these steps:

  • Purchase equipment for video and audio
  • Choose from the best live streaming platforms to help you live stream
  • Conduct a test live stream to check audio and video quality 
  • Start streaming

5. What is the difference between live streaming and video streaming?

Live streaming happens in real-time. This means the viewers will watch the video you’re uploading in real-time. Once the stream is over, the viewers won’t be able to see it. On the other hand, video streaming is a process through which viewers watch videos such that the file is continuously transmitted from the server to client. It eliminates the need to download the video to watch it. However, these videos don’t necessarily have to be live ones.

Conclusion

Live streaming is a precious resource for businesses, schools, and professional organizations. It allows brands to connect with their audiences in real-time to create highly engaging content. It also makes virtual event streaming possible. 

If you are looking for an end-to-end streaming platform with live, on-demand, and video monetization capabilities, Dacast is the solution for you.

Dacast offers a more traditional streaming setup with HLS/RTMP and plug-and-play WebRTC solutions. Try our platform risk-free for 14-days with no binding contracts or credit cards required. Get started by creating an account today.

Looking to leverage live streaming for your business and have additional questions about live broadcasting, we invite you to reach out to our customer support team, and we can point you in the right direction to get started on your live streaming journey.

In the meantime, feel free to browse our Knowledge base for more live streaming articles. A quick search for “live streaming” will produce dozens of results and broadcasting tips for you to choose from.

Emily Krings

Emily is a strategic content writer and story teller. She specializes in helping businesses create blog content that connects with their audience.