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 What Is Low Latency and Who Wants It?
September 21, 2022

What Is Low Latency and Who Wants It?

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Right here’s a unclean secret: On the subject of streaming media, it’s uncommon that “dwell” really means dwell. Say you’re at residence watching a dwell streamed live performance, and also you see a very excited viewers member bounce onstage. Likelihood is, that occasion occurred on the live performance venue 30 seconds previous to once you noticed it in your display screen.

Why? As a result of it takes time to move chunks of information from one place to a different. This delay between when a digicam captures video and when the video is displayed on a viewer’s display screen is named latency, and efforts maintain this delay within the sub-five-second vary enable for low-latency streaming.


  • When Is Low Latency Essential
  • What Class of Latency Matches Your State of affairs
    • Balancing Latency With High quality
  • Who Wants Low Latency
    • Second-Display screen Experiences
    • Video Chat
    • Betting and Bidding
    • Video Sport Streaming and Esports
    • Distant Operations
    • Actual-Time Monitoring
    • Interactive Streaming and Consumer-Generated Content material
  • How Does Low-Latency Streaming Work
  • Low-Latency Streaming Protocols
    • RTMP
    • SRT
    • WebRTC
    • Low-Latency HLS
    • Low-Latency CMAF for DASH
  • Conclusion

    What Is Latency?

    Latency describes the delay between when a video is captured and when it’s displayed on a viewer’s system. Passing chunks of information from one place to a different takes time, so latency builds up at each step of the streaming workflow. The time period glass-to-glass latency is used to symbolize the overall time distinction between supply and viewer. Different phrases, like ‘seize latency’ or ‘participant latency,’ solely account for lag launched at a selected step of the streaming workflow.

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    What Is Low Latency?

    So, if a number of seconds of latency is regular, what is taken into account low latency? On the subject of streaming, low latency describes a glass-to-glass delay of 5 seconds or much less.

    That mentioned, it’s a subjective time period. The favored Apple HLS streaming protocol defaults to roughly 30 seconds of latency (extra on this under), whereas conventional cable and satellite tv for pc broadcasts are considered with a couple of five-second delay behind the dwell occasion.

    Nevertheless, some folks want even sooner supply. Because of this, separate classes like extremely low latency and close to real-time have emerged, coming in at underneath one second. This group of streaming functions is normally reserved for interactive use circumstances, two-way chat, and real-time system management (assume dwell streaming from a drone).

    To discover present tendencies and applied sciences round low-latency streaming, Wowza’s Justin Miller, video producer, sits down with Barry Owen, vp of options companies, within the video under.

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    When Is Low Latency Essential?

    Nobody needs notably excessive latency, after all — however in what contexts does low latency really matter?

    Oftentimes, a slight delay isn’t problematic. Actually, the vast majority of broadcasters surveyed for our 2021 Video Streaming Latency Report (53%) indicated that they had been experiencing latency within the 3-45 second vary.

    How a lot latency are you at present experiencing?


    Returning to our live performance instance, it’s usually irrelevant if 30 seconds move earlier than viewers discover out that the lead guitarist broke a string. And making an attempt to ship the dwell stream faster can introduce further complexity, prices, obstacles with scaling, and alternatives for failure.

    That mentioned, for some streaming use circumstances — particularly these requiring interactivity — low latency is a business-critical consideration.


    What Class of Latency Matches Your State of affairs?

    You’ll wish to differentiate between the a number of classes of latency and decide which is finest suited to your streaming situation. These classes embody:

    • Close to actual time for video conferencing and distant gadgets
    • Low latency for interactive content material
    • Lowered latency for dwell premium content material
    • Typical HTTP latencies for linear programming and one-way streams

    You’ll discover within the chart under that the extra passive the published, the upper it’s acceptable for latency to climb.


    You’ll additionally discover that the 2 commonest HTTP-based protocols (HLS and MPEG-DASH) are on the excessive finish of the spectrum. So why are the most well-liked streaming protocols additionally sloth-like in terms of measurements of glass-to-glass latency?

    Attributable to their capability to scale and adapt, HTTP-based protocols guarantee dependable, high-quality experiences throughout all screens. That is achieved with applied sciences like buffering and adaptive bitrate streaming — each of which enhance the viewing expertise by growing latency.


    Balancing Latency With High quality

    Excessive decision is nice. However what about situations the place a high-quality viewing expertise requires lightning-fast supply? Say you’re streaming a used automobile public sale. Well timed bidding will take precedent over image high quality any day of the week.

