What is RTMP Streaming?
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The use of video communications in enterprise settings has exploded in recent years. As hybrid work continues to become the preferred model for many companies, fast and secure video streaming is paramount to success in today’s business landscape.
Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) sits at the heart of today’s video streaming landscape. It is central to the functioning of numerous video streaming platforms and is trusted by consumers and enterprises across the market to deliver reliable, low-latency video streams to viewers.
While there are now alternative video streaming protocol options, RTMP continues to enable high-quality video streaming for both hybrid and remote enterprises.
What is Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP)?
RTMP is a video streaming protocol that enables the rapid transfer of large audio, video, and data files between multiple users for low-latency streaming experiences. Originally developed by Adobe to facilitate video communications over the Flash Player (which has been deprecated and blocked), RTMP still remains a widely used open source protocol for streaming between servers and services.
Since then, independent developers have built various versions of RTMP. The most common include:
- RTMPS: This RTMP protocol variation uses a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol to better secure video and audio data transferrals over insecure networks.
- RTMPE: Encrypted RTMP is built with Adobe’s security infrastructure and adds an encryption layer to the stream session for tighter security.
- RTMFP: Unlike RTMP, Real-Time Media Flow Protocol (RTMFP) is a User Datagram Protocol (UDP)-based protocol, allowing for faster and more efficient streaming sessions.
Since the widespread adoption of RTMP after Adobe made the source code public, RTMP has been used to facilitate video and audio communications across a variety of consumer and enterprise applications (including YouTube Live and Facebook Live). It continues to be one of the most common and popular video streaming protocols.
How does RTMP work?
RTMP streaming generally follows a three-step process to deliver video and audio files from an RTMP encoder to their final destinations. These steps are:
- Handshake: RTMP sits on top of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), meaning the client and server must undergo a three-way handshake prior to establishing a connection. As part of this step, three packets containing a variety of protocol, port, and timestamp information are exchanged between the client and server. The parties begin negotiating a connection once each side has exchanged its final packet.
- Connect: RTMP protocol uses Action Message Format (AMF) to exchange data chunks for the purpose of establishing a connection. The client and the server will exchange messages containing information about the request and the response to negotiate the establishment of a secure connection.
- Stream: Once a connection has been established, the RTMP can transmit video and audio data to the server for video streams on another device. RTMP breaks large video and audio files into smaller packets that are more easily processed and transferred. This is partly what enables RTMP to facilitate faster, low-latency video streaming sessions.
Since the sunsetting of Adobe Flash Player, RTMP is no longer used to play video directly in the browser; however it’s still the most common video streaming protocol for sending video between systems, such as from the RTMP encoder to its next destination, usually the host, server, or video platform).
In addition, platforms like Facebook Live, LinkedIn Live, and YouTube support using RTMP as a video source. Other protocols, such as HLS, are typically used for last-mile delivery (transmission of data from the server to the end-user device).
What you’ll need to set up an RTMP live stream
The back-end processes underlying RTMP streaming won’t be as important to front-end business users. Once they have the appropriate equipment and understand how to bring their live streams to life, RTMP live streaming is relatively simple and straightforward.
Within broadcast teams, the main way to create an RTMP is an encoder, which connects to multiple cameras and outputs an RTMP stream for broadcast. There are also a number of applications, like OBS, that allow you to create RTMP streams from your laptop or desktop computer, and similar tools for mobile devices like iPads to be used for live streaming.
While the details of setting up an RTMP stream will differ depending on the hardware and software used, these are the basic RTMP technology components needed to get started:
Audio and video source
Of course, users need to have the technical means to capture and record video and audio data. Cameras, microphones, webcams, and other hardware equipment are all essential to broadcasting video content to wider audiences.
Audio and video sources need to be preconfigured with an encoder to ensure the smooth transmission of real-time data from the source to the end user(s).
The RTMP encoder plays a central role in the transmission of video and audio data from one user to another. This device converts raw video input into a digital format, which can be received by the server for transmission to viewers across the network.
Both hardware and software encoders are available. While hardware encoders tend to be more reliable and durable than software, they are also more expensive and require more maintenance.
