Understanding Low Latency Streaming: everything you need to know in 5 minutes

2022.07.02

Video streaming has become increasingly important over the past decade but perhaps never as much as in the past two years as the COVID 19 crisis made live streaming, streaming entertainment, and other forms of streaming media and communications more essential than ever. Today’s latest OTT and live streaming technologies mean that virtually anything can be filmed, broadcast, and streamed in seconds into homes worldwide. According to ComScore, 21% of households in the U.S. are cord-cutters who have moved to streaming. Meanwhile, another survey, this one by Conviva, shows a 115% increase in OTT streaming between 2020 and 2021.

If you’re planning to use professional streaming media for your OTT streaming platforms, for business or other purposes, you’ll want to know more about low latency streaming. Let’s talk about what low latency means to OTT streaming, look at some examples, and get tips on how to consider incorporating low latency streaming solutions for your next media project.

What is video latency and what is low latency streaming

First, let’s look at what video latency means when we talk about streaming. 

Video latency is a measurement of how much time is required for a video signal (the streaming footage) to travel, starting with its broadcast to the time it reaches the viewer. In other words, it’s the amount of time it takes for your video stream to reach viewers’ screens once the broadcast starts. 

So, what is low latency streaming?

Low latency streaming refers to a sent video where there is very little delay time in the transmission. High latency, of course, means the opposite: a stream where there is a noticeable passage of time between when the video was captured, broadcast, or sent in relation to when the content finally appears on the viewer’s screen. 

What causes video latency

Remember, video streaming is just like broadcast TV. Only instead of a broadcast signal bringing you images using an antenna, satellite or cable service, video streaming is the continuous transport of video through the internet

Just as your favorite entertainment streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Prime, etc.) may occasionally lag, other OTT video streaming or livestreaming may also suffer from lag time. This increase in latency is often due to issues regarding software, hardware, or other technical options. 

So, what are some factors causing video streaming slowdowns?

Method of delivery/internet speeds

Slower internet speeds slow the rate of transmission. The type of internet connection you use (wireless or optic, etc.) for your media project, as well as the bandwidth available, may contribute to some latency issues.

Encoding

Streaming speeds may be affected by encoding settings. Video encoding is the compression of a filmed or live video stream, required so the file can be sent from the source to the destination location. Compression usually is achieved by taking out any parts of audio/video that are unnecessary, i.e., redundant data, and turning it into a different file type. Often, for newer, inexperienced OTT platforms the choice comes down to video resolution (clarity or quality) or file size. Make the data file too small (too compressed) and the video stream–after being compressed, decompressed, and delivered–will appear grainy, and poor in quality, once it appears on the screen. Make the file size too large, and you get–you guessed it–high latency. Your best bet is to choose an OTT professional to help you make the right decisions for your video encoding and media streaming.

Buffering 

Another factor is buffering. Buffering is the amount of time it takes for the viewer’s playback device (mobile, computer, etc.) to download just enough of the video and audio files to have enough information to start playing.

Video streaming protocols

The video streaming protocol is the set of rules and methods that determines how each stream will be compressed and delivered to viewers’ screens. The streaming protocol may affect the quality of the stream as well as latency. Some protocols may have better quality but are less ideal for your media streaming situation, while others may be faster (lower latency) but not provide the same quality. 

How low is low latency

Different streaming providers may offer different standards when defining low and high latency streaming. But often, low latency streaming is defined as a gap of 10-15 seconds or less between broadcast device and viewer, while ultra-low latency may be as fast as 3-5 seconds or less. Professional TV or cable services are often on the lower latency (faster) end of this range, while other services may be slightly higher. For most streaming services, 10-15 seconds or even longer, may be fast enough. But if you consider delivering broadcast-quality livestreaming for live sports/ gaming/concerts, Ultra-low latency should be considered. Again, streaming speeds depend on software, hardware, your streaming solution provider, and more.

Because some streaming solutions have higher latency rates when working on an OTT streaming or livestreaming project, make sure the media streaming provider you choose has a wide range of options to help you meet your content needs. 

When do you need low latency streaming?

Some projects may need a lower latency streaming speed than others for an assortment of reasons. One of the most obvious reasons is that you have a live entertainment venture, perhaps an esports/live sporting event or other content, and you want your audience to be able to enjoy it in real-time like one would watch any other live event on broadcast or cable.

 But there are other reasons one might need low latency streaming media solutions. These projects include:

 

  • .OTT streaming entertainment – “Over the top” media projects, the distribution of entertainment content using the internet. Some well-known examples are Netflix, Disney, and Hulu. But a variety of media content providers of all sizes—established media outlets as well as new media projects who are just starting out, may use OTT to deliver entertainment content. 
  • .Online gaming 
  • .Professional or business streaming services – COVID 19 has made live streaming and video streaming essential for professionals in different industries like live concerts, sports, virtual exhibitions, etc.
  • .Educational streaming/workshops
  • .Live Auctions/stocks and financial trading/other financial platforms or services
  • Other/miscellaneous situations including live workouts, Q&A sessions, and more

How to reduce latency?

When it comes to reducing latency, there are a few things you may want to consider when setting up an OTT media platform or live streaming.

  1. Get the best camera, software, hardware, and other streaming equipment you can afford; professional quality 
  2. Build the right architecture for your media platform
  3. QA constantly, measuring areas where latency occurs throughout the streaming process 
  4. Carefully test and choose the segment length of your content; programming duration time may increase file size, which in turn may increase latency 

The best way to achieve low latency streaming 

Of course, probably the best way you can achieve low latency streaming is by having a knowledgeable, trusted partner to help you build your OTT or live streaming media project. Hopefully, this article gives you a better understanding of low latency streaming and ways you can achieve faster speeds for your content. Want to learn how you can create a scalable OTT streaming platform for your content, or have other questions about our services including our B2B media streaming and encoding solutions? Reach out today to our KKStream OTT platform professionals.

 

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