What is Live Streaming? | How Does Live Streaming Work?
Table of Contents
In the past decade, live streaming over the internet has grown in popularity. This is due largely in part to the rapid development of the technology that supports the live streaming process.
Live streaming is valuable to broadcasters across many industries with a multitude of use-cases. This is especially true since research shows that live content holds viewers’ attention as much as 20 times longer than on-demand content. What’s better than content that keeps your audience engaged?
In this post, we are going to discuss what live streaming is and how live streaming works. We will briefly discuss live streaming use cases before we dive into the ins and outs of streaming platform technology. To wrap things up, we will cover a few important live streaming equipment and software that broadcasters use to bring their streams to life.
Table of Contents
- What is Live Streaming?
- What is Live Streaming Used For?
- 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
- Final Thoughts
What is Live Streaming?
Live streaming is the process of transmitting video content to viewers as it is being filmed in real-time. Live-streamed video is carried to the viewers through an array of protocols over the internet. Since video files are large, this requires powerful, dedicated technology.
The world has seen the value of live streaming technology over the past year with COVID-19-related lockdowns. Live streaming helps groups of people stay connected, no matter the circumstances. Whether it be distance, weather, or a pandemic, live streaming helps people come together in a safe way.
What is Live Streaming Used For?
Live streaming is used for many purposes in many industries. At its core, live streaming is meant to help people attend events, expos, and experiences that they cannot attend in person. Businesses and other organizations use live streaming to engage with their audiences.
Some of the most popular live streaming use cases include:
- Virtual events
- Online education (lectures, training, etc.)
- Sports coverage
- Concert streaming
- Video sales (product demos, sales pitches, etc.)
- Church service streaming
- Local government streaming
The possibilities are endless when it comes to live streaming. You can get create it 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 videos to viewers.
The most common technical set up for live streaming is as follows:
- Video camera or webcam capture video
- Video is sent to the encoder via a camera card or other connection
- An encoder converts RAW files to streamable formats
- The encoder ingests the streamable video into the online video platform (or directly to the CDN) via RTMP
- The video is delivered from the video CDN to a viewer-facing 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.
What is an HTML5 Video Player?
The HTML5 video player was created to replace Adobe’s Flash video player that made live streaming possible. The Flash player had many limitations, including unreliable security and limited compatibility with browsers and devices. Apple created the HTML5 video player to overcome those limitations.
The HTML5 video player is very popular because it is compatible with just about any internet-enabled device and all browsers. It is easy to customize and is secure, which makes it very attractive to broadcasters.
This video player works with HLS delivery, which we will talk about a little bit further on.
What is Video Encoding?
As we mentioned, the RAW video files that cameras capture are very, 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, which is a portmanteau for “coder-decoder,” to compress video files by removing still frames that are unnecessary.
What is Video Transcoding?
Bitrate refers to the quality of a video. Video transcoding produces multiple renditions, or versions, of one video file in multiple 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 viewers’ internet speed. This helps to avoid any lagging and buffering in the event that a viewer has a poor internet connection.
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 that are physically distant from the location where the video is originating from.
With servers placed around the world, 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.
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 live streaming CDN can revolutionize and streamline that entire process.
Important Live Streaming Protocols
There is 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 take a look at a few of the most popular video streaming protocols.
HLS, which is short for HTTP Live Streaming, is a protocol that was created by Apple 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 it 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, which is 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 yield low latency and reliable security.
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 other ones we’ve mentioned, but it is still very important.
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 secure 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.
Although WebRTC is a project that is a combination of protocols and other technology, it is worth mentioning here.
WebRTC was founded by Google in recent years to support peer-to-peer streaming. This project was designed to power web conferencing platforms such as Zoom, as well as video chats, but 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
The live broadcasting setup requires a variety of live streaming equipment and broadcasting software to bring the live stream to life. Each of these tools is available for broadcasters at any level in terms of functionality and cost.
Let’s take a look at the tools that broadcasters need in order to host professional live streams.
Live Streaming Platform Solution
One of the most important tools for live streaming at the professional level is a live streaming solution. A live streaming platform is a solution that hosts your live streams.
A well-equipped live streaming solution includes a white-label HTML5 video player, easy embedding, video monetization, 24/7 support, powerful video analytics, top-tier security, and reliable content delivery.
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.
In order to live stream, a camera is a must. However, there is such 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.
Choose a camera depending on the purpose of your live stream. For example, if you are live streaming a college lecture to a couple of dozen students, a webcam should suffice. 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.
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 on a stream.
A simple lapel mic or handheld mic are two popular options since both are relatively inexpensive.
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 a basic, free streaming software that many broadcasters start out 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.
Encoders are essential to live streaming 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 encoding. They are more reliable, but they are also much more expensive. Software encoders, on the other hand, are also quite reliable and they are considerably less expensive.
Some streaming setups may require a hardware encoder, but a software encoder should suffice for most professional broadcasters.
At this point, most streaming solutions use RTMP ingest, so RTMP encoders are a safe bet.
Live streaming is a very valuable 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. Try our platform risk-free for 30-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 Knowledgebase for more live streaming articles. A quick search for “live streaming” will produce dozens of results for you to choose from.
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