The RTMP server reads the compressed video and audio information it receives from the encoder to determine where its final destination is and how best to transmit it there. Many devices no longer support RTMP, so servers will have to transcode video and audio data into another format to complete the transmission to the end user.
RTMP advantages and disadvantages
When RTMP was first developed, it represented a significant departure from other video streaming protocols. Technology has since evolved and other protocols have caught up, meaning RTMP has a mix of advantages and disadvantages that both developers and business users should understand when considering using RTMP for their video streaming.
- Low latency: As mentioned above, RTMP works by breaking down large data files and sending packets for transmission. This enables servers to process larger data files in a faster time frame, transmitting video and audio to end users within seconds. The low latency is the primary advantage of RTMP and has made this protocol extremely popular since its development.
- More reliable connection: RTMP sits on top of a TCP protocol, which requires the client and server to maintain a connection throughout the duration of a video session. That means RTMP facilitates a much more reliable and stable connection, creating a better streaming experience for viewers.
- High flexibility: RTMP streaming delivers video and audio in a nonlinear format. That means viewers can watch videos in whatever order they choose (they can pause, fast forward to a later part of a video, or rewind to earlier segments). They can also join live streams late without having to start from the very beginning of the broadcast.
- Outdated security: The cybersecurity landscape has evolved since RTMP was first introduced by Adobe in 2002, making it somewhat ill-equipped to secure video and audio files on its own. Users should be sure to utilize RTMP variations (like RTMPE and RTMPS) for more secure video streaming sessions, as RTMP alone is likely unfit for their heightened security needs.
- Lack of scalability: RTMP is known to experience bandwidth problems, making it difficult to continue delivering high-quality video streams as more people gain access to a video. This is especially problematic for large enterprises that sometimes need to broadcast videos to several thousand viewers at once. RTMP is good for small broadcasts but should be paired with an enterprise Content Delivery Network (eCDN) when streaming large events within the enterprise.
- Incompatible with HTTP: The sunsetting of Adobe Flash Player means RTMP has to rely on other protocols for last-mile delivery and browser/player rendering. Unfortunately, RTMP is not compatible with popular protocols like HTTP, making it mostly obsolete for some of today’s video streaming platforms. While last-mile delivery is still possible with an HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) protocol, this requires extra work that creates additional drawbacks.
RTMP enterprise applications
As companies continue to build their remote and hybrid work models, video has become a central component in facilitating team and organization-wide communications. This has given RTMP streaming particular importance in enterprise settings.
Here are some of the leading RTMP enterprise applications:
- One-to-one live video communication: RTMP enables fast, secure, and reliable video connections between individuals (or groups of individuals). Employees are able to quickly create and communicate over video connections for quick meetings and team huddles. The low latency of RTMP live video means viewers can enjoy real-time communications with fewer buffering issues.
- Multicast video stream: While RTMP streaming is usually difficult to scale on its own, connecting RTMP streams with an Enterprise Content Delivery Network (eCDN) can repackage and transmit renderable video data to a distributed network of servers that can be accessed by viewers across a large geographic space. That reduces the pressure on enterprise servers and enables the transmission of video to a much larger audience during a live event and other broadcasts.
- On-demand video sessions: The flexibility of RTMP streaming means employees can access prerecorded video content and consume information at their own pace. They can pause, fast forward, and rewind at will, enabling them to complete important tasks like training and onboarding at their own pace and in their own time.
- Embedded video: Enterprises can increase traffic to their website and boost customer engagement by embedding videos on their landing pages (including customer testimonials, company about us videos, and product demonstrations). Paired with a high-quality eCDN, RTMP streaming allows video embeds on company websites without overwhelming bandwidth.
It’s more important than ever for enterprises to facilitate great live streaming experiences for viewers spread across their entire ecosystem without tanking their networks. Vbrick’s cloud-native, end-to-end enterprise video platform was designed specifically for today’s enterprise. Our technology enables the world’s largest brands to conduct live streaming at a massive scale while giving them the tools to enhance video content with translation, transcription, and analytics capabilities.
Enterprises can seamlessly distribute video stream sessions across their entire network reliably and securely, transforming the way employees interact with each other and the organization.