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In the era of YouTube when people perceive most information through video, developing digital products being without it may be considered suicide for a business idea.

We discovered a lot of ways of developing video streaming software and verified it through practice. In this blog post, we will tell you about the most popular video streaming technology - HTTP Live Streaming.

Wanna know how to realize HLS for your application and make this process faster and more cost-effective? Stay tuned!

What Is HLS Streaming?

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is a streaming protocol developed and released by Apple in 2009. It reduces the time needed for video downloading and enables playing video in different quality depending on the capabilities of the user’s device.

HLS became popular thanks to several features:

Compatibility

The primary reason for the HLS video streaming popularity is that this protocol is compatible with the different media players, web browsers, mobile devices, as well as streaming media servers.  

Adaptability

HLS encodes the incoming videos in various levels of quality. That allows it to change depending on the Internet speed during the playback video and makes it seamless for the end-user.

Low latency

From April 30, 2020 the low latency specifications have become part of the main HLS specification and vary from 15 to 20 seconds range with HLS live streaming.

The HLS extension, called Apple Low Latency HLS (ALHLS) reduces glass-to-glass delay when streaming via HLS by reducing the time needed to start live stream playbacks and maintain it during a live streaming event.

Dynamic ad insertion

In addition to everything previously, HLS technology allows you to turn applications into the market place by inserting dynamic ads into the streaming videos.

Key Benefits of HLS Streaming

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is a popular streaming protocol that enables the delivery of multimedia content, such as video and audio, over the internet. It has gained widespread adoption due to its several key benefits that enhance the viewing experience for users. Here are some of the key benefits of HLS streaming:

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming:

  • One of the major advantages of HLS is its support for adaptive bitrate streaming. This means that the quality of the video can be adjusted in real-time based on the viewer's internet connection speed and device capabilities. This ensures a smooth and uninterrupted streaming experience, even in varying network conditions.

Cross-Platform Compatibility:

  • HLS is designed to work seamlessly across different platforms and devices. Whether users are accessing content on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, HLS can deliver streaming content without requiring specific plugins or dedicated software. This broad compatibility makes it a versatile choice for content providers.

Reliability and Stability:

  • HLS is built on top of the HTTP protocol, which is a reliable and widely-used communication standard on the internet. This makes HLS streaming more robust and stable compared to some other streaming protocols. The use of standard HTTP also allows HLS streams to pass through firewalls and proxies with ease.

Reduced Latency:

  • HLS streaming typically involves a slight delay in the delivery of content, which can be advantageous in certain scenarios. The latency introduced by HLS allows for better error correction and improved buffering, resulting in a smoother playback experience with minimal buffering interruptions.

Content Encryption and Security:

  • HLS supports encryption mechanisms, such as HTTPS, ensuring secure content delivery. This is particularly important for protecting premium content and preventing unauthorized access. The ability to implement digital rights management (DRM) solutions further enhances the security of the streamed content.

Scalability:

  • HLS is designed to scale effectively to accommodate a large number of viewers simultaneously. Content providers can leverage Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to distribute the streaming load across multiple servers, reducing the risk of congestion and optimizing the overall performance of the streaming service.

Ease of Implementation:

  • Implementing HLS streaming is relatively straightforward, thanks to its compatibility with standard web servers. Content providers can use existing infrastructure and tools to set up and manage HLS streams, making it a cost-effective solution.

Live Streaming Support:

  • HLS is well-suited for live streaming scenarios. It allows for the efficient delivery of live events, such as sports broadcasts, concerts, and news updates. The adaptive bitrate streaming feature is particularly beneficial in live streaming, adapting to varying network conditions and providing a consistent viewing experience.

How Does HLS Work?

The work of HLS streaming is best explained in the following way:

  1. The live content (visual and/or audio) is captured by the streaming devices (camera, microphone)
  2. After capturing content, the device sends it to the transcoding service
  3. The transcoding service transfers video to the video hosting platform through the middleware.  
  4. The hosting platform then transfers the content to an HTML5 video player

In simple words, HLS turns the videos into a bunch of segments and specifies the duration of each segment. Then during the video streaming, the browser makes HTTP requests for these segmented files.

When to Use HLS Streaming?

HTTP Live Streaming is well-suited for specific scenarios:

Multi-Device Compatibility:

  • HLS works across diverse devices and platforms, making it ideal for reaching a broad audience.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming:

  • When dynamic quality adjustments based on network conditions are crucial, HLS ensures smooth playback.

Live Streaming Events:

  • HLS efficiently delivers live content, making it suitable for sports, concerts, news, and real-time broadcasts.

Content Security:

  • HLS supports encryption, including HTTPS, ensuring content security and protection against unauthorized access.

Network Congestion Mitigation:

  • HLS introduces a slight delay, minimizing buffering interruptions and enhancing stability in congested networks.

Ease of Implementation:

  • HLS is easy to implement, compatible with standard web servers, and doesn't require specialized software.

