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A Guide to Picking the Best Video Streaming Protocol in 2020

best video streaming protocols

Online video has left an invaluable mark on the year 2020 — online video consumption is at its all-time high, and more and more people are making video a part of their everyday lives. The live streaming industry isn’t lagging behind, either! Data shows that its market value has nearly doubled between April 2019 and April 2020! In fact, experts predict that the live streaming industry will be worth over $180 billion by 2027

The engaging, personalized, and accessible live streaming technology has indeed changed the world — there’s no denying that. But how did we even get to this point? What is the driving force behind live streaming and video tech? The answer isn’t that straightforward. However, we cannot argue that video streaming protocols are the foundations of all video broadcasting.

But what are video streaming protocols, what do they do, and how do you pick the best one? These are just some of the things we’re going to find out! So if you’re a beginner in the online video world and wish to learn more about video streaming technology or are a veteran looking to refresh their memory, you’re in the right place! Let’s start with the basics…

What Is a Video Streaming Protocol?

A video streaming protocol is a multimedia delivery method that breaks up video files into segments, sends them to end-users, and reassembles them at their destination. But why does this complex process happen? Because most video files aren’t suitable for streaming

The reasons behind that are simple — RAW video files are often too large for smooth playback and impractical for storage. That is why we need video streaming protocols to optimize videos for streaming!

Learn More About Video File Compression: What Is Video Encoding — the Ins and Outs of Video Encoding

Various protocols are incredibly complex and focus on multiple aspects of the video delivery process. For instance, adaptive bitrate streaming protocols are quite common nowadays and allow users to view online video in the highest quality renditions their devices support. There are even streaming protocols that specialize in minimizing video latency, i.e., the delay between something happening in real time and when it shows up on a user’s live stream. 

Unfortunately, as essential as streaming protocols are, there are a few inconveniences with them. For instance, both the output and the input devices need to support the used protocol to achieve successful playback. When you combine that with the fact that there are dozens of protocols out there, you can see why picking the best and most versatile one is essential.

Don’t worry — that’s why we’re here to help! We’ve prepared a list of six of the best video streaming protocols on the market in 2020. We will outline their characteristics, versatility, and strengths and weaknesses. 

Best Video Streaming Protocols in 2020

best video streaming protocols in 2020

Here are the six best video streaming protocols in 2020:

  • Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP)
  • Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP)
  • HTTP Live Streaming (HLS)
  • HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS)
  • Microsoft Smooth Streaming (MSS)
  • MPEG-DASH

Let’s look at each in more detail!

Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP)

Real-time Streaming Protocol is one of the lesser-known ones as it is not widely used nowadays. RTSP is primarily used to operate entertainment and communications systems.

One of the most notable benefits of RTSP is that it is a low-latency protocol, making it an excellent choice for surveillance systems, IoT devices, and mobile SDKs. This protocol is incredibly popular for controlling various types of drones.

Unfortunately, that is where RTSP’s positive sides end. 

One of the most notable downsides of this streaming protocol is that its native browser support for RTSP is incredibly limited. RTSP is also a dependent protocol, as it relies on the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) and Real-Time Control Protocol (RTCP) to accomplish its purpose. When you combine these factors with RTMP’s overall lackluster device compatibility, it becomes clear that it leaves much to be desired.

Supported Audio CodecsSupported Video CodecsPlayback Compatibility
AAC
AAC-LC
HE-AAC+ v1 & v2
MP3
Speex
Opus
Vorbis
H.265
H.264
VP9
VP8
Quicktime Player (and other RTSP/RTP-Compliant players)
Video LAN VLC Media Player
3GPP-Compatible Devices

Pros:

  • Low-latency protocol (<2 sec)
  • An excellent choice for surveillance systems

Cons:

  • Dependant on other protocols
  • Limited native browser support
  • Lacks in the device compatibility department

Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP)

RTMP is one of the oldest protocols on the market, but it is quite an effective one for its age! We could even say that RTMP was a pioneering live streaming protocol.

This protocol was primarily developed for streaming media content and took inspiration from Adobe’s Flash Player. It is a low-latency protocol, making it a potent choice for a variety of uses. Perhaps the best one is for stream ingestion, which is why many still use it to this day.

However, RTMP’s primary compatibility is with the Flash plugin. That puts a hard-set expiry date on this live streaming protocol. That is because Flash is due to shut down by the end of 2020, which will mean the closure of its plugin and all related Flash support. So even though you can still use RTMP to some extent, we wouldn’t recommend it as it will soon become obsolete.

Supported Audio CodecsSupported Video CodecsPlayback Compatibility
AAC
AAC-LC
HE-AAC+ v1 & v2
MP3
Speex
Opus
Vorbis
H.264
VP8
VP6
Sorenson Spark®
Screen Video v1 & v2
Flash Player
Adobe AIR
RTMP-Compatible Players

Pros:

  • Low-latency protocol (<5 sec)
  • Requires no buffering
  • An excellent video protocol choice for stream ingestion

Cons:

  • Not optimized for quality user experience
  • Lacks in scalability
  • Soon to become obsolete due to the death of Flash

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS)

HLS is a video streaming protocol developed by Apple in 2009 and is currently the most popular streaming protocol on the web. With the upcoming death of Flash, most Flash users have switched to HTML5 video players and, consequently, the HLS protocol. That is the primary reason it saw such a massive surge in popularity.

graph illustrating the popularity of different streaming protocols

Aside from HLS’s wider device compatibility and HTML5 player support, this protocol is one of the safest on the market. That is what makes HLS the perfect protocol for streaming live video to massive viewer bases. This safety and security are why most online video platforms use this streaming protocol in their services. 

