TokBox is a useful platform for live streaming video. Their relatively easy to use interface enables you to quickly get everything set up for basic plug and play utility. Their well-built SDKs are fully functional and effective at point-to-point communication. Their basic functionality and fast setup time makes TokBox ideal for establishing POCs during hackathons or to meet an investor deadline.
Despite being acquired by Vonage over two years ago, most people still refer to it by the original name TokBox regardless of it’s official name being changed to “Vonage API”. With that in mind, we shall continue for this post to call it TokBox.
However, TokBox also suffers from some pitfalls. Specifically in regards to extra features, customization potential, and scaling costs.
ToxBox’s pricing model charges per stream per minute. This means that as you gain more users your growth can actually hurt you as the increase in users and stream consumption will exponentially increase your costs. You don’t want to be in a situation where your success can actually hurt you.
For example, let’s say each day you have 3 broadcasts lasting 30 minutes with 100 subscribers each.
100 subscribers x 30 minutes x 3 broadcasts is 9,000 streaming minutes a day.
5 days a week for 4 weeks is a total of 180,000 streaming minutes a month.
The first 2,000 minutes is $9.99 meaning 178,000 additional minutes will be charged at 0.0045 per minute.
Grand Total = $810.99 per month
For the same scenario, Red5 Pro with DigitalOcean hosting would cost $427.05 per month. Even without the savings from our annual plan, that’s just about half the price of TokBox.
Additionally, “advanced” features come at an additional cost. TokBox’s requirements for what qualifies as advanced could, in all reality, be considered pretty basic features. For example, recording and interactive broadcasts (which does not come with a guaranteed low latency), are two such features. Additionally, anything over 2,000 connections will switch over to CDN delivery. As we’ve covered before, CDNs cause higher latency and other issues.
Similarly, after 3,000 viewers the platform switches to HLS. The concern with HLS is that it will add many seconds of latency thus proving TokBox cannot deliver real-time streaming at scale.
Importantly, a simpler install will have negative consequences as well. The ease and speed of installation sacrifices the potential for customization. If you are looking to expand the functionality or add new features, you may be forced to wait on TokBox’s roadmap rather than implementing it yourself.
There are many factors that go into the selection of a live streaming provider, including functionality, latency, scalability, and price. When considering your alternatives, there are a variety of options that are similar to TokBox that might work a little better for you. Obviously, those of us from Red5 Pro have a good idea of which one you should choose but we certainly encourage you to take a look at all your options. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each platform so you can make the decision for yourself.
In no particular order, here are some of the leading tokbox competitors that provide live video streaming services:
With a long history in the video streaming sector, Wowza has powered the streaming solutions of many customers. This large customer following has allowed Wowza to position themselves as a trusted media provider.
Wowza’s growth has been driven largely from their ability to support a variety of ingest types. Accordingly, a large percentage of their clients use Wowza for a single purpose serving as an ingest point in their origin server. After taking in a multitude of streaming protocols, the origin then converts the streams for CDN-based delivery. Repackaging streams for CDN delivery is a good use of Wowza’s software.
Wowza is limited in their ability to cater to mobile users as they have recently declared end of life status for the mobile SDKs they previously offered. Thus, if you are looking for a native app to run with Wowza, you will have to do all the work of building one from the ground up.
The large size of Wowza reflects their ability as a company to distribute a workable product. However, much like a cruise ship making a u-turn, being big can also work against you. Important shifts in the tech sector can come down the line quickly. Effectively reacting to and anticipating those shifts can have a substantial impact on the future effectiveness of your product.
One such shift came with the introduction of the new Web Standard WebRTC. Designed to provide low latency, WebRTC is a very functional protocol for browser-based live streaming. With Flash reaching end of life support this year, WebRTC is the obvious replacement. In the face of this ever-increasing urgency, Wowza’s efforts to fully implement WebRTC have apparently stalled.
Without real-world ready scalable WebRTC integration, Wowza still relies on CDN based video delivery causing them to suffer from high latency of around 2 seconds (at the very lowest). This is nowhere near the sub-500 ms delivery that WebRTC has produced on other streaming solutions. 2 seconds is far too high for any sort of live, interactive experience.
Also, using Wowza could mean getting locked-in to their Wowza network. Without a clear way of porting your existing application to a different hosting provider, you would be forced to adopt any changes they make to their network.
Lastly, there is a limitation on customization. Wowza created a general-purpose platform with basic functionality which made their platform very accessible. However, that simple functionality means custom feature development or even modifications can be hard to implement or receive support on.
