Thanks to its capability of enabling individuals or groups to communicate safely at all times regardless of weather, distance, or health conditions, live streaming has gained a lot of popularity during the COVID-19-induced lockdown over the past year and a half. By joining live-streaming sessions, people can participate in events and conferences they cannot attend in person—hence no wonder the trendiness of live streaming as a most effective tool for organizations and businesses to connect with their audience.
This is part of an extensive series of guides about Front-End Development.
This article explains what live-streaming video entails and suggests best practices for broadcasting live streams. The topics are as follows:
- What Are Live-Streaming Videos?
- What Are the Use Cases?
- How Does Live Streaming Work?
- What Is Live-Streaming Software?
- What Is a Live-Streaming Platform?
- What Are the Protocols?
- What Are the Recommended Practices for Broadcasting Live Streams?
What Are Live-Streaming Videos?
Live-streaming videos serve viewers real-time content during filming, transmitting the footage through streaming devices that are linked to the internet. Eliminating latency in video files, which are inherently large, requires dedicated protocols to avoid latency, such as Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), and Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP).
Live streaming is intended to assist individuals participate in events and experiences (such as conferences) that they cannot attend in person. Organizations and businesses employ live streaming to connect with their audience.
What Are the Use Cases?
Below are three notable applications for live streaming.
With live streaming, medical institutions and hospitals can provide support to health-care professionals during surgery or help them remotely diagnose patients. Additionally, doctors can conduct laparoscopies and endoscopies with high-definition cameras.
Live streaming at enterprises supports and enables numerous business activities: marketing and sales, corporate communications, training, learning. You can also hold meetings through live video and record them for future reference, as well as create a knowledge base of the recorded content for training seminars.
On top of that, live video can function as follows:
- Serve as part of a marketing campaign for promoting products or services.
- Share public announcements or communicate with customers.
- Act as a conduit for responding to customer questions in real time, gathering information and feedback during live chats, or conducting surveys.
Viewers can leverage video on demand (VOD) to access content at their own time and pace. Since VOD is prerecorded, it allows for more editing and production efforts than live-streamed content, delivering a more professional and polished aura.
For the best of both worlds, you can use live-streaming content in a VOD model, i.e., record live streams and upload it later for consumer access.
To learn how to efficiently and optimally redistribute live video, see our blog post Preparing Live Streams for Video on Demand.
To comply with legal requirements, facilitate transparency, and engage with their community, government agencies often need to communicate directly with citizens on plans, policy changes, and the like. New York City, for example, has mandated that local governments stream public hearings and council meetings.
During those forums, attendees can submit questions through live chats or Q&As and receive answers on the fly from the officials who are in attendance.
Public Safety and Law Enforcement
Live streaming is a crucial component of occupational, public-safety, and military operations. For example, drones help coastguards and rangers scout vast or inaccessible areas, eliciting real-time responses during search-and-rescue missions. Police officers also surveil and search for fleeing criminals with drones.
Live webcasts are a handy replacement of in-person sessions for law-enforcement training. Moreover, agencies can address other departments or staff through live chats and Q&As while running the session.
Live-stream shopping translates to a smooth, efficient, and convenient shopping experience. When deployed on social networks or in a brand’s direct-to-consumer channel, live-stream shopping can be quickly embraced by consumers.
For more details, read our blog post Whether Browsing Or Buying, Consumers Love Livestream Shopping.
How Does Live Streaming Work?
Live streaming involves the steps below.
- Capture the video and audio.
Film the footage along with the audio with a camera and other equipment, such as a microphone and lighting gear. You can live-stream by yourself or collaborate with a streaming expert.
In both cases, link the camera up to the computer through a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) or high-definition serial digital interface (HD-SDI) connector to facilitate content transfers to your audience.
- Compress and encode the video.
Compress the segmented data and then encode it with a live-streaming encoder, which converts video content into various forms. The compression process focuses on the areas that differ from frame to frame, for example, the way individuals move their mouths, but you need not render all the frames of the stream.
The encoding process converts the data into a digital format that many devices can interpret, with H.264, H.265, VP9, and AV1 being the popular standards. After encoding, a digital version of the video becomes available for transmission via the internet. You can, for example, embed or stream the video live from your website.
