Adaptive Bitrate Streaming – What Is It & How Can Your Business Benefit?

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming In different rates

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Whether it’s live content or video on demand, streaming is now everywhere. As online video content has proliferated, so too has the variety of streaming technologies and they’re constantly evolving to make the viewing experience as seamless and as enjoyable as possible. Here we will look at Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABR), how it works and how it can be of major benefit to your business. 

What is Adaptive Bitrate?

First, we should recap what bitrate is. In its simplest terms, bitrate is a measure of the speed at which information is transferred over the internet. With regards to video, it refers to how much data is transferred per second and as such bitrate plays a vital part in producing high-quality video streams. Generally, the higher the bitrate of a video, the higher the quality. However, if the bitrate is too great for the bandwidth, problems such as buffering will occur.

You can learn more about the importance of bitrate in video streaming here.

Adaptive bitrate (ABR) is a method of streaming that allows each individual end-user to stream videos in the highest possible quality, depending on their specific streaming capabilities. ABR works by transcoding the file into multiple different bitrates, detecting the users’ conditions and adjusting the bitrate accordingly as the video plays. Things that might affect streaming capabilities are internet connection or the quality of the device being used. 

How Does Adaptive Bitrate Streaming Work?

So how does the process actually work? As with other forms of bitrate, it begins with the encoding/transcoding stage at the broadcaster’s end. For ABR to work, the file must be transcoded into different bitrates to ultimately be selected by the viewer’s player. 

When the end-user begins viewing the video, the player selects which bitrate to stream in. Generally, this will be of lower bitrate initially and if the player is able to easily stream without buffering, it’ll select a higher bitrate until it reaches the highest bitrate possible with the available bandwidth. This process is known as the adaptive bitrate ‘ladder’. The player moves up and down the ladder in real-time depending on network conditions. 

A key reason for segmenting the video is that ABR works by automatically adjusting the bitrate at the end of each video segment. If the bandwidth and the player are struggling to facilitate the stream without buffering, the player will adjust accordingly to a lower and more manageable bitrate before the next segment. 

The segmenting of the video also ensures that end-users do not have to download the entire video before viewing it, which requires better connection speed. 

What is the difference between adaptive bitrate and other forms of streaming?

Adaptive bitrate streaming differs from other forms of streaming in the way the video file is delivered. Multi-bitrate streaming (MBR) is another common form and is similar to ABR in that it’s initially transcoded into multiple different bitrates. However, unlike ABR, MBR streaming does not automatically detect the users conditions and continuously looks to use the highest bitrate possible. Rather, the user simply selects which bitrate to view a video in and the player plays the file in that bitrate without taking into account fluctuations in internet speed. 

Progressive streaming is where a single video file is streamed over the internet and is not transcoded into different bitrates. No matter the quality and size of your device or your bandwidth capabilities, the same file will be streamed to every user and may be stretched or squashed to fit your screen. 

Because these forms of streaming do not use the adaptive bitrate ‘ladder’ and automatically alter in response to your conditions, this can lead to issues that’ll affect user experience such as buffering, increased latency or lower quality. As such, ABR can be a great way of enhancing that experience and improving the professional look of your brand. 

What Are the Benefits of Adaptive Bitrate Streaming?

ABR can have many benefits for both your business and your viewers. As touched upon, the most obvious benefit is the improvement in video quality that ABR allows. Customers, clients and employees can view your content in the highest possible quality that their own conditions will allow, without interruption. The high-quality level and continuous stream will keep the attention of your viewer for longer, which will reflect favourably on your business. 

Similarly, because the player will initially select a low bitrate to watch the video in, video playback will begin immediately, reducing the possibility of losing viewers due to a long initial wait to download the file. 

Furthermore, given the range of technologies used nowadays, employing ABR streaming can be an extremely useful way of making your business’ content accessible for everyone. Where previously streaming on mobile devices may have proved problematic due to limited processing power or being in an area with limited connection, ABR reduces the likelihood of this problem. More people will be able to view your stream on the go, ultimately increasing your brand’s reach and exposure. 

Protocols Supporting Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

An important thing to note is that not all streaming protocols support the use of adaptive bitrate. A streaming protocol is a method of delivering multimedia files over the internet which regulates how the information is transferred. Different protocols have different benefits and if you wish to stream using ABR, you need to be sure to choose the appropriate protocol. ABR is predominantly streamed over HTTP (Hypertext transfer protocols). 

HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) is one of the most popular protocols used for ABR streaming. It was initially developed by Apple for iOS but has subsequently been adopted by other operating systems such as Android and Windows. This is the preferred protocol for HTML5 video players, which most browsers now run by default. 

MPEG-DASH or simply DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) is a protocol that works across almost all new browsers. While it is not natively compatible with HTML5, it is able to run using Javascript and Media Source Extensions. Whereas HLS can only run certain codecs, DASH is codec-agnostic, meaning it is able to run videos in any codec form. 

Our own Media Acceleration Live is a multi-protocol live streaming service, supporting both HLS and DASH with adaptive bitrate, ensuring consistent high-quality content delivery. 

Should you use Adaptive Bitrate Streaming?

In short, using ABR streaming can be of major benefit to your business and can be important in improving your overall image. While you will have to ensure that you’re using the correct protocol and streaming platform, the rewards can be massive and will produce a far more pleasurable, efficient and professional viewing experience.

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