Limelight is another company with a long history in the live streaming industry. Limelight’s RTS (Real-time Live Streaming) platform is a managed solution which makes it fairly straightforward to configure everything. By handling all the server infrastructure, the setup process is simplified and the whole solution can be easier to manage. With their mobile SDKs, you can also build native apps. With consistent performance, and reliable content delivery, it can certainly be considered a platform that works well.
The RTS feature is a relatively new offering that has enabled Limelight to support true low latency streaming. This gives broadcasters and subscribers the ability to respond to events in real-time which facilitates interactive experiences.
Limelight used Red5 Pro’s software to build their RTS platform. Through Red5 Pro, they are able to achieve sub 500 milliseconds of latency. Despite this real-time latency there are still some limitations. Limelight has yet to enable all the current features of Red5 Pro, which blocks you from using the full functionality. Additionally, you cannot deploy your own server-side apps with Limelight which means you can only use what they choose to expose.
As far as pricing is concerned, Limelight’s website does not have a transparent pricing structure. This makes it difficult to fully gauge how their pricing compares to some of the other platforms listed here. However, there are reports from the live streaming community that they are expensive.
Finally, Limelight is a CDN meaning that they are dependent upon a series of fixed data centers to deliver their content. CDNs have been around for a long time and have enjoyed a prominent role in the delivery of content. However, cloud-based systems rather than fixed bare metal based data center systems are proving to be more flexible and performant so the tech industry is currently switching to that approach. This creates a large problem for Limelight as they have built their entire business model around these always-on data centers which are actively being replaced by cloud-based systems. For a more detailed examination of CDNs, please take a look at this blog post.
ANT Media’s cheap pricing will tempt those looking to cut costs. In fact, their non-hosted solution is $49 per server instance. Furthermore, their hosted offering appeals to teams without the resources to maintain their own servers. According to ANT’s website, they are able to provide an expected latency of 500 ms or less using WebRTC. On the surface, this all sounds good, but when cutting costs you don’t want to cut corners. Video, after all, is shown in a rectangular box, not some weird hexagon.
Scalability is a big weakness for ANT Media. Their Large Enterprise Instance hosted package limits you to 8 concurrent broadcasters and 400 HLS (high latency) subscribers. WebRTC subscribers are confined to only 300 clients. Such a low cutoff puts a big restriction on growing your application. However, they do offer a Custom Scalable Cloud with a “flexible” number of viewers and publishers.
ANT Media faces difficulties in staying up to date as well. Like Red5 Pro, ANT Media built their platform on top of the Red5 open-source software. However, there is a distinctive difference in that our team at Red5 Pro retains control of the open-source Red5 code. This means that as new features and optimizations are added, we update the open-source as well. This ensures that both the Red5 open source and Pro systems maintain parity and synch together seamlessly to minimize any conflicts or regression bugs.
Additionally, customer service can be negatively affected as well due to the fact that ANT Media won’t have the same understanding as Red5 Pro has. This is due to the fact that Red5 Pro built our product from the ground up.
Without directly contributing to Red5, ANT Media cannot ensure entirely consistent functionality. More importantly, they are limited in their ability to innovate new features simply copying those our team has already implemented. Without progressive development, this lack of originality results in slow product features and/or updates at best and outright dysfunction at worst. As is often said, “You get what you pay for.”
Another convenient hosted solution, DACast has an HTML5 player which supports mobile devices and browsers. VOD is also supported with an added bonus feature of the ability to insert ads.
While full browser support is useful for laptops and mobile devices, DACast lacks a native SDK for mobile-specific development with a native application. This can have a negative impact on UI and feature performance.
While they appear to have mid-level pricing, their somewhat confusing variety of pricing plans make a straightforward comparison to other platforms difficult. Also, you will have to do some of your own math as they only list the per month breakdown of their plans.
When it comes to low latency, DACast is hampered by how it was built. They use CMAF which requires segmenting the stream into small chunks which inevitably produces high latency. In fact, their website states a latency of 10 seconds (although realistically CMAF should be able to get down to 3 seconds or so). As stated earlier, any platform that measures latency in seconds cannot, by definition, produce low latency video streaming. More details on the inner workings of CMAF can be found in this blog post.
Led by the outspoken Dr. Alex, Millicast is a hosted solution based around WebRTC. This platform is a combination of pre-packaged hosting convenience, with WebRTC’s performance producing a low latency of 200-500 milliseconds. This means that you can easily stream while still getting real-time interactivity.
However, this increased convenience comes with a few different costs. As you will be completely relying on third party architecture, you will be forced to accept any changes that third party makes. This is known as a service trap since you are essentially bound to the service, like Millicast, that your application was built on. With the back end infrastructure closed off, customization will be stunted as well. You will be blocked from implementing your own server-side logic including custom authentication, transcoding, and pushing your stream out to other processes. Rather than creating an application specifically tailored to your needs, you will be confined to a pre-built sandbox. You can avoid this issue by using hosting agnostic solutions, such as Red5 Pro.
