Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) has been around for decades, and while more reliable alternatives like HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and WebRTC have emerged, RTMP streaming is still the most common format for ingest.
Due to the death of Flash, RTMP is no longer an end-to-end technology for live online video streaming—it now needs to be paired with playback-friendly alternatives like HLS and MPEG-DASH. However, thanks to its long history, low latency, encoder support, and social media requirements, RTMP streaming remains a reliable solution for distributing live streams.
Are you new to RTMP streaming and its nuances? We’ve got you covered. Below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about RTMP streaming, including what it is, how it works, variations, alternatives, and how to get started.
What Is RTMP Streaming?
RTMP streaming supports live online video streaming by transmitting audio and video data from a host streaming server to a video player. It uses Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) technology to distribute content from an encoder to a digital video host through a process known as ingestion.
Before the downfall of Flash, RTMP was an end-to-end live streaming protocol. However, it now works with modern-day players like HLS and DASH to deliver content. RTMP is known for its low-latency streaming and minimal buffering, making it an excellent solution for streaming high-quality video and providing top-notch user experiences.
Most encoders and media servers support RTMP, but that’s primarily due to its history and the long-term dominance of Flash Player. Many broadcasters and streamers compress their stream with an RTMP encoder and then repackage it for playback in an HTTP-based format.
You can use RTMP streaming to deliver content from your encoding software to multiple endpoints. For example, you might use JW Player to capture, record, and transmit your live streams to Twitch, YouTube Live, Facebook, and Instagram simultaneously instead of using (and relying upon) a single social platform.
- Video Codecs: H.264, VP8, VP6, Sorenson Spark®, Screen Video v1 & v2
- Audio Codecs: AAC, AAC-LC, HE-AAC+ v1 & v2, MP3, Speex
- Playback Compatability: Flash Player (which is discontinued), Adobe AIR, and RTMP-compatible players
- Protocol Variations: RTMPT, RTMPE, RTMPS, and RTMPF
Pros and Cons of RTMP Streaming
RTMP streaming isn’t a perfect solution, and it’s showing its age with a lack of support from modern-day browsers and devices. Here’s a list of pros and cons to consider with RTMP streaming:
- Low latency
- Long history
- Broad encoder and media server support
- Minimal buffering
- Required for some social media streaming
- No longer supports playback
- No continued updates or support
- Likely to be replaced by modern alternatives
How Does RTMP Streaming Work?
RTMP streaming works by establishing a communication connection between the host server and the player. Maintaining this pathway enables reliable transmission of audio, video, and data.
The RTMP connection is created through a 3-step process: handshake, connection, and streaming.
The client (often the encoding software, platform, or hardware) starts a connection request with the server to which it will stream the live video content. During this handshake process, the host client exchanges 3 packets of data:
- The client sends a packet explaining which version of RMTP is being used.
- The client sends a timestamp, and the receiving server sends back a packet with a timestamp of when it received it.
- After establishing communication, the client server sends a copy of the timestamp, and the server returns it.
Once this exchange is completed, the handshake process is over and moves on to the connection phase.
The client server and the player negotiate a connection with Action Message Format (AMF). The RTMP encoder uses AMF-encoded messages to initiate the connection request and share the connection URL, video codec, and audio codec details.
Once the player server responds, the connection is established, and the stream can launch.
Once the handshake and connection steps have been completed, you can begin streaming data over the pathway. Video, audio, and data will transfer over the connection, and users can initiate commands like play and pause to engage with the content according to their own preferences.
Protocol Variations for RTMP
Variation protocols of RTMP have emerged to serve different purposes and use cases. Each has pros and cons that make it a better fit depending on your needs:
- RTMP: The foundational input for other variations that have emerged.
- RTMPS: Uses SSL certification to increase security and protect businesses that stream over public internet servers.
- RTMPE: Alternative to RTMP that securely transfers data without SSL.
- RTMPT: Uses tunneling (a method for sending private data over public networks) to stream live video. However, it often increases the latency.
- RTMFP: This protocol is built on User Datagram Protocol (UDP) instead of TCP, demanding less data and lower bandwidth costs.
Video Encoders That Support RTMP Streaming
While RTMP might not be the technology many player servers use, it’s still a popular transmission tool for connecting encoding software to live streaming platforms. Many purpose-built RTMP encoders exist on the market, but today’s top video cloud platforms tend to support RTMP streaming.
Here are a few of the top RTMP encoders:
1. JW Player
JW Player is a complete video platform for hosting, recording, streaming, and distributing live and video-on-demand (VOD) content. Its encoding software supports publishing to multiple social sites via RTMP simulcast.
2. OBS Studio
Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS) is an open-source video platform with encoding functionality. It integrates with today’s popular video platforms to live stream to websites, applications, and social media platforms.
OBS Studio is relatively easy to learn, making it a beginner-friendly tool for those just getting started with RTMP streaming. You’ll find recording and encoding tools, mixing features, overlays, and broad hardware support.
vMix is a live streaming software tool designed for Windows operating systems. It provides encoding capabilities and allows you to push and pull video content from social media platforms. vMix’s player offers features like instant replay, scoreboards, and slow motion.
