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A Low-Down On Live Video Streaming Protocols

When it comes to the different protocols used when live streaming, things can get confusing. With new protocols coming into play all the time and taking the spotlight, it can be difficult to understand which one to use and when. The right one for your individual stream will be completely dependent on your video’s needs, purpose and goals. 

To clear up any confusion and help you to decide on the right streaming protocol to offer your viewers a high-quality and reliable stream, Zidivo has put together a complete guide to the most common video streaming protocols and when they should be used. 

What is a live video streaming protocol?

First things first, streaming protocols should not be confused with codecs. While codecs refer to the method used to compress your video content, protocols decide how your live content is transported and eventually delivered to your end viewers. 

Think of video protocols as the shipping method used for your live content - there are a range of factors involved in choosing the most efficient yet suitable shipping channel. Your video protocol is in charge of breaking up your live video files into small chunks, so they can be converted into streamable content piece by piece and gradually reassembled to be fed smoothly to your audience. 

You can use the same video protocol for transporting your video source from your camera or smartphone to your encoder and then your end viewer, or you can use a combination of protocols to make sure your video content is handled as effectively and efficiently as possible at every stage. 

There’s a good reason for there being such a wide range of live video streaming protocols out there, and its simply because they all perform in different ways. Some are more complex, such as adaptive bitrate and reduced latency protocols, designed to help broadcasters offer streams in as real-time and at the highest quality possible, enabling a high level of professionalism. 

What are the most common streaming protocols used?

RTMP (real-time messaging protocol)

This protocol is responsible for getting your video feed from your encoder, whether its a piece of software or hardware, to your video hosting or streaming platform, like Zidivo. RTMP was once the main protocol used to also transport your video content to the end-user however due to recent issues with the security of the Flash plugin required, it is best used for ingesting your content and ensure your stream is a success. 

RTSP (real-time streaming protocol) 

RTSP is similar to RTMP however is best used for controlling videos between specific endpoints rather than broadcasting to a large audience. Commonly used for IP cameras and IoT devices like drones, it can be an effective way to transport your feeds for security and communication purposes. 

HDS (HTTP dynamic streaming) 

HDS is one type of HTTP streaming that allows adaptive bitrate streams, meaning the quality and resolution of your video can adapt to the strength of each viewers internet connection. On top of this, HDS can allow broadcasters to achieve a low latency making it popular to use live events or announcements where its important for the live stream to be as real-time as possible. 

Again though, HDS is another protocol that relies on Flash to transport your video feeds so it’s important to take into account the potential security issues that come with using this protocol to deliver your video content to your end viewers. 

HLS (HTTP live streaming)

The next and arguably the most widely used type of HTTP live streaming is HLS. At Zidivo, we believe that HLS is currently the best of the bunch when it comes to offering your audience a stable and widely supported live stream. It doesn’t require Flash so is completely secure and supported by all devices such as desktops, smart TVs and smartphones. 

If you’re looking to go live to a large number of people and build a large audience, you need a live video streaming protocol that allows everyone who lands on your stream to tune in with no issues - something that HLS can provide. 

What’s more, HLS allows you to embed your streams on your site easily, use HTML5 players and offer your live streams in the best quality possible for each and every viewer.

WebRTC (web real-time communication protocol)

While this next video protocol isn’t necessarily the best choice for broadcasting, its worth mentioning that WebRTC is another valuable open-source protocol suited to peer-to-peer video communication. Think Zoom, Microsoft Teams and more, if you want to broadcast from peer-to-peer or among groups, you will need to use dedicated video protocols to support this. WebRTC allows you to stream to each other with incredibly low latency, enabling speedy and efficient communication with minimal lagging. 

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Now you have an understanding of the different types of live video streaming protocols out there, you can make an educated decision to identify one that is supported by your video streaming platform and will provide you with the best opportunity for success. At Zidivo, we support a wide range of video protocols, including RTMP, HLS and more. 

We pride ourselves on offering a video streaming and hosting platform that is highly adaptable to a wide range of videos and is always looking to innovate our features in line with new and upcoming protocols.

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