Scalability:

  • For services with a large audience, HLS can be scaled effectively using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs).

Offline Viewing:

  • HLS allows for offline content viewing, enabling users to download content for later consumption.

Have an idea of application with the video streaming feature?

At Axon we empower businesses by providing first-class custom software development services.

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Technical Overview of HLS Implementation

As previously discussed the working principle of HLS, make the right time to delve deeper into the technical specifications of the HLS protocol and see it in action.

Back-end

In a previous part of the article, we defined that streaming content after it has been identified by the device needs to be sent to the transcoding service. To achieve this goal, you can utilize an AWS Elastic Transcoder, the cloud media transcoding service. The transcoder converts video files into the versions compatible with iOS devices, Android devices, set-top boxes, and browser-based players.

In the context of back-end, the next step is transferring the video to the hosting platform. As a middleware that provides secure delivery of the streaming content, you can use a Cloud Delivery Network (CDN) service by AWS - CloudFront. It is most suitable for both pre-recorded videos and live videos.

Front-end

Currently, when our video is delivered to the hosting platform, it needs to be transferred to the HTML5 player. For this purpose, we recommend utilizing Video.js library that supports HTML5 video and HLS.

The easiest way to get started using Video.js is to paste the following links in your page:

Source: https://videojs.com/getting-started/

HLS For iOS Applications

By using the same protocol that powers the web, HLS lets you deploy content using ordinary web servers and content delivery networks. HLS is designed for reliability and dynamically adapts to network conditions by optimizing playback for the available speed of wired and wireless connections.’ - Apple documentation

As stated the documentation implementation of HLS into your iOS Application is not a big deal. An AVPlayer has all needed setups to minimize your work. You can just initialize an AVPlayer Item for instance with a link to the playlist.

So here we have such HLS iOS mechanism:

  1. Init AVPlayerViewController instance
  2. Init AVPlayerItem with desired playlist
  3. Init AVPlayer instance with current player item
  4. Add new player to AVPlayerViewController
  5. Add AVPlayerViewController to your navigation or just present it as in example
  6. Start playing

This is the simplest way of adding HLS to your iOS App.

Are you considering an HLS technology as a feature for your learning app? Look at our Educational Software Solutions.

Example of HLS for iOS

An example of using HLS for iOS can be seen in Apple's native media player framework, AVPlayer, and AVPlayerViewController. iOS developers commonly implement HLS to stream video content seamlessly in their applications. By providing a URL pointing to an HLS stream, developers can leverage these APIs to integrate adaptive bitrate streaming, allowing users to experience smooth playback across varying network conditions. This approach ensures compatibility with iOS devices and delivers a reliable streaming experience for users accessing multimedia content on iPhones and iPads.

HLS for Android applications

Unlike HLS iOS mechanism, to implement HLS streaming Android into application you can use ExoPlayer - an application media player for Android OS.

It is built on top of Android's low level media APIs, ExoPlayer offers a more powerful and more robust alternative to MediaPlayer, with additional features and customization flexibility. Unlike the MediaPlayer API, ExoPlayer is easy to customize and extend.

For simple HLS streaming Android example, getting started with ExoPlayer consists of implementing the following HLS streaming Android steps:

  1. Add ExoPlayer as a dependency to your project.
  1. Create a SimpleExoPlayer instance.
  1. Attach the player to a view (for video output and user input).
  1. Prepare the player with a MediaSource to play.
  1. Release the player when done.

Example of HLS for Android

In the Android ecosystem, developers often implement HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) for seamless video playback in applications. The Android platform supports HLS through the built-in ExoPlayer library. Developers can use ExoPlayer to handle HLS streams, providing adaptive bitrate streaming for optimal performance on various Android devices. By specifying the HLS stream URL and utilizing ExoPlayer's features, developers can create apps that deliver high-quality video content while adapting to users' network conditions, ensuring a smooth viewing experience on Android smartphones and tablets.

Conclusion

In conclusion, HLS streaming implementation can greatly enhance the multimedia experience for users. By leveraging adaptive bitrate streaming, cross-platform compatibility, and the security features offered by HLS, developers can provide a seamless and reliable streaming solution. Whether on iOS or Android, integrating HLS, using frameworks like AVPlayer or ExoPlayer, allows for efficient delivery of live or on-demand content. Furthermore, the simplicity and scalability of HLS streaming implementation make it a practical choice, ensuring a broader reach for your application and a consistent viewing experience across diverse devices and network conditions.

Software Development Team

When it comes to creating software solutions that not only meet but exceed your business objectives, partnering with a proven expert is paramount. That's where Axon, your trusted ally in software engineering, steps in. Our comprehensive services and dedicated team are here to streamline your development process, providing you with top-notch solutions while keeping a watchful eye on your budget.

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Discover our portfolio of successful projects in our Related Cases section. Explore a diverse range of software solutions we've crafted for clients across various industries. From innovative applications to intricate systems, delve into the details of our past successes and envision the possibilities for your next project!

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