How to Watch Live Streaming Video – A Primer for Beginners

Close-up Of Young Man Lying On Sofa Watching Video On Laptop At HomeStreaming video is pervasive in everyday life. We use the technology to watch Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, video-on-demand from the cable company, Skype, Face Time, webinars and various live special events. Depending on the application, the technology varies with respect to the devices and types of connections used. In this tutorial we will focus on live streaming (also known as “webcasting”).

According to Wikipedia …

“A webcast is a media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. A webcast may either be distributed live or on demand. Essentially, webcasting is “broadcasting” over the Internet.”

This is what Webcast & Beyond does. We go to an event with our production team and equipment and broadcast the experience live to a global audience. We also provide a platform where the audience can “tune-in” to watch. Typically the platform takes the single feed from the event and distributes it to a web page with a video player embedded. This way the web page address acts like a TV channel to “tune-in” to a particular webcast.

Example of a webpage for watching streaming video

Example of a webpage for watching streaming video

Access to the viewing web page can be public or private, and may be free, require registration, involve a fee, or a combination of these. To watch a public webcast all you need to know is the web address (usually in the form of a link that was sent to you in an email or posted on a website) and the broadcast time. Be careful to note the time zone in which the broadcast is originating from. Unlike television stations, internet broadcasters usually don’t time shift the broadcast to the viewers local time, so you will need to determine the correct time adjustment for your geographical location. Private webcasts require a password and sometimes a username as well in order to access the viewing web page. Passwords are issued by the hosting organization or automated through a registration system. If a fee is required the password is issued after online payment is completed.

Live Streaming Features

In addition to the video player, which is the window there the video is played, there are other features and controls that are sometimes included on the viewing page:

  • Playback Controls

    Playback Controls - Usually located at the bottom of the video player, by placing the mouse cursor near the bottom they pop up.

    Playback Controls – Usually located at the bottom of the video player, by placing the mouse cursor near the bottom they pop up.

    • Play/Pause – (the triangle icon on the lower left) to start and stop the live stream.
    • Volume – (the speaker icon) for audio.
    • Full Screen / Pop-out – (the dotted square icon on the lower right) expands the viewing screen size.
    • Quality – Some webcasts have different quality streams to choose from with numbers such as 270p, 432p, or 720p HD. The higher the number the better the quality in terms of picture clarity and audio fidelity. The reason for offering these choices is to accommodate the different viewing conditions each person is limited to. The most common limitation one has is the speed of the internet connection. Fast connections support the high quality streams whereas slow connections can only handle the lower quality streams. There are other factors involved such as the type of device you are using as to whether it is powerful enough to process the higher quality stream. General Rule-of-Thumb is to select the highest quality possible until the stream begins to buffer (stall as it waits for more data).
  • Live DVR

    Some live players have this feature and it is truly fantastic! You can literally go back in time by dragging the slider bar at the bottom to the left. This is common in recorded video but less so when the event is live.

  • Chat Box

    chat boxThe online audience can participate in a group chat environment using a chat box which is often displayed on the side or below the video player. People use this to communicate with the onsite participants, usually to pose questions during a Q & A session as well as to interact amongst themselves.

  • Social Media

    Public webcasts often include widgets (tools) to share the experience with your friends. You will find icons for Face Book, Twitter, email and others that will post notices or send the web link to your friends and followers.

Devices

There are many devices capable of presenting a live stream broadcast. These include:

  • Desktop computers (Mac and Windows)
  • Tablets (Android & iOS)
  • Smart Phones (Android & iOS)
  • Smart Televisions (units with internet browsing capability)

Generally a desktop computer is best as it can support a hard-wired internet connection, has a bigger screen, and often has sufficient processing power to playback the highest quality stream. Older computers with older operating systems are not the best choice.  If your PC can smoothly run Windows 7 or later you should be good to go. If you are on a MAC it is recommended that you have an intel processor (not the older Motorola models) with OSX software.  You will need a browser which supports  live streaming. On the PC we recommend the latest version of Chrome.  On a MAC we recommend the latest version of Safari.

Tablets and Smartphones are a popular choice due to their mobility but require either a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection for streaming video. Wi-Fi is preferred in most cases because cellular data is expensive and often not fast enough. If you are using cellular then make sure your connection is 4G(LTE) for the best experience. When it comes to best performance on a mobile device, the Apple iOS iPhones and iPads are preferred over Androids (generally) because streaming platforms are set up to be compatible with  Apple products. The minimum requirement  is to be running iOS version 3.0 or later.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has helped you get oriented with the process of live streaming video.  If any of this seems too technical don’t worry. You can run a simple test to get an idea whether your set-up is up the task. We have embedded a video from our portfolio to try out. Try playing this on the same device, with the same internet connection you plan to use for watching live streaming. If it works well then your equipment and internet connection are in good shape. Keep in mind that this test is using a recorded video which is a little different than a live video stream. Nonetheless, if this video is working chances are you will be able to watch live streams as well.

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