The Complete Guide to Live Streaming

treaming technology has come a long way over the years, but the basic definitions still apply. Simply put, live streaming is the broadcasting of video and audio content over the Internet so that it can be captured and played back almost simultaneously.

But between capturing and broadcasting a live video feed, quite a few things happen. Data must be encoded, packaged and transcoded to deliver to virtually every screen on the planet.

Video on Demand vs. Live Streaming
Video streaming can take the form of both live and recorded content. With live streaming, content plays as it is captured. Examples range from video chat and interactive games to endoscope cameras and streaming drones.

Video on Demand (VOD), on the other hand, refers to pre-recorded content that can be streamed on Music recording studio production demand by users connected to the internet. Top players in this space include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Sling. YouTube’s David After Dentist and Netflix’s Stranger Things are both examples of VOD content.

For the purposes of this guide, we will focus on live video. After summarizing the live-streaming workflow, let’s take a closer look at the individual steps.

Live Streaming Workflow
Live video streaming starts with compressing large video files for transmission. Content distributors use encoders to digitally convert raw video into codecs. This two-part compression tool reduces gigabytes of data to megabytes. The encoder itself can be built into the camera, but it can also be a hardware device, computer software such as OBS Studio, or a mobile app.

After the video stream is compressed, the encoder packages it for delivery over the Internet. This involves putting the stream’s components into a file format. These container formats move according to protocols or standardized shipping methods. Common protocols include RTMP, HLS, and MPEG-DASH.

Packaged streams are delivered to media servers located on-premises or in the cloud. This is where the magic happens. As the media server ingests the stream, it can transcode the data to a more common codec, convert the video to a lower resolution, convert the file to a different bitrate, or convert it to a scalable format.

This conversion process is very important when streaming to various devices. If you don’t transcode your original stream, you won’t be able to reach your audience through a variety of devices. You can use streaming server software or cloud streaming services for this.

A single stream initially input to a media server is likely to launch into multiple renditions accommodating a wide range of bandwidths and devices for viewing at scale. But distance is also an issue.

The farther away your viewers are from your media server, the longer it will take to distribute your stream. This is where content delivery networks (CDNs) come in handy. A CDN uses an extensive network of servers strategically placed around the world to rapidly distribute your content.


Live streaming starts from the camera. Most cameras are digital and can capture images in stunning 4K resolution (2160p). Because this resolution requires a very high bit rate to support the raw digital video signal coming from the camera, the cable used to transmit this signal must be capable of handling large amounts of data. In some cases, HDMI or Ethernet cables can be used. However, 4K signals that are mostly transmitted over long distances require SDI cables that can manage bandwidth requirements.

Wireless cameras are also available, and portable broadcasting platforms are making their way into the industry. Today’s smartphones are designed for streaming, surpassing the digital cameras of 10 years ago. For example, the iPhone 12 Pro Max records HDR video at 60 frames per second.

multi camera video production

Some live streaming takes place on smartphones, but more serious live productions use additional cameras. These multi-camera studio setups and other video sources are connected to switchers that switch between them. Audio is sent to the mixer via XLR cables. Typically, a switcher adds audio from a mixer to the final output signal. If you need a capture card, the switcher can be hardware, software or both.

user-generated content

User-generated content makes up a significant portion of live streams. A webcam is used in some cases. For sites like Twitch, users use a combination of screen recording software and webcams. However, the majority of content creators today are using smartphones. In fact, mobile users account for 58.56% of all internet traffic.

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