- Divide the video into segments.
Videos feature a load of information, including characters and metadata that are readable by technology but not by humans. Segmentation—that is, creating smaller bits of digital information—ensures that the software can correctly process the data.
- Distribute and cache the content through a content delivery network (CDN).
Steps 1-3 take only seconds. This step delivers the video to anyone who desires to watch it. To ensure optimal quality with low latency coupled with availability to viewers in various locations, turn to a CDN, a distributed network of servers that deliver and cache content on behalf of the original server. Employing a CDN leads to better performance because, instead of being processed by the original server, viewer requests are managed by a close-by CDN server, minimizing the workload of the original server.
CDN servers are located all around the world. By leveraging CDNs for delivery, you can relay content to viewers worldwide.
A CDN can also cache (save temporarily) all the segments of the live stream, leading to viewers receiving the stream from a CDN cache instead of the original server. Because of the savings in round-trip time (RTT) from and to the original server, even though the cached data lags a few seconds behind, delivery of live streams through a CDN is almost real time.
- Decode and play back the video.
A CDN dispatches the live stream to viewers, whose device accepts, decodes, and decompresses the now-segmented video data. Lastly, a media player from the browser or a dedicated application in the viewer’s device interprets the data as visual content and plays it.
What Is Live-Streaming Software?
Live-streaming software performs broadcasting jobs that differ from those undertaken by live-streaming solutions and video hosts. Consequently, you can develop **professional** HD broadcasts from camera sources even without in-depth broadcasting expertise. Encoding is a key attribute of streaming software.
What Is a Live-Streaming Platform?
You transmit live video on a live-streaming platform, which is either of the following:
- A provider, e.g., Stretch
- A social network, e.g., Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube
Most live-streaming platforms accept and broadcast video transmitted from any software encoder. Those platforms with integrated solutions make it simpler to get a stream from software encoders, as in the case of Stretch acting as a predetermined destination for Wirecast software. To initiate the stream, you need only enter your Stretch user name and password in Wirecast.
Absent an integration with the software, the platform can receive the stream only if you provide additional details, i.e., the stream’s ID, its URL, and the video presets, for which speed and file size are key.
What Are the Protocols?
Below are some of the popular live-streaming protocols.
HTTP Live Streaming
Developed and launched by Apple in 2009 to enable iPhone access to live streams, HLS has become the most widely adopted protocol with an edge over the competition. As an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) protocol, HLS ushers in live streams through an encoder. Older protocols like Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) are, therefore, ideal for input. By transferring content through standard HTTP web servers, HLS needs no special infrastructure, which means that the content is less likely to be stopped by firewalls.
You can play HLS on almost all platforms, including MacOS and iOS, set-top boxes like Roku, major web browsers, and video players. More new features are forthcoming from Apple.
For further reference, see—
MPEG-DASH: Dynamic Adaptive Streaming Over HTTP
Also known as DASH, MPEG-DASH is the latest streaming protocol, created in 2010-2011 and published in 2012 as a standard after HLS debuted. Both HLS and MPEG-DASH offer similar features, but the latter has gained momentum as the newest solution.
A bit of background: As streaming took off apace, various protocols vied for attention, with none of them emerging as the preferred solution, however. In response to that jumbled market, several international-standards organizations created DASH as a distinct, unifying, open-source streaming tool, which is also “codec agnostic,” meaning that DASH can process all encoded content.
HLS and DASH are similar in performance and capabilities. As a trustworthy ABR protocol that delivers top-quality video, DASH also adopts standard HTTP web servers. Notwithstanding a few compatibility problems, DASH as a more modern protocol than HLS is a solid alternative.
Real-Time Messaging Protocol: Streaming Over TCP
Created by Macromedia and purchased by Adobe way back in 2005, RTMP is still the most prevalent protocol by virtue of its stable and persistent connection that produces low-latency content.
To maintain minimal artifacts and interruptions, RTMP moves stream data divided into small packets between Flash Player and a server. Furthermore, due to the legacy factor, this protocol works on many software tools and streaming platforms.
However, upon releasing the RTMP specifications for public use, Adobe declared that it would no longer support Flash Player. A few other drawbacks have also surfaced:
- Low bandwidth might cause interruptions, or the stream might not even start.
