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Optimizing Live Video Streaming for Low Latency and High Quality

Optimizing Live Video Streaming for Low Latency and High Quality

Are you looking to deliver the best possible live-streaming experience to your viewers? Whether you’re broadcasting sports events, news, or entertainment, providing low latency and high-quality video is crucial to keeping your audience engaged. In this article, we share tips for optimizing your live streaming pipeline based on the experiences of a leading OTT platform in Latin America – Zapping.

Audiences today expect seamless, immersive experiences, particularly regarding real-time events like sports, news, and live entertainment. Delivering content that is both high in quality and low in latency isn’t just an advantage—it’s a necessity. Let’s tune your streaming pipeline for unparalleled viewer satisfaction.

Understanding the Live Streaming Pipeline

At the heart of any streaming service is its pipeline, a complex web of processes that work in tandem to deliver content from the camera lens to the viewer’s screen. This journey can be broken down into several critical stages:

1. Capture: High-quality video capture is the first step, involving sources like satellite feeds, cameras, and direct feeds from broadcasting networks.

2. Encode: This raw footage is then encoded, often in real-time, into a digital format suitable for transmission over the internet, using either specialized hardware encoders or software solutions.

3. Segment and Package: The encoded video is chopped into manageable segments and wrapped in a streaming-friendly format, ready for delivery.

4. Distribute: These packets are then sent to the world via a robust Content Delivery Network (CDN), ensuring they reach viewers worldwide.

4. Playback: At the endpoint, the viewer’s device collects these segments, reassembles them, and plays back the video, ideally without the user ever noticing the complex journey each pixel has made.

Takeaways for Optimization:

  • Proximity: Keeping encoders near your video source can drastically reduce initial latency.
  • Direct Routes: Utilize high-speed, direct transmission methods to avoid delays.
  • Simplify: Every additional step in your pipeline is a potential delay point. Streamline where possible.

Choosing the Right Encoding Technology

The encoding stage is pivotal. It’s where the magic happens, turning raw, uncompressed video into a format easily streamed across the internet. But not all encoders are created equal. Here’s what to consider:

Hardware vs. Software

Regarding encoding technology, the choice between hardware and software can significantly affect performance. Hardware encoders, like NETINT’s Quadra, are purpose-built for video encoding, offering unparalleled efficiency and speed compared to general-purpose CPUs or GPUs. These specialized chips are designed to handle the complex algorithms and high computational demands of video encoding, allowing them to process more channels in less space and with lower power consumption. This makes hardware encoders ideal for large-scale live-streaming operations where density and efficiency are key concerns.

Speed Matters

While live streaming, every second counts. Encoders that can start up quickly and process video at high speeds are essential for minimizing latency and providing a seamless viewing experience. Look for encoders with rapid boot times and optimized encoding pipelines that can keep up with the demands of real-time video processing. Some advanced encoders offer features like parallel processing and hardware acceleration to boost encoding speeds further. By choosing an encoder that prioritizes speed, you can reduce the time between when an event happens and when your viewers see it, making your streams feel live.

Quality vs. Latency

One of the biggest challenges in live streaming is finding the right balance between video quality and latency. Higher-quality video often requires more processing time, leading to increased latency. On the other hand, reducing latency may require sacrificing some image quality. The key is to find an encoder that offers the flexibility to adjust this balance based on your specific needs.

For example, sports events may prioritize low latency to ensure viewers can see every play in real time, while entertainment content may prioritize higher quality for a more immersive experience. Look for encoders that offer a range of quality settings and can adapt to different content types and network conditions. By choosing an encoder that can strike the right balance for your content, you can deliver streams that look great and feel responsive to your viewers.

Case in Point

Utilizing NETINT‘s Quadra solutions, the Latin American OTT platform Zapping achieved remarkable latency reductions while enhancing video quality, showcasing the encoder’s superior performance and efficiency.

Optimizing the CDN for Low Latency

Your CDN is the backbone of your streaming infrastructure, and its design can make or break your low-latency goals. A multi-tier architecture is key to minimizing the distance between your content and your viewers. By placing edge servers in strategic locations close to your audience, you can reduce the number of network hops and the overall travel time for your video segments. This is especially important for viewers in remote or underserved regions far from traditional data centers. Edge servers can cache popular content, reducing the load on your origin servers and providing faster response times to viewer requests.

Smart caching is another powerful tool in your CDN arsenal. By implementing advanced caching algorithms and intelligent pre-fetching, you can anticipate viewer demands and have content ready before it’s requested. This can involve analyzing viewer behavior patterns, popularity trends, and even social media buzz to predict which content will likely be in high demand. With smart caching, your edge servers can proactively pull content from your origin servers during off-peak hours, ensuring a speedy response when viewers hit play. You can also use techniques like cache sharding and distributed caching to optimize performance and resilience further.