Another limitation of Millicast’s hosted model means that your app’s infrastructure is shared with other companies’ apps. At first glance this might not seem like a major problem, however, we have heard reports of Millicast servers being blocked by network-based child content protection filters. This is due to many Millicast customers being in the gambling space and/or other inappropriate non-kid-friendly businesses. If your app is geared towards education, for example, this may be a show stopper for you.
Additionally, Millicast is expensive. Their hosting packages include a limited amount of data, surcharging you if you go over.
For example, their “Pro” plan is listed as $2,495 per month with 40,000GB of data included. That’s a good amount of data and considering that it’s hosted and mobile SDKs are included maybe that’s a fair deal.
Now let’s compare that to Red5 Pro. The equivalent Growth Pro plan and mobile SDKs with DigitalOcean hosting would cost $1,238 per month. That’s less than half the cost of Millicast! Plus you can receive additional discounts with Red5 Pro by upgrading to an annual plan.
Another TokBox competitor, Mux has created an easily managed service designed to get a basic streaming application quickly up and running. Designed with developers in mind, their solid documentation makes it easy for those with a basic understanding of software code developer skills to set up a simple streaming video platform regardless of specific video experience.
Mux also bases their pricing on usage. In addition to the network bandwidth accrued through the delivery of the video, they charge for the live encoding of the video as well. At just $0.07 per minute of video encoding and $0.0013 per minute of video streaming, they are much cheaper than TokBox.
Where Mux really starts to stand out is their innovative multi-cdn approach. This helps optimize stream distribution across different regions and avoids some of the concern of being locked-in to a specific CDN. That said, you are still confined to their network; unable to stream outside of it.
Innovative as the multi-cdn approach is, it will still face the pitfalls of CDNs, with all the video delivery performed through high latency HTTP based protocols. In Mux’s case, they use HLS which results in the highest of latency: anywhere between 10 - 30 seconds. Even if they are using Low Latency HLS (LHLS) that would still produce a latency of 2 - 5 seconds. With a delay that high, any sort of live, interactive experience is impossible.
Rumour has it that Phenix is a well-functioning streaming service with reliable performance. One of their most notable features is a fast time to first frame. However confirming this is rather difficult as they do not have any exposed example code, free trials, or live demos. It’s said that they are expensive but there is nothing posted on their site to either confirm or deny that claim. If you really want to find out more you will have to contact them. Perhaps with all their secrecy, they can arrange an agent to drop off a dossier at your nearest park bench.
As their software has integrated WebRTC, Kurento is a solid choice for live streaming. They are completely open-source (the only completely open-source solution on this list) which means it will definitely be cheaper than everything else here.
Nonetheless, just as convenience has a price, so too does a completely free, DIY pre-solution. It won’t cost money, but it will cost time and effort as you will have to build a full-featured application from the ground up. Kurento will definitely provide a good backbone given you know how to effectively use it.
There are other open-source WebRTC options available as well like Jitsi, Media Soup, and Janus. While these others certainly work well, Kurento is the best known and most widely used of the many WebRTC based media servers.
As our tagline states, we provide live streams to millions of concurrent users with milliseconds of latency. Like a few others on this list, we achieve this through the use of WebRTC which ensures video delivery with sub 500 milliseconds of end to end latency. However, a very big differentiator is that we can further extend that real-time latency to millions of concurrent connections. Our hosting agnostic solution leverages cloud providers which addresses any lock-in concerns avoiding a service trap. Not only does this give you a great degree of flexibility over your back-end architecture, but as a developer-friendly product, the rest of the software is fully customizable as well. With full-featured SDKs for iOS, Android, and soon Linux, you can get the same performance with mobile devices.
As a highly customizable solution, it is necessary to perform some additional configurations to get everything working perfectly. However, we won’t leave you to struggle on your own. Our detailed documentation will help get you started and our responsive technical support helps ensure that everything works as anticipated.
Though we don’t currently provide the convenient option of a hosted solution, we are working on one so keep an eye out for a future announcement about that. Those looking for a hosted solution right now (or yesterday), we also offer an Enterprise Plan where we can set up and manage your account for you. That way you still have the flexibility and security of running your own servers without having to do any additional maintenance.
To explore everything we can do check-out our ultra low latency video streaming demo and sign-up for a 30-day free trial.
Of course, if you think we’re leaving something out (or are just plain wrong), please let us know! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a call. We are always looking to improve.