What Is Live Streaming? A Comprehensive Definition

Live streaming has become accessible to almost everyone, thanks to trailblazing innovations in technology. Some people use live streaming for fame and money, while others prefer its fun or educational sides. Whatever the reason, the truth is that anyone, anywhere, can start live streaming. All it takes is pressing the Go Live button.

Live Streaming Explained

Live streaming is a process of recording and transmitting video content in real time to viewers over the internet. All you need to start streaming is a recording device with an internet connection and software, as well as a platform on which you’ll stream. This simplicity is why live streaming has gained such popularity.

Live streaming technology isn’t used solely for entertainment but boasts a wide range of applications. For instance, it can be used for educational purposes (remote learning), company presentations, event live streaming, and anything else that has to be broadcasted instantly over the internet.

While some streamers create and use special home recording studios, most people use their mobile phones to live stream events. Statistics show that in 2021, people worldwide spent over 548 billion hours streaming on their mobile phones alone.

Why Is Live Streaming Popular?

The rising popularity of reality TV shows combined with the simplicity of live streaming technology have made live streaming popular for watching and creating. There are no scripts or editing, everything is happening live, and it’s broadcasted worldwide. No longer is this technology limited to broadcasting conglomerates. Nowadays, anyone can become a worldwide sensation overnight. Facebook Live, Twitch, and YouTube Live are the most popular live streaming services but are not the only ones out there.

Live Streaming Technology

Live streaming works by delivering videos via various streaming protocols, depending on the viewer’s device. If the viewer has an iPhone, then it uses the HLS protocol, whereas if they are using a browser, it’s mostly MPEG-DASH, but that isn’t something the streamer has to think about. The live streaming service media server converts the live stream into the required protocol.

As video files aren’t small, for the video to be live-streamed successfully, it has to be broken down into smaller chunks lasting a couple of seconds. This is done because it’s easier for the receiving device to download smaller sections instead of the whole video at once.

Long distance causes latency and buffering, which is why live streaming services employ a content delivery network to combat such problems. We’ll cover this in detail, but for now, you need to know that there is a solution dealing with latency and buffering.

The normal live streaming process includes the following steps:

  • Video capture
  • Compression and encoding
  • Segmentation
  • CDN
  • Decoding and video playback

Video Capture

Live streaming starts with raw video footage taken by a camera. Such a video is too large and, as such, impossible to live stream reliably. That’s why we first need to compress and encode it.

Compression and Encoding

The raw video format is compressed to save up space and resources needed to transfer said video over the network. The software scans the video and groups similar-looking pixels in one bigger block, drastically reducing the file size. Encoding converts the compressed video file into a new format that can be decoded at the destination.

The standard formats used are: H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC, VP9, and AV1. It’s not just the video that is compressed and encoded. The audio gets the same treatment, but it uses a different format. AAC is the industry standard, and AC3 is still used in some older surround sound systems.

Segmentation

Video files hold a lot more data than a single photo or PDF, which impacts their file size. Therefore, a video live stream with such large files wouldn’t be practical. Sending them would create quite a heavy load on the network. It’s easier to break them down into smaller data packets and send these over the network to their destination. When the video file is compressed, encoded, and segmented, it’s ready to be broadcasted.

CDN

To make live streaming content easily accessible worldwide, without latency, the live streaming service relies on CDN. Suppose somebody is broadcasting from Ottawa, and a viewer from Tokyo wants to watch the broadcast. In that case, the CDN will make the video easier to access by transferring it to the network server geographically closer to the Tokyo-based viewer.

The video files will remain cached on that server for any other viewer who might want to access them. That way, the request doesn’t have to travel back to the source, making the whole process faster, and most importantly, the network remains clog-free.

Decoding and Video Playback

The CDN sends the data to all the users who request it, and the users’ devices decode and decompress the data. Finally, the live streaming app or browser plays the video for the viewer.

Live Streaming Equipment

Due to the complexity of live streaming technology, the process isn’t that simple, especially if you want to make it into a career. Yes, you can use your mobile phone to live stream, as some people do, but you’ll have to invest in sophisticated equipment and software to succeed. No matter what kind of content you want to stream or what device you plan to use, the following equipment is something you’ll need to start with:

  • Video capture device
  • Microphone
  • Broadcasting software
  • Encoder

Video Capture Device

Since we’re talking about video live streaming, it’s only natural to start with the camera. As the most important tool in your arsenal, it must be up to the task at hand. There is an array of cameras to pick from, ranging from mobile cameras to professional 4k streaming cameras.

Which one is the most suitable for you depends on the content you want to live stream. It goes without saying that you don’t have to start with the best one on the market. Start small and work your way up as your career takes off.

Microphone

Some cameras have built-in microphones, but they are inadequate for professional streaming. There are several types of microphones on the market, and you need to choose the one that suits your needs and budget.

Broadcasting Software

You won’t need broadcasting software if you plan to use live streaming for a work presentation or talk to your grandma. It will be integrated with the live streaming app you will use. But if you are looking to start a streaming career, broadcasting software is a must. All the live streaming equipment is pointless without one.

Broadcasting software allows you to customize your live stream, and serves as a software encoder. Open Broadcaster Software is the most popular and most widely used broadcasting software and, best of all, it’s free.

The equipment mentioned here represents just the bare necessities for streaming. Anyone serious about doing it professionally will require additional live streaming equipment to enhance production quality. Such equipment may include a hardware encoder, lights, a green screen, multiple cameras, a streamer deck, etc. It all depends on the type of content and budget.

Live Streaming Risks

Whether you’re watching or recording, live streaming does have certain risks. Because live streaming content is unscripted and unedited, anything can happen while recording. The viewers can see traumatizing or explicit content that maybe even the broadcaster didn’t want to record but has no way of preventing.

Live streamers also need to keep their personal life separate from their streaming career. There are multiple accounts of people abusing streamers’ private data to go about trying to ruin their careers and lives.

Because live streaming apps are easily accessible nowadays, children can be exposed to inappropriate content or may choose to stream without parental consent. As outlined in Twitch and YouTube guidelines, streaming platforms don’t allow children under 13 to stream at all. If they are above this age, they can stream only if visibly accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Adults can stream without any issues as long as they follow the guidelines set down by that live streaming platform.

Final Thoughts

Live streaming is a valuable tool for businesses and a source of entertainment for many. Statistics show that Canadians now consume and create more live streaming and streaming content than ever before. Although live streaming technology is used the most in the entertainment industry, it has also found its place in other spheres.

Live streaming services allow brands to reach out to audiences on other continents. Lectures can be live streamed to students across the globe. We are no longer limited by distance, and this technology is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.


FAQ

What’s the difference between streaming and live streaming?

Streaming is the process of sending or receiving data over the internet, which is processed as a steady and continuous flow instead of one big file. It means that we don’t have to download a video before viewing it. Live streaming refers to the same thing but implies that the video we are currently watching is happening right now or, simply put – live.

Is live streaming safe?

Live streaming technology is safe, but the process of live streaming can be dangerous if one doesn’t pay attention to their surroundings or fails to protect their private information. This, in turn, can be utilized by malicious viewers to cause harm.

What is the purpose of live streaming?

Let’s start by answering: “What is live streaming?” It’s a process which transfers live video and audio data over the internet in real time, allowing you to see events as they unfold even though you’re far from the location where they are taking place. Therefore, the purpose of live streaming is to allow us to witness distant events as they are happening.

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