    For some use circumstances, getting the video the place it must go shortly is extra vital than 4K decision. Extra examples to comply with.


    Who Wants Low Latency?

    Let’s check out a couple of streaming use circumstances the place minimizing video lag is undeniably vital.


    Second-Display screen Experiences

    When you’re watching a dwell occasion on a second-screen app (resembling a sports activities league or official community app), you’re doubtless operating a number of seconds behind dwell TV. Whereas there’s inherent latency for the tv broadcast, your second-screen app must at the least match that very same stage of latency to ship a constant viewing expertise.

    For instance, should you’re watching your alma mater play in a rivalry sport, you don’t need your expertise spoiled by feedback, notifications and even the neighbors subsequent door celebrating the game-winning rating earlier than you see it. This ends in sad followers and dissatisfied (usually paying) clients.

    At the moment’s broadcasters are additionally integrating interactive video chat with large-scale broadcasts for issues like watch events, digital breakout rooms, and extra. These multimedia situations require low-latency video supply to make sure a synced expertise freed from any spoilers.



    Video Chat

    That is the place extremely low latency “real-time” streaming comes into play. We’ve all seen televised interviews the place the reporter is chatting with somebody at a distant location, and the latency of their alternate ends in lengthy pauses or the 2 events speaking over one another. That’s as a result of the latency goes each methods. Perhaps it takes a full second for the reporter’s query to make it to the interviewee, however then it takes one other second for the interviewee’s reply to get again to the reporter. These conversations can flip painful shortly.

    When true immediacy issues, about 500 milliseconds of latency in every path is the higher restrict. That’s brief sufficient to permit for clean dialog with out awkward pauses.


    Betting and Bidding

    Actions resembling auctions and sports-track betting are thrilling due to their quick tempo. And that velocity requires real-time streaming with two-way communication.

    As an illustration, horse-racing tracks have historically piped in satellite tv for pc feeds from different tracks around the globe and allowed their patrons to wager on them on-line. Extremely low latency streaming eliminates problematic delays, guaranteeing that everybody has the identical alternative to position their bets in a time-synchronized expertise. Equally, on-line auctions and buying and selling platforms are large enterprise, and any delay can imply bids or trades aren’t recorded correctly. Fractions of a second can imply billions of {dollars}.


    Video Sport Streaming and Esports

    Anybody who’s yelled “this sport cheats!” (or extra colourful invectives) at a display screen is aware of that timing is essential for players. Sub-100-millisecond latency is a should. Nobody needs to play a sport by way of a streaming service and uncover that they’re firing at enemies who’re now not there. In platforms providing options for direct viewer-to-broadcaster interplay, it’s additionally vital that viewer solutions and feedback attain the streamer in time for them to beat the extent.


    Distant Operations

    Any workflow that permits a bodily distant operator to manage machines utilizing video requires real-time supply. Examples vary from video-enabled drill presses and endoscopy cameras to sensible manufacturing and digital provide chains.

    For these situations, any delay north of 1 second could possibly be disastrous. Sustaining a steady suggestions loop between the system and operator can be key, which regularly requires superior architectures leveraging timed metadata. 


    Actual-Time Monitoring

    Coastguards use drones for search-and-rescue missions, docs use IoT gadgets for affected person monitoring, and military-grade bodycams assist join frontline responders with their commander. Any lag may imply the distinction between life and dying for these functions, making low latency essential.

    Actual-time monitoring can be nicely entrenched within the shopper world — powering the whole lot from pet and child displays to wearable gadgets and child displays. Whether or not speaking with the supply individual by way of a doorbell cam or monitoring the respiratory price of a new child, many of those video-enabled gadgets let viewers play an energetic position.


    Interactive Streaming and Consumer-Generated Content material

    From digital interactive health to social media websites like TikTok, interactivity streaming is turning into the norm. This mix of internet-based video supply and two-way information alternate boosts viewers engagement by empowering viewers to affect dwell content material by way of participation.

    For instance, Peloton incorporates well being, video, and audio suggestions into an ongoing expertise that retains their customers hooked. Likewise, e-commerce web sites like Taobao energy influencer streaming within the retail trade. Finish-users turn out to be contributing members in all these broadcasts, making speedy supply important to neighborhood participation.   


    How Does Low-Latency Streaming Work?

    Now that you recognize what low latency is and when it’s vital, you’re in all probability questioning, how can I ship lightning-fast streams?

