Which is Best for Live Streaming—RTMP, HLS, or WebRTC?

Posted in HLS, Icecast, RTMP, SRT, Technology, WebRTC on Apr 05, 2022

In simple terms, a video streaming protocol is a defined distribution technique for splitting up a video into pieces, transmitting it to the viewer, and putting it all back together. For broadcasters, the video streaming protocol you choose will inform how quickly you can stream your content, the cost of your platform, the accessibility of your content, and the quality of the final product.

If you think this all sounds important, that’s because it is—yet few businesses give due consideration to all of the features and drawbacks their current system offers.

To help you make better decisions with your streaming content, today's blog will go over three of the most popular streaming protocols on the market today—RTMP, HLS, and WebRTC. Each offers something slightly different for broadcasters and could make or break your business model depending on what you prioritize.

In taking a closer look at what each offers, we hope you get a better understanding of not just how you can change how you stream your content but how you can optimize your current production for the method you end up choosing. Let’s get into it!

Why Worry About a Streaming Protocol?

Because most video files aren't meant to be streamed, streaming a video requires first converting your content to a streamable format. The long and short is that this process is mandatory as a broadcaster, so choosing the right fit makes sense for any-sized business.

Your protocol entails first chopping your content into little pieces. These pieces are then sent in order and played back as they arrive. The source footage for live video streaming comes directly from a camera—otherwise, it's from a file containing VOD material.

Implementing the proper streaming protocol can reduce buffering, loss rates, latency, and carrier costs. So, between three of the biggest names, which is right for you and your streaming business?

The Big Picture

There are two sides to the protocol coin—playback and ingest.

For an example of how this might affect your choice, RTMP today is primarily used for just ingesting since it was deprecated for playback on the desktop when Adobe killed Flash in early 2021. Following this move, there were some strong developments in terms of purpose-built protocols that take into consideration the uncertainty of the public internet.

On the playback side of the equation, HLS and MPEG-DASH are still very popular. From there we jump into the specialized protocols for lower latency like WebRTC (which we will detail below), LL-HLS, and SLDP.

A modern business will need to consider which of these two problems they are most concerned with solving and choose the tools to match.

The Best Streaming Protocols in 2022

RTMP - The real-time messaging protocol is abbreviated as RTMP. It allows for high-speed audio, video, and data transfer from an encoder to a server, which then distributes the signal throughout the Internet. RTMP streaming is supported by several streaming services and encoder manufacturers.

RTMP is also compatible with many software encoders, which is a plus—these include Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), Wirecast, and XSplit Broadcaster.

The caveat here is that RTMP is only used for ingest—not playback.

HLS - HLS protocol first uses the.ts file extension to break up MP4 video information into small (10-second) pieces (MPEG2 Transport Stream). Following that, an HTTP server saves the streams, and HTTP sends the brief clips to users' devices. The advantage here is that a single-manifest file (an M3U8 Playlist File) ensures that even live-streamed content is saved in a single coherent file.

WebRTC - A low-latency Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is an open-source project and protocol that enables real-time media communications between browsers and devices, such as voice, video, and data transmission. Users may interact directly from their primary web browser, eliminating the need for sophisticated plug-ins or other devices. Best of all, it’s free and compatible with multiple media streams, various network conditions, and impressive interoperability.

Which is Best for Your Business?

This is where consulting with a streaming professional may help you realize your goals and better equip your broadcasting business for success.

Are you looking for reliable VOD content with multiple high-quality streaming options? Give HLS a shot. How about total integrative control? WebRTC has you covered. If it’s the most trusted name in protocols you are looking for, RTMP has been around from the beginning.

While it’d be no doubt useful to have a catch-all answer, a good streaming strategy involves aligning your goals with the best technology available. This may change as your business grows, so building a relationship with an informed technology partner offers not only stability today, but better decisions as you and your strategies evolve.

StreamGuys is the most trusted name when it comes to monetizing and optimizing your streaming content. Whether through CDN, protocol review, or hosting services, we take the heavy lifting off of your plate so you can get back to creating amazing content your audience wants to see.

Contact us to learn more about our services and how we help businesses like you achieve better outcomes for your most vital content procedures.

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