Providers of livestreamed video services have reached a paradoxical moment of truth in network evolution where they can’t make the crucial leap into the future without retaining an anchor in the past.

As they implement new multidirectional streaming platforms to accommodate the changing dynamics in consumer engagement with live video, service providers must be able to rely on content delivery networks (CDNs) to support on-demand availability of their content. The question is, how can this be done without making an untenable tradeoff between performance and cost efficiency?

Real-Time Interactivity with Livestreamed Video Requires New Infrastructure

There’s no getting around the fact that the video streaming market can no longer operate with exclusive reliance on HTTP-based streaming over CDNs. These one-way infrastructures with their multi-second latencies and out-of-sync reception metrics are incapable of meeting the requirements of real-time video interactivity that have become entwined with livestreamed video.

Globally, as chronicled by Rethink Research, livestreamed video traffic volume is on track to surpass on-demand traffic in the months ahead. This coincides with demand for video-based real-time interactivity in the socialization of sports, esports, concerts, and other live-event viewing experiences.

The marriage of live streaming and video interactivity is also occurring with online video gameplaying, virtual and other extended reality environments, livestream shopping, online gambling, and all-virtual or hybrid versions of virtual with in-person auctions. And the integration of live and interactive streaming is intrinsic to surging community engagement with user-generated content (UGC) streamed on platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and TikTok.

Moreover, as described in many blogs, these shifting dynamics in leisure-time use of the internet parallel the worldwide movement toward the integration of online with real-world experience in hybrid approaches to everyday activities. Hybrid engagements with work, education, trade shows, and health care have become the new norm as humanity struggles to move beyond the Covid 19 pandemic.

Appending Interactive Video Communications to CDNs Doesn’t Address Market Needs

Livestreaming service strategies that rely on CDNs with ancillary attachments to video conferencing-type platforms supporting the interactive video components are rife with impediments to satisfactory results. They not only introduce operational complexities with limitations on quality and scaling of the interactive platforms; they also make it impossible to stream the source content with the real-time simultaneity essential to satisfactory user experiences.

The range of limitations common to ancillary video communications platforms is well illustrated by the handful of systems used to support video-based interactions in live event watch parties. Sling Watch Party, Yahoo Sports’ NFL mobile watch party app, and video chat apps available from other providers working with the NBA, soccer leagues, and other sports organizations all restrict watch-party participation to just a few users.

There are also video-chat platforms available from Facebook, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO Max, but these are limited to shared viewing of on-demand content, which makes it easier to ensure a group’s chosen video file is streamed at the same time to all participants over one-way CDN infrastructure. In virtually all cases, video-chat with live or on-demand content is encumbered by poor video and audio quality.

Similarly, attempts to employ traditional video conferencing platforms as adjuncts to CDNs in support of workplace virtualization and other hybrid applications fall far short of what’s needed. The highest levels of simultaneous user scalability top out at a few hundred participants, and many VC platforms set the maximum at under 100. Furthermore, virtually all restrict video quality to 720p HD resolution or below while limiting audio to voice-level frequencies.

As for CDNs, major efforts have been expended on latency reduction for live video streaming, but real-time connectivity remains out of reach with no means of ensuring simultaneous frame-by-frame reception across all end points. For example, end-to-end latency performances CDN operators claim to have achieved through Chunked Transfer Encoding (CTE) used with the Common Media Application Format (CMAF) bottom out at around two seconds but frequently go to four seconds and even higher. Apple’s latest low latency HLS (LL HLS) improvement over the ubiquitous HLS protocol also gives performance of around 2 to 5 seconds of latency.

Enabling Real-Time Interactivity with no Scaling or Quality Limitations

In contrast, an infrastructure based on Red5 Pro’s Experience Delivery Network (XDN) technology enables video-rich source and USG payloads to be streamed in any direction to and from any number of end users at any distance. Everyone views everything at the same time with the delivery of content at imperceptible end-to-end lag times no greater than 400ms and often much less.

