Live video streaming refers to sending video and audio signals real time over the Internet. Today, live video streaming technologies are widely used in broadcasting news, connecting friends and relatives in online chat rooms, conducting businesses online face to face, selling products and services, teaching online courses, monitoring properties, showing movies online, and so on. Much interest has been invested in taking advantage of live video streaming.
In-Stat, a digital communication market research company, predicts that high-speed Internet-connected households are expected to grow from 194 million in 2005 to 413 million by 2010 (Burns, 2006a). Almost all corporations, universities, schools and governments today are equipped with broadband connections. In the United States, 80% of the online U.S. households had a broadband connection by February 2007, according to Nielsen/Netratings. Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for the Leichtman Research Group, predicts that the number of broadband subscribers in America will nearly double in the next five years (Burns, 2006b). A 2005 study by AccuStream iMedia Research shows that the consumption of streaming videos is positively correlated to whether the consumer has a broadband connection. In-Stat analyst Gerry Kaufhold said that growth in broadband adoption had attributed to the increased demand for online video (Burns, 2006a). Revenue-generating opportunities are expected to grow as content aggregators and portals, such as AOL, Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Apple, offer online video services and redefine the future of television (Ibid.).
With a promising future for live Streaming, companies have been developing such technologies. Many standards, however, are being used. As a result, for viewers, watching a live or on-demand video online could easily turn into a frustrating search for a plug-in or a media player, a struggle with figuring out what is being shown in a tiny picture box or in a large, fuzzy picture box or impatient waiting for intermittent signals to resume or for video and audio to be synced.
Unlike encoding an on-demand video sometimes for multiple popular media players, the encoding of a live streaming video is usually restricted to only one media format due to high cost. Therefore, ideally, a live streaming technology has the following characters:
- Audience can easily access a streaming video. The audience does not have to download a plug-in or a media player and can use any broadband connection speeds to access the live streaming.
- A video can be streamed and accessed on multiple operating systems. In other words, server software, broadcasting software, and player software, can be operated both on Windows and Mac OSX, if not Linux also.
- A stream provides outstanding image quality, for instance, large image size and crisp image.
- A stream provides outstanding streaming quality. There is no or little delay, no rebuffering, and no audio/video mismatch.
- Setting up a stream is relatively easy. Streaming in this technology does not involve a big learning curve and can be done within a short time.
- Setting up a stream is inexpensive.
- Finally, a live stream can be recorded.
Unfortunately, technical data regarding the existing live streaming technologies do not exist in the market for streaming media producers to decide which is an ideal live video streaming technology. For streaming media producers, picking, learning and using a live streaming technology can become a daunting task. These days, most companies are advised to outsource their live streaming events to a specialized company. A live streaming process often sounds and looks mythical and expensive. The goal of this study is to provide data, by comparing different live streaming technologies, for live streaming producers to make an informed decision as to what technology to adopt for their own live streaming needs. The study aims to democratize the live streaming process. As part of the package of the study, Tutorials (link to the tutorial sub-site) on how to each live video streaming technology are included in this site.
Technologies come and go. Today’s popular technologies may be obsolete tomorrow while some unpopular ones may become dominant in the future. Flash streaming video is a case in point. Before 2004, hardly would anyone have thought of the popularity Flash streaming video is enjoying today in 2007. Many streaming producers are familiar with the chart that shows Flash Player's penetration rate. It is doubtful, however, that many streaming producers know about the efforts in the streaming media industry that take advantage of the widely popular presence of Java, which is listed as the No. 2 most pre-installed player in that chart. Therefore, this study tested and compared the following eight popular or not-so-popular but seemingly promising live streaming technologies, including two Java-driven technologies from Clipstream and VX30:
- Adobe’s Flash Media Server 2 and Flash Media Encoder,
- Apple’s QuickTime Broadcaster and Darwin Streaming Server,
- Clipstream’s Clipstream Live and Repeater,
- Internet 2’s Digital Video Transport System (DVTS),
- Microsoft’s Windows Media Encoder and Windows Media Server (included in Windows 2003),
- Real Networks’ RealProducer Plus and Helix Server,
- VideoLan’s VLC, and
- VX30’s VX30 Live and VX30 Broadcast System.