The only notable downside of HLS protocol currently is that it can suffer from high latency when live streaming, but there are effective ways to deal with HLS latency.

Supported Audio CodecsSupported Video CodecsPlayback Compatibility
AAC-LC
HE-AAC+ v1 & v2
xHE-AAC
Apple Lossless
FLAC
H.265
H.264
iOS and macOS Devices
Firefox, Edge, Safari & Chrome Browsers
Most Online Video Platforms

Pros:

  • The most used video streaming protocol currently
  • An adaptive protocol that provides an excellent user experience
  • Supports high-quality videos
  • Supported by a broad range of devices

Cons:

  • High latency when live streaming

HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS)

HDS is Adobe’s adaptive bitrate streaming protocol that evolved from RTMP, taking its features and video quality to the next level. Although this protocol is still considered a low-latency one, it’s not as potent as RTMP in that department. For most uses, though, a few additional seconds of latency is well worth the quality improvement it has over RTMP.

Sadly, HDS suffers from the same fate as RTMP due to its being a Flash-based protocol. Since Flash will be going out of commission soon, HDS will be left in a rough spot in the compatibility department. It does remain a superior option for stream ingest to RTMP due to its adaptive bitrate streaming feature, though!

Supported Audio CodecsSupported Video CodecsPlayback Compatibility
AAC
AAC-LC
HE-AAC+ v1 & v2
MP3
H.264
VP6
Flash Player
Adobe AIR

Pros:

  • Adaptive bitrate streaming
  • Support for high-quality videos
  • Excellent for stream ingestion

Cons:

  • Higher latency than RTMP might be a dealbreaker for some
  • Lacks scalability
  • Soon to become obsolete due to the death of Flash

Microsoft Smooth Streaming (MSS)

MSS is Microsoft’s adaptive bitrate video streaming protocol designed with additional security measures to protect against piracy. The protocol achieves that with its full support for PlayReady DRM.

The most significant downsides of MSS are that its deployment requires a specific Microsoft developer plugin, making it inaccessible for most users. That has led to a massive drop in its popularity from which it hasn’t moved to this day, despite its decent range of compatible devices.

Supported Audio CodecsSupported Video CodecsPlayback Compatibility
AAC
WMA
H.264
VC-1
Browsers With the Silverlight Plugin
Xbox
Windows Computers & Phone
iOS Devices and Systems
Many Smart TVs

Pros:

  • Adaptive bitrate streaming
  • DRM protection against piracy

Cons:

  • Requires a specific Microsoft developer plugin to deploy
  • The range of compatible devices is mostly restricted to Microsoft’s systems and products
  • Not a wise choice for live streaming

MPEG-DASH

MPEG-DASH is one of the newest streaming protocols and is considered to be an up-and-comer in the industry. Most publishers predict this protocol will be the future of live streaming!

MPEG-DASH is an open-source, adaptive-bitrate protocol, meaning that it is both customizable and optimized for user experience. Such customizability makes this protocol codec-agnostic, meaning it can be adapted to support any audio and video codec imaginable! 

Learn More About Video Codecs: What Is a Video Codec and How to Choose the Right One

Learn How to Choose the Best Audio Codec for Your Videos and Streams: What Is the Best Audio Codec for Online Video and Live Streaming

MPEG-DASH has also successfully dealt with some delivery and compression issues its predecessors had, making it one of the most optimal choices for broadcasters nowadays.

However, there is one significant downside to this fantastic protocol — device compatibility. MPEG-DASH doesn’t have Safari and iOS support, meaning that settling for it will mean sacrificing potential reach.

Supported Audio CodecsSupported Video CodecsPlayback Compatibility
Any (Codec-Agnostic)Any (Codec-Agnostic)Native Support on All Android Devices
Post-2012 Samsung, Philips, Sony, and Panasonic TVs
YouTube and Netflix
Firefox, Safari, and Chrome Browsers

Pros:

  • Open-source protocol
  • Codec-agnostic
  • Adaptive bitrate streaming
  • Optimized for user experience

Cons:

  • Lacks in the device compatibility department as it isn’t supported on iOS devices
  • Mid-latency protocol (6–30 sec)

So Which Video Streaming Protocol Should I Settle For?

The answer to this question is not so straightforward, as it all depends on your needs, but we are going to give you our thoughts.

MPEG-DASH is currently the most promising streaming protocol, though it has yet to gain traction in the online world. If you don’t mind the downside of not being compatible with iOS devices, you should keep an eye on MPEG-DASH in the near future. But despite MPEG-DASH being so promising, we cannot recommend it yet since it’s still an incredibly young protocol, and we are yet to see its full potential. 

What we can recommend, though, is that you settle for HLS. This protocol is the most popular for a reason. And with the upcoming death of Flash, the other widely used Flash-based protocols will die out, making even more people turn toward HLS.

But why do we recommend HLS? Because it is compatible with most browsers and devices out there, it is widely used in HTML5 players worldwide, and it offers excellent video quality and user experience

We can personally vouch for HLS as we at Brid.TV use it to deliver video and live streams to users worldwide. Our video monetization platform and HTML5 player offers secure video hosting, distribution, and monetization services for video and streaming content. So if you want to enter the online video and live streaming world, we can help you get started!

If you wish to try our platform out with all of its features for free, send us an email and start your free premium trial today!

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