HTTP live streaming, also known as HLS, has become a golden thread that binds thousands of technology-centred companies across the world. HLS is a protocol underpinned by adaptive bitrate technology and is the most used live streaming framework in the world. Amazingly, HLS supports an array of live streaming frameworks, so whether you’re big or small, tall or wide, chances are, HLS will fit right into your technology stack. If you’re on your way to building your stack, we suggest picking a turnkey framework. StreamNow, a live streaming technology developed by Streamhash, is a cost-effective, superlative framework that can fit into your core technology and also plug into an HLS streaming server.
Before we delve into the merits and demerits of HTTP live streaming, let’s understand how the technology came into being, what it offers and how it works.
An Introduction to HTTP Live Streaming
HTTP live streaming is a technology that rides the HTML5 communication protocol, which is regarded as the gold standard for web content. HTML5 is compatible with a vast array of online video formats and protocols.
So, what exactly is a streaming protocol? Simple answer: it’s a tool that determines how your video travels to a user. A protocol is responsible for breaking a video down into bite-sized pieces and then shooting it across cyberspace. These segments arrive at a live streaming server and then travel further to various users. The advent of HTTP live streaming was spurred on by the obsolescence of Flash Video. Its features include:
- H.264 for video compression
- AAC or MP3 for audio compression
- MPEG-TS for stream transmission
The HTTP Live Streaming Process
HLS live streaming is a plain-sailing process. It works like this:
- An MP4 video stream is segmented into 10-second video bits
- Streams are labelled by the HTTP server using M2U8 playlists
- Each playlist corresponds to a specific video segment
- Each video segment is indexed by the respective playlist
Merits of HTTP Live Streaming
HTTP live streaming has a range of benefits. It’s user-friendly, device-agnostic and can be plugged in quickly. But there’s more.
Merit 1. Device Fluidity
HTTP live streaming is a versatile technology because it allows you to target users behind just about any kind of device; tablet, mobile, laptop, set-top box, you name it. The only reasonable alternative to HTTP live streaming in the market today is MPEG-DASH, but this technology isn’t as fluid. It isn’t compatible with iOS and Safari and thus, HTTP live streaming is the more viable option. HLS is a wonderful partner to a live streaming framework like StreamNow since the latter is also equally device-agnostic.
Merit 2. Adaptive Bitrate Technology
Adaptive bitrate technology can work as a great blessing for broadcasters. This protocol tailors the speed of a video stream individually for every user, based on their availability of bandwidth. An example may make this clearer. Let’s say you’re watching a video stream while riding the subway on your way to work. Perhaps your station arrives and you turn your stream off midway. You access it only much later, this time on your laptop. Now, because you’re connected to a wired internet connection, your speed is far better. Adaptive bitrate delivery customises the quality of your stream based on your internet connection and device, ensuring an optimal user experience every time.
Merit 3. Affordability
Cost isn’t always proportional to quality. HTTP live streaming is a case in point. The protocol works in tandem with virtually every hardware device out there through HTML5. Thus, you can broadcast without worrying about users being strapped by inadequate technology. HTTP live streaming works well with an array of standard browsers.
Merit 4. Reliability
HTTP live streaming offers one of the most secure browsing experiences possible, saving your device from potential cyber threats.
Demerits of HTTP Live Streaming
While we’d love to tell you that HTTP live streaming is perfectly seamless, there are a few demerits that it presents. Have a look.
Demerit 1. Latency
In the context of live streaming, latency refers to the lag between when a video is captured and when it is delivered to viewers. The time in between is consumed by a process that involves:
- Live capture by a camera
- Processing by an encoder
- Transmission via the internet
- Distribution to edge servers
- Decoding by user’s device
Latency aside, there may be other problems that slow down a live stream. An obsolete device or a low internet connection perhaps. Latency can augment the quality of a live stream at a user’s end significantly. Unfortunately, while HTTP live streaming can dazzle in terms of quality, keeping latency in check isn’t exactly its forté. HTTP live streaming is limited by its key frame interval, buffer requirements and packet size, pushing your stream back by up to a minute. In most live streams such a delay may not hold much relevance. However, it could be a hindrance to viewers of sports streams or other fast-paced activities where even a few seconds’ delay could be impactful. While there isn’t anything out there to minimise latency just yet, the good news is that there are a host of tools being worked on to reduce latency on HTTP live streams.