    As with most issues in life, low-latency streaming includes tradeoffs. You’ll should steadiness three components to seek out the combination that’s best for you:

    • Encoding effectivity and system/participant compatibility.
    • Viewers dimension and geographic distribution.
    • Video decision and complexity.

    The streaming protocol you select makes a giant distinction, so let’s dig into that.

    Apple HLS is probably the most broadly used protocols for stream supply on account of its reliability — however it wasn’t initially designed for true low-latency streaming. As an HTTP-based protocol, HLS streams chunks of information, and video gamers want a sure variety of chunks (sometimes three) earlier than they begin taking part in. When you’re utilizing the default chunk dimension for conventional HLS (6 seconds), which means you’re already lagging considerably behind. Customization by way of tuning can reduce this down, however your viewers will expertise extra buffering the smaller you make these chunks.


    Low-Latency Streaming Protocols

    Fortunately, rising applied sciences for quick supply are gaining traction. Right here’s a take a look at the quickest protocols out there in 2021.



    RTMP delivers high-quality streams effectively, and stays in use by the vast majority of broadcasters. This protocol stays in use for quick video contribution, however has disappeared from the publishing finish of most workflows.


    • Low latency and nicely established.
    • Supported by most encoders and media servers.
    • Required by many social media platforms.


    • RTMP has died on the playback aspect and thus is now not an end-to-end expertise.
    • As a legacy protocol, RTMP ingest will doubtless get replaced by extra fashionable, open-source options like SRT.

    Study Extra


    SRT is standard to be used circumstances involving unstable or unreliable networks. As a UDP-like protocol, SRT is nice at delivering high-quality video over lengthy distances, however it suffers from participant help with out quite a lot of customization. For that motive, it’s extra generally used for transporting content material to the ingest level, the place it’s transcoded into one other protocol for playback.


    • An open-source different to proprietary protocols.
    • Excessive-quality and low-latency.
    • Designed for dwell video transmission throughout unpredictable public networks.
    • Accounts for packet loss and jitter.


    • Not natively supported by all encoders.
    • Nonetheless being adopted as newer expertise.
    • Not broadly supported for playback.

    Study Extra 


    WebRTC is rising in reputation as an HTML5-based resolution that’s well-suited for creating browser-based functions. The open-source expertise permits for low-latency supply in a browser-based, Flash-free atmosphere; nevertheless, it wasn’t designed for one-to-many broadcasts.

    By leveraging Wowza’s WebRTC streaming options, broadcasters are capable of overcome these hurtles, guaranteeing sub-second supply to viral audiences. And since WebRTC can be utilized from end-to-end, it’s gaining traction as each an ingest and supply format.


    • Simple, browser-based contribution.
    • Low latency and helps interactivity at 500-millisecond supply.
    • Can be utilized end-to-end for some use circumstances.


    • Not the best choice for broadcast-quality video contribution on account of sure options to allow close to real-time supply.
    • Troublesome to scale and not using a streaming platform like Wowza.

    Study Extra 

    Low-Latency HLS

    Low-Latency HLS is the subsequent large factor in terms of low-latency video supply. The spec promised to realize sub-two-second latencies at scale — whereas additionally providing backward compatibility to current shoppers. Giant-scale deployments of this HLS extension require integration with CDNs and gamers, and distributors throughout the streaming ecosystem are working so as to add help.


    • All the advantages of HLS — with lightning-fast supply besides.
    • Ultimate for interactive dwell streaming at scale.


    • As an rising spec, distributors are nonetheless implementing help.

    Study Extra

    Low-Latency CMAF for DASH

    Much like Low-Latency HLS, Low-Latency CMAF for DASHis a substitute for conventional HTTP-based video supply supported by Akamai. Whereas nonetheless in its infancy, the expertise reveals promise of delivering super-fast video at scale.


    • All the advantages of MPEG-DASH plus low-latency supply.


    • Doesn’t play again on as many gadgets as HLS as a result of Apple doesn’t help it.
    • Nonetheless an rising expertise that’s but to be championed by many distributors.

    Study Extra


    For no matter low-latency protocol you select to make use of, you’ll need streaming expertise that gives you with fine-grained management over latency, video high quality, and scalability whereas providing the best flexibility. That’s the place Wowza is available in.

    With all kinds of options, initiatives, and protocol-compatibilities, there’s a Wowza low-latency resolution for each use case. Whether or not you’re broadcasting with Wowza Streaming Engine or Wowza Streaming Cloud, now we have the expertise to get your streams from digicam to display screen with unmatched velocity, reliability, high quality, and resiliency.


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