The choice of streaming protocol can also have a significant impact on latency. While traditional protocols like RTMP have been widely used for live streaming, they weren’t designed with low latency as a primary goal. Newer protocols like DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) have emerged as better options for low-latency streaming. These protocols break the video into smaller segments that can be quickly delivered and played back by the viewer’s device. Adjusting the segment length lets you find the optimal balance between quality and latency for your specific use case. Shorter segments can reduce latency but may require more frequent requests from the player, while longer segments can provide better quality and bandwidth efficiency but may increase latency. Some advanced protocols, like DASH Low-Latency or Apple’s Low-Latency HLS, offer additional optimizations aimed explicitly at reducing latency even further. When choosing a protocol, consider device compatibility, DRM support, and overall latency and quality goals.

Personalized CDN

Some platforms develop their CDN to have complete control over the distribution process, optimizing every step for their specific needs and audience.


Adapting to Viewer Devices

The final puzzle piece is the viewer’s device, which can range from high-end smart TVs to older smartphones. Ensuring a consistent, high-quality experience across this spectrum requires considering many factors.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABS)

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABS) is a game-changer for delivering high-quality video to various devices and network conditions. With ABS, your streaming system can dynamically adjust the video quality in real time based on the viewer’s available bandwidth and device capabilities. If a viewer’s network suddenly becomes congested or their device struggles to keep up, the video quality can seamlessly scale down to maintain smooth playback without buffering. Conversely, if a viewer’s network conditions improve, the quality can ramp back up to provide the best picture. ABS encodes your video at multiple bitrates and resolutions, creating a “ladder” of quality options. The player on the viewer’s device can automatically switch between these rungs based on current conditions, ensuring an optimal viewing experience.

Diverse Quality Options

Offering a diverse range of video qualities is crucial for accommodating the broad spectrum of devices and network conditions in the real world. While some viewers may watch your streams on high-end smart TVs with gigabit fiber connections, others may watch on older smartphones with limited processing power and spotty wireless networks. Providing multiple quality options ensures that every viewer gets the best possible experience for their specific setup. This can include everything from high-bitrate 4K streams for premium viewing on large screens to lower-resolution streams optimized for mobile devices and slow networks. Importantly, this also allows you to accommodate different viewer preferences and expectations – some may prioritize the highest possible quality, while others may prefer uninterrupted playback even at lower resolutions.

Device Testing

Regular device testing is essential to deliver a consistent, high-quality streaming experience. With the ever-expanding array of devices and platforms on the market, ensuring that your streams are compatible and optimized for as many of them as possible is crucial. This requires a proactive testing regimen that covers a representative sample of popular devices, from smart TVs and streaming boxes to laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Thorough testing can help identify compatibility problems, UI glitches, or performance bottlenecks that could impact the viewer experience. Testing across different operating systems, browser versions, and device generations is essential to ensure broad compatibility. Automated testing tools and real-world user feedback can help streamline this process and catch edge cases that may be missed in lab environments.

Fallback Options

Despite your best efforts to accommodate a wide range of devices, there will always be some viewers with older or less capable setups that need help with even your lowest-quality streams. In these cases, fallback options are required to ensure that everyone can still enjoy your content in some form. This could include providing audio-only streams for those with minimal bandwidth or offering alternative viewing options like downloaded or on-demand content. Sometimes, you may even need to provide helpful error messages or troubleshooting guides for viewers who cannot access your streams due to device limitations. The key is a plan to gracefully handle these edge cases and provide a positive experience for all your viewers, even if they can’t access your primary streams. By being proactive and inclusive in your approach, you can maximize your audience reach and ensure no one is left behind.

The Symphony of Streaming

Optimizing your live streaming setup is akin to conducting an orchestra, with each section playing a vital role in the overall performance. Every element must be tuned to perfection from the initial capture to the final playback. Leveraging advanced technologies like NETINT’s Quadra, refining your CDN strategy, and being mindful of the end-user’s devices and conditions, you can deliver live content that’s not just seen but experienced, drawing your audience into the moment, no matter where they are.

Innovation in live streaming is relentless, and staying ahead requires using the best tools and continuously measuring, learning, and adapting. By embracing these principles, you can transcend the typical viewing experience, offering something that’s truly live.

Want to discover how NETINT integrates with your workflow? See us at NAB:
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Picture of Anita Flejter

Anita Flejter

Is a Director of Digital Marketing at NETINT and a producer of Voices of Video bi-monthly event and podcast. She leads in digital marketing with a focus on innovative video tech, driving industry change through strategic campaigns and community engagement.


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