Wirecast is a live streaming solution with comprehensive controls for switching between multiple video and audio sources. Its encoding tools support RTMP streaming, making it a great desktop and mobile live streaming option.
While Wirecast has plenty of advanced features to suit your use case, it can be dense and hard to learn. Plus, the high price point often makes it a non-negotiable for startups and small businesses.
VidBlasterX is a subscription-based live video software encoder with robust customization options. VidBlasterX Studio focuses on HD full-screen support and high-quality production, while VidBlasterX Broadcasts adds more module capacity and direct support from a developer.
Modern-Day Alternatives for RTMP
While RTMP is the most popular protocol for ingest, other alternatives may suit your needs and use case better. Below, we’ll explore a few other options that have picked up steam in recent years.
HLS Streaming Protocol
HLS is an HTTP-based protocol used for transferring video and audio data from media servers to the audience’s screen. While you can use HLS adaptive streaming as an end-to-end solution, it tends to have higher latency and isn’t optimized for video ingesting. Not many encoders support HLS ingest streaming—it’s more commonly used for delivery and playback.
RTSP Streaming Protocol
RTSP stands for Real-Time Streaming Protocol. It’s an older low-latency streaming protocol that’s typically used with closed-circuit televisions (CCTV) and surveillance systems. It’s typically used for ingesting data, but most platforms will repackage for delivery with a more playback-friendly alternative.
SRT Streaming Protocol
Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) protocol is an open-source solution built for low-latency streaming over public networks. It’s still an emerging technology and has yet to gain as broad support with encoders, decoders, and players as RTMP, but it’s becoming a more popular option. SRT streaming tends to provide high-quality, low-latency live video even over unpredictable networks.
WebRTC Streaming Protocol
Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is a browser-based protocol that delivers lightning-fast video and audio streaming to and from major web browsers. Initially, it was designed for chat-based applications, but it’s expanded into video and audio—and it’s also evolving to expand beyond just browser-based publishing. In some situations, WebRTC works well as an end-to-end technology, but it requires encoding know-how to ensure top-notch performance and playback quality.
How to Choose the Right Protocol for Your Live Streaming
As you can see above, you have options when it comes to choosing a protocol for your live streaming. However, narrowing things down and deciding on one can be tricky.
Most of the time, you aren’t limited to a single streaming protocol. You might use one protocol for capture and another for playback. Encoders, players, and video platforms are able to repackage live streams for accessible playback across more devices, applications, browsers, and regions.
For example, you might use a video platform to ingest an RTMP stream and transcode it to an HTML5 player with an HTTP-based protocol like HLS—this is the most common type of live streaming workflow. It allows you to reduce your latency while still maximizing playback quality and performance.
The best cloud video platforms can consume RTMP streams from mobile apps, encoders, and IP cameras and prepare them for playback-friendly players. And just about every modern player supports HLS, making it the perfect protocol combination.
Below, we’ve outlined a few different criteria to help you find the right solution.
Where do you plan on your audience consuming your content? If it’s going to be over social media platforms (like Facebook, YouTube, or Twitch), you’ll want to use RTMP. Most social players accept RTMP, and it has broad support across encoders.
If you want to stream to and from a web browser, we’d recommend going with WebRTC. WebRTC is simple and easy to launch, empowering you to go live in seconds and transport high-quality, low-latency video and audio data to your viewers.
Speed and Simplicity
WebRTC lets you skip using an encoder altogether, making it a go-to option when speed and simplicity are your priorities. You’ll need a little bit more technical know-how when working with WebRTC, but it’s a great option if you can invest the developer resources.
Quality and Playback Performance
SRT protocol provides high-quality, low-latency streams, making it an excellent choice if your focus is high resolution and top-notch performance. However, it isn’t supported by common encoders and players like RTMP, meaning you’ll need to do more research on your video stack before making a decision on your protocol.
Interactivity and Engagement
WebRTC is one of the best live streaming protocols if sub-second delivery and near real-time response are important. This is critical with emergency response and remote monitoring systems, but it’s also growing in importance for streamers and gamers to interact in real time with their audiences through voice and chat.
Start a Free Trial and See for Yourself
JW Player provides a complete end-to-end video platform for publishers, broadcasters, sports, gaming, and everyone in between. Build our players into your own mobile applications, OTT apps, or web pages with our robust APIs and SDKs. We’ll encode and transcode your uploads for optimal playback across devices, locations, and bandwidths—and you can even RTMP simulcast to multiple social media networks.
JW Player isn’t just an encoding tool, though. It’s a comprehensive end-to-end video platform that lets you connect and engage with your audiences on a global scale:
- Play: Use our HTML5 video player to deliver high-quality, buffer-free experiences with customized branding and user experience options.
- Stream: Deliver VOD or live stream content across devices and locations to your audience.
- Monetize: Maximize your revenue by monetizing with subscriptions, pay-per-view models, or advertisements.
- Engage: Keep your audience engaged and consuming your content with Article Matching and Recommendation features.
Want to take your video content to the next level? Expand your video’s reach and streaming capabilities like never before, and sign up today .