- Because of concerns about the low security of videos, certain tight firewalls refuse RTMP connections. That’s a rare occurrence, however.
- RTMP operates with the outdated and suboptimal AAC audio codec and H.264 video codec, causing a standard stream delay of approximately 5-30 seconds, though at times only two or three seconds.
For more details, see Cloudinary’s documentation on live-streaming RTMP.
Web Real-Time Communication: Streaming Over UDP and TCP
WebRTC, an open-source protocol for real-time communications, works in almost all modern browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, and Firefox; as well as with the top-quality VP9 and VP8 codecs (aside from the old H.264). Soon to be supported for a new AV1 video codec, WebRTC might replace telephony altogether.
WebRT performs three impressive tasks:
- Convert millions of browsers into streaming terminals with no need for plugins.
- Support subsecond latency, i.e., no delays.
- Automatically modify video quality and protect the footage against interruptions and drops by means of an adaptable-bitrate technology.
The fact that WebRT continues to be under development could be a minus. Some also believe that the related codecs are risky: VP8 is royalty free, but not H.264. Also, even though most businesses favor VP8, all of them agree that AV1 represents the future.
Secure Reliable Transport: Streaming Over UDP
Created by Haivison and Wowza, open-source SRT is an alternative to RTMP. Both protocols offer similar benefits, but SRT goes further with a stable live stream and a subsecond latency. A negative, however, is that SRT offers no playback options.
SRT safeguards live videos from bandwidth fluctuation, packet loss, and jitters. Furthermore, like WebRTC and FTL with respect to subsecond latency, the protocol renders real-time communication possible. SRT is codec agnostic, too, supporting all audio codecs and modern videos. As an emerging technology, however, SRT lacks support by modern browsers.
Microsoft Smooth Streaming
Developed by Microsoft in 2008 to fulfill the demand for adaptive bitrate streaming, MSS is a cost-effective protocol that optimizes performance and reduces buffering. Creating MSS requires Silverlight, Microsoft’s developer plugin system that prevents piracy with its support of Microsoft’s PlayReady DRM technology.
What Are the Recommended Practices for Broadcasting Live Streams?
Notwithstanding the differences among Twitter’s Periscope, Instagram Live, and Facebook Live and regardless of your streaming platform, the best practices described below are well worth considering.
Know the Aim of Your Video
Whether you’re creating a lecture, marketing a product, or engaging with your audience, have in place an outline for your stream. You need not stick to the script, but a clear objective would ensure a well-arranged video and a smooth delivery.
Professionality is key. If your video primarily shows you attempting to fix your equipment, thinking out loud, or silently reading viewer comments, your audience might be turned off and might stop watching any subsequent videos.
Give Your Audience a Predictable Schedule
Stream only if you have something worthwhile to convey—irrespective of the schedule. If your organization shares content like behind-the-scenes tips or holds industry or product events through streaming, let your audience know when you will be live again, giving them time to prepare questions beforehand.
Engage With the Audience
Live video is ideal for engaging with the audience. No need to respond to all the feedback, but you stand to win loyalty and appreciation with rewards for relevant comments or questions on air.
Advertise Your Live Stream in Advance
Spread the word on the topic, time, giveaways, or calls to action aimed at convincing people to tune in to your stream.
Recruit a Partner Behind the Camera
Solicit the cameraman’s help in watching for questions in the comments, overseeing the feed, and ensuring that the on-camera person stays on schedule. If performed well, those tasks would be invaluable in rendering the video as smooth and compelling as can be.
Plan for the Start
Start your video with an icebreaker, e.g., ask your audience to tell everyone their location. Besides building a rapport with viewers, such an approach would also give latecomers leeway to join the session.
Procure the Appropriate Equipment
A dimly lit video with foul audio is no way to promote your brand. Besides being annoyed, the audience might stop watching and, worse yet, form a rotten impression of your service, product, or team. It costs only minimally to build and maintain an impressive setup so make that a priority.
See Our Additional Guides on Key Front-End Development Topics
Together with our content partners, we have authored in-depth guides on several other topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of Front-End Development.
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