Understanding Video Streaming Protocols

Streaming is not an easy task.  Most video files are not designed to be streamed over the internet therefore streaming involves converting the file into a streamable one. This is all done with the use of available video streaming protocols and then delivering it to the viewers. This involves breaking it into smaller portions and then delivering it to the viewers sequentially. Video streaming protocol helps in delivering video content by breaking the content into several chunks and then reassembling it when delivered to the viewer. These protocols are primarily the rules and methods that are used for breaking the video file into smaller and transferable chunks so as to deliver them to the viewers seamlessly. 

This video streaming technology delivers the best quality video content that their internet connection can support at the given time. Say if the viewers have a slow internet connection, they will get lower-quality video content while at the same time if the viewer has a faster speed, they will get higher-quality content. 

There are a number of streaming protocols available in the market that focuses on a different thing, for instance, some focus on reducing the latency in video delivery while other focuses on digital right management or DRM. Let’s dive into the popular video streaming protocols and know more about how they are beneficial for a certain situation.

Popular Video Streaming Protocols

Every streaming protocol serves a certain purpose and each has there own benefits. But there are a number of protocols that are well known in the market, the most popular ones are: 

HTTP Live Streaming

Apple HLS is the most used and popular protocol when it comes to playback and media server egress. Apple released it in 2008 to help them drop Flash. There are many reasons that this server has turned into a well-accepted streaming protocol. Firstly, it supports all devices including both mobile devices (Android and iOS), browsers, and smart TVs. HTML5 players also support this protocol. With a whole lot of devices supporting HLS, it become an inevitable part of streaming videos. It is the safest protocol for scaling the audience for live streaming. 

The only downside of HLS is the latency which is around 35 to 45 seconds. Here latency is the delay between sending and receiving of the file to the viewers. 

Real-Time Messaging Protocol

Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), developed by Macromedia. RTMP is primarily used for ingesting the live streaming content, the content eventually reaches the viewer in some other protocol, usually through the HLS. RTMP provides very low latency streaming. The greatest downside of the RTMP is its incompatibility with the latest HTML5 video player. This video streaming protocol is only for ingesting the content and it is considered one of the best options for ingesting the content.

The greatest downfall of RTMP is it’s not supported by HTML5 and only supports the Flash player which is almost dead. 

Real-Time Streaming Protocol

Real-Time Streaming Protocol or RTSP was first published in the year 1998. It was primarily developed especially to control streaming media servers in communication and entertainment systems. It is, in some ways similar to HLS. 

RTSP servers work in conjunction with the Real-Time Control Protocol (RTCP) and Real-Time Control Protocol (RTCP) to deliver streaming content. This is a real-time solution that works together with several other streaming protocols.

It is designed to provide low-latency streaming. The significant drawback of RTCP is that it has limited native browser support.


Web Real-Time Communications or WebRTC is an open-source streaming protocol that is used for streaming with real-time communication. It is designed to communicate with the modern browser and requires a secured connection. This is a project that has been developed to support voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP). It was purchased by Google to support its video chatting tools. 

The best thing about WebRTC is its ability to be customized to suit streaming needs. It is technically a project for streaming rather than a streaming protocol. It is primarily used for peer-to-peer streaming, commonly known as “web or video conferencing”. Some of the known apps and software that use WebRTC are Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and several other social media platforms. 

Secure Reliable Transport

Secure Reliable Transport or SRT is quite new to the world of video streaming protocol. It is an open-source streaming protocol that was made for first-mile streaming. This streaming protocol was developed by market leaders in live streaming including Haivision and Wowza. 

It is known for its compatibility, security, reliability, and low-latency capability. There are several limitations to this streaming protocol since the hardware and the software are in the process of development. 

Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP

Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP or MPEG-DASH is known for its number of advantages. Firstly, it supports adaptive-bitrate streaming which means viewers will get the best quality video as per their internet connection speed, and secondly, it is an open-source streaming protocol that leverages users to customize it according to their needs. MPEG-DASH fixes several long-standing tech issues with compression and delivery. MPEG-DASH is codec agnostic therefore it could be used with any encoding format.

The protocol did not get incredibly popular due to its compatibility, for instance, it is not supported by iOS devices and Apple Safari.

There are many other video streaming protocols that are there in the market and many could be used in live streaming. Every protocol has specific use cases however HLS comes on the top in terms of device compatibility, codec compatibility, adaptive-bitrate streaming capabilities, and HTML5 support. But every protocol has its own respective advantages and disadvantages and choosing any particular streaming protocol totally depends on the needs of the streaming.