What is live streaming?
In digital terms, streaming is a method of transmitting and receiving audio/video data over a computer network. It is called streaming because we are consuming the data in real-time in a steady, continuous stream, with the key characteristic being how we can allow the playback to start while the rest of the data is still being received. This allows users to start playing the audio/video data before the entire data is downloaded.
Live streaming happens when the uploader of the video is also uploading the video in real-time, and the content is streamed before being recorded and stored. With the advancements in technologies in recent years, especially faster internet bandwidth, we can now consume various types of broadcasts via live streaming.
As we can see, the main difference between regular streaming and live streaming is whether the audio/video content is stored beforehand before being relayed to the audience. In live streaming, the audience consumes the content at the same moment the creator creates the content.
How Live Streaming Works
While the actual execution of a live streaming process might seem complicated at first, actually it only involves several key steps:
- Source capture
- Data compression and encoding
- Data segmentation
- Data distribution
- Decoding and playback
1. Source capture
The live streaming process starts when a camera captures the footage. The camera is connected to a computer (or other types of computing devices), and the camera will send the footage as digital data to the computer.
2. Data compression and encoding
The footage is compressed and encoded by the computer (or a separate physical encoder). Compression is required to remove unnecessary data and ensure optimal data size and transfer rate. It’s common that not all frames of the video stream must be fully rendered, some can be partially rendered or even totally eliminated to conserve data.
Encoding is the process of encoding or converting data into a new format. The footage data is converted into a digital format that is stream-friendly and recognized by a wide variety of playback devices.
3. Data Segmentation
If the video footage is left intact in its full size, it can take a long time both to upload and download the video file at once. Data segmentation is necessary to divide the video footage into smaller segments, with each segment only consisting of a few seconds in length.
In practice, the whole process of compressing, encoding, and segmenting the video data only lasts a few seconds in total.
4. Data Distribution and Caching
Once the video data has been properly compressed, encoded, and segmented, it is ready for distribution. Since the data must be uploaded and downloaded in real-time, it’s essential to use a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to maintain consistency in content delivery to multiple locations.
The CDN will also cache each segment of the live broadcast, so the viewers will get the content from the CDN cache instead of from the origin server which may be located far away from the viewer.
5. Decoding and Playback
The viewers will receive the live stream from the CDN, and the viewer’s device will decompress and decode the video data until it’s ready for playback (again this happens in just a few seconds). A media player on the viewer’s device will finally play back the video.
How To Start Your Own Live Streaming Channel?
Are you looking to live-stream your own content and start your own live streaming channel? Nowadays, starting a live streaming channel is easier and more affordable, and basically, you have three different options:
1. Building your own solution
This is technically the option where you’ll get the most freedom. If you have the technical know-how or the budget to hire a professional software developer, then you can create your own platform to live stream your content.
However, not only this option is expensive and difficult, but building and testing your own solution can take a significant amount of time, so the slow turnaround time might not be preferable.
2. Using off-the-shelf solutions
There are various social platforms like YouTube Live, Facebook, or Twitch where we can live broadcast our video content right away. Many of them are totally free, or at least very affordable, and most of them are very easy to use even without any programming knowledge.
However, you’ll get the least option regarding customization, and you’ll be limited by the platform’s regulations on what types of content you can broadcast and how you are going to monetize your content.
3. Using Professional Live Streaming Solutions
In this approach, we can use a professional live streaming solution like Viloud where you can get the best of both worlds: you’ll get the versatility and freedom of building your own platform from scratch while eliminating the lengthy and expensive development time.
With Viloud, you can embed your live stream directly on your website or application, or send your broadcast to a Viloud channel while controlling your different channels and platforms from a single dashboard.
Viloud’s CDN also offers adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming, which will automatically deliver your live broadcast content according to the viewer’s device and available bandwidth. This ensures a high-quality viewing experience in fluctuating bandwidth.
Summary: What Is Live Streaming?
Live streaming is now one of the most popular methods to consume content on the internet, especially among the younger generation. The term live streaming refers to broadcasting a live video to multiple users at once, of which both the upload process (from the content creator) and the download process (of the viewers) happens almost simultaneously.