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Ultra low latency
Ultra-low latency, or ULL, is a streaming industry term which categorizes a broadcast, based on how fast the video is delivered. Common use cases for ULL include live auctions, eSports, gambling, medical, social media, and government applications.

Ultra-Low Latency For Streaming: Is It Time?

An HTTP stream is a very stable protocol for distributing video, but it does invoke quite a bit of latency, to where it sometimes can cause problems (and confusion). Other options exist, but often require a separate, standalone application or plugins.

It was an insistent pounding, to an urgent cadence. The person behind that door was demanding my attention and was going to get it, with no regard for the “Service In Progress” and explicit “Do Not Disturb” signage that was posted on the other side of the door.

<blockquote>Do you really need ultra-low latency between locations? If there is any level of two-way interaction between the live and remote congregation, the answer is definitely yes.</blockquote>

Distracted, and mildly alarmed, I cautiously opened the control room door, only to discover a little old lady, smartphone in-hand, who angrily exclaimed, “Do you not realize that the livestream is over a minute behind!?”

As I considered the topic of livestream latency, specifically for church- and ministry-related workflows, I was immediately taken back in time to this special moment. We had just moved from an RTMP/Flash-based playback solution to Apple HLS, a more universal playback solution, to make our broadcast more accessible to mobile devices.

An HTTP stream is a very stable protocol for distributing video, but it does invoke quite a bit of latency, to where it sometimes can cause problems (and confusion). As we promoted the use of livestreaming “now available on mobile devices,” I think the expectation from this wonderful woman, was that she would be able to use headphones, while sitting in the service, to improve her ability to hear the program.

While quite noble, 45 to 60 seconds of audio/video latency makes this a miserable user experience, when comparing it to real-time.

At a broad level, the video streaming industry is wrestling with the best way to deliver low latency video, for use cases that require interaction. Ironically, as livestreaming video technology has progressed in recent years, standard latency to live performance metrics have actually degraded, because of the dominance of mobile technology (namely, the iPhone), where HTTP streaming is mainstream.

In addition, pure streaming protocols, like RTMP/Flash and RTSP, which continue to be superior technologies for streaming, both from a latency and stability standpoint, have become difficult and/or impossible for playback in a browser (Flash/security), or require a separate, standalone application (RTSP). To compensate, quite a few streaming companies have started innovating, seeking to regain the loss of low latency capabilities, without requiring special browser plugins or applications.

It’s a brave new world, and one worth considering, especially for applications in churches where low latency makes sense.

la·ten·cy

ˈlātənsē/

noun

     1.  The amount of time (delay) between when a frame of video is captured and displayed.

Ultra-low latency, or ULL, is a streaming industry term which categorizes a broadcast, based on how fast the video is delivered. Common use cases for ULL include live auctions, eSports, gambling, medical, social media, and government applications.

It’s fairly simple, when the people viewing the video need to be aware of what’s happening right now, ultra-low latency video is a necessity.

I first became aware of this a few years ago, when I picked up the phone and found myself speaking with a rancher from rural Canada, who was responsible for a cattle auction. It took me a minute to understand their problem, which was how long it took for remote auction bidders - watching on a livestream and calling in bids by phone – were completely unable to compete with on-site bidders.

To help rectify the issue, we set them up with Flash/RTMP streaming, which at the time was still a viable, simple solution. Today, we have the same option available, but it’s a little more complicated.

Working with churches and ministry organizations, ultra-low latency hasn’t yet become a front and center issue. That is likely to change, though, and we need to be ready for the challenge.

I’m not the most creative individual, but I can visualize a few use cases, and I’m sure that as we become more and more interactive and connected, such situations where a need will arise.

Campus to Campus Streaming

Livestreaming services, between church locations, is not a new innovation. It continues to be a very exciting, though, uniting use of technology that broadens the impact of the local church across multiple physical locations. Latency, in this case, is a decision that needs to be made very carefully.

While there is tremendous excitement in participating in a service in near real time, there are risks that must be overcome.

Do you really need ultra-low latency between locations? If there is any level of two-way interaction between the live and remote congregation, the answer is definitely yes.

I’ve spoken with pastors who are keenly interactive, in their preaching style, who feel disconnected, knowing that there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people listening to them remotely, and they can’t “read” their response. A leader who needs that connection, needs an ultra-low latency solution, which will greatly enhance the remote-viewing experience and contribute to the overall vitality of the ministry.

Church Operations Streaming

Even for small churches, a closed-circuit video system is a fantastic resource, helping to coordinate activities that are taking place in a church facility during weekend services. For example, providing a livestream of the main service can help child care, teachers, and volunteers to be ready during start and end times.

Conventionally, this has been facilitated by distributing a direct video signal. For churches that leverage a livestream encoder, though, it is surprisingly easy to use a local media server, or remote cloud service, to distribute a low latency stream throughout the church, making the video available on monitors and even mobile devices, connected to Wi-Fi or via the internet.

Social Media

Platforms like Facebook Live, and others, already provide a fairly low latency streaming experience. While not necessarily ultra-low latency, their latency numbers tend to be very aggressive, which plays nicely with the purposed interactivity with other users. Most churches who are streaming to Facebook are also providing a stream on their website. In most cases, content delivery networks are using Apple HLS for your website embedded video. If there is any interaction, or need to align the real time experience, between social media and your website, I would strongly suggest an ultra-low latency option for your website.

Accessibility

For campus-to-campus workflows, a hardware-based encoder-to-decoder solution will deliver an ultra-low latency experience, requiring very strong network capabilities and fairly expensive equipment. This is best for permanent links between high-profile facilities. For example, the Teradek Cube705 encoder, paired with the Cube 725 decoder, is a powerful resource for direct, site-to-site streaming.

A cutting-edge low latency service can provide ultra-low latency streaming, allowing for some risk at the network level, while introducing ultra-low latency streaming capabilities at a cost that is quite affordable. This is the type of product that can receive data from virtually any RTMP encoder (i.e., Open Broadcaster Software, or OBS; Wirecast), where it is sent into a nearby, highly optimized cloud platform, packaged, and instantly made available to clients using a web browser like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. The nice thing about such a service is the broad application, because it allows potentially thousands of people to participate, via the internet, which can include remote campuses, classrooms, small groups, and church operations. Wowza Media Systems Ultra-Low Latency platform, for example, is a simple, low-cost option that anyone can leverage to quickly get started with a low latency solution.

It’s also possible to use a media server, on-site, with low latency options like RTSP and WebRTC for local operations. A media server is always a good idea for splitting up streams for various uses.

Sending your primary stream into a media server enables you to send live video to external resources, like YouTube Live, Facebook Live, and Wowza Streaming Cloud, while also making local streaming possible, on your Wi-Fi/wired network, for digital signage, operations and more. The platform can also record and serve video on-demand, as added value solutions. For more information, check our Wowza Streaming Engine.

Ultra-low latency video is a tremendous resource, which I think can revolutionize how people engage, more as a participant and less an idle viewer, as ministry leaders and technical visionaries learn to leverage the medium, to enhance the viewing experience. With so many options for church online, I believe the most meaningful will have the strongest impact on the lives of people.

Let’s build experiences that deepen relationships, as well as convey the pastor’s message during a Sunday service.

I welcome any feedback, ideas or questions and would love to hear more about what you can do with ultra-low latency streaming.

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