As described in greater detail in this white paper, everything essential to enabling multidirectional live streaming in real time from primary sources and any number of users is embodied in XDN architecture. The platform achieves the requisite scalability, quality, and other performance parameters with fail-safe redundancy through automated orchestration of hierarchies of origin, relay, and edge nodes in one or more cloud clusters.

XDN architecture makes use of the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) as the foundation for streaming via WebRTC (Real-Time Communications) and Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). In most cases, WebRTC is the preferred option for streaming on the XDN platform because it is supported by all the major browsers, which eliminates the need for device plug-ins. This means any user accessing live streaming through Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, or Opera can also participate in interactive video communications by sending their input over the XDN via WebRTC.

There are also other options for receiving and transmitting video in real time when devices are not utilizing any of these browsers. RTSP, often the preferred option when mobile devices are targeted, can be activated through Red5 Pro iOS and Android SDKs. And video can be ingested onto the XDN platform in other formats as well, including Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) and MPEG-Transport Protocol (TS). The XDN retains these encapsulations while relying on RTP as the underlying real-time transport mechanism.

The XDN platform also provides full support for the multi-profile transcodes used with ABR streaming by utilizing intelligent Edge Node interactions with client devices to deliver content in the profiles appropriate to each user. And to ensure ubiquitous connectivity for every XDN use case, the platform supports content delivery in HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) mode as a fallback. In the rare instances where devices can’t be engaged via any of the other XDN-supported protocols, they will still be able to render the streamed content, albeit with the multi-second latencies that typify HTTP-based streaming.

XDN Nodes can be deployed on multiple cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platforms. This can be done by leveraging pre-integrations with major suppliers like AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and DigitalOcean, or through integrations with many other IaaS platforms enabled by Red5 Pro’s use of the Terraform multi-cloud toolset.

XDN Integrations with Cloud Storage Streamline VOD Support via CDNs

It stands to reason that pervasive interactivity tied to live streaming is best served by reliance on an infrastructure purpose-built for this new chapter in online video engagement. But the internet economy will continue to require support for on-demand access to time-shifted live content as well as all the movies and other stored content delivered through SVOD services, social platforms and other outlets.

The challenge, then, is to create an integrated infrastructure environment that recognizes the primacy of real-time interactive streaming for live video while ensuring maximum efficiency in the use of CDN capabilities as needed. Red5 Pro has made this possible through tools that can be used to configure plugins to the AWS S3, Google Cloud Storage, and DigitalOcean Spaces storage services used by Fastly and other CDN operators.

With XDN infrastructure in place to support all use cases involving livestreamed content, service providers can enable VOD availability of that content by leveraging these cloud infrastructures as seamless extensions of their operations. This saves them the time and costs of building and managing separate silos for their livestreamed and VOD services.

Using the XDN Cloudstorage Plugin, service providers with a few simple configuration commands can set up direct connections with these cloud storage services to automate copying of livestreamed content to long-term storage. Once the integrations with supported storage facilities are executed, livestream providers operating over XDN infrastructure can contract with CDN operators to support VOD distribution of their content.

The ability to select optimal solutions for VOD distribution while streamlining the live-to-VOD connection also contributes to minimizing costs. In the case of Fastly, for example, service providers can take advantage of  the CDN operator’s Nearline Cache storage for large content libraries to reduce the workloads on origin servers and decrease egress costs.

Additional Time-Shifting Modes Will Be Directly Supported on XDN Infrastructure

In addition to streamlining utilization of leading PaaS resources for VOD services, Red5 Pro will soon be introducing mechanisms instantiated on XDN Edge Nodes to support other time-shift applications, including pause, replay, and start over. As a result, service providers now have a roadmap to the future where they can meet the full range of requirements in the real-time video streaming domain with the storage and distribution support they need to enable all time-shift applications.

This puts real-time video-based engagement with livestreamed content where it should be, at the heart of the next generation in media and entertainment services. To learn more about what XDN architecture means to the future of internet operations, contact info@red5pro.com, or schedule a call.

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