A Closer Look at Streaming Servers
Nov 16, 2012 12:05 PM, By Jan Ozer
Understanding the options
Your client has decided to stream live or on-demand video and to run a streaming server. Remember, of course, that you don’t actually need a traditional streaming server for progressive download, or for HTTP-based adaptive streaming technologies such as Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) or Microsoft Smooth Streaming. However, streaming servers are necessary if the client wants to protect their streams with encryption, deliver via peer-to-peer or multicast, or serve multiple targets such as Flash and iOS with the same stream or streams.
For these applications, there are four basic choices: the Adobe Flash Media Server line of products, Microsoft’s IIS Media Services, RealNetworks’ Helix Server line of products, and Wowza Media Server. There’s also an open-source streaming server called Red5 that uses some secure protocols to deliver to Flash, but it doesn’t currently convert streams for delivery to iOS or support any adaptive streaming technology. This would eliminate it from contention for most streaming producers.
How to choose between the candidates? The obvious first question is whether it can deliver video to the platforms that you’re targeting using the technologies and protocols that you want to use. A quick review of the origins of each server will shed some light here.
Adobe Media Server Family
In May 2012, Adobe announced Adobe Media Server 5 and Adobe Access 4, with Linux and Amazon Web Services versions available in June 2012. There are four software versions and the product is also available on Amazon Web Services. Like its predecessor, Adobe Flash Access 3.0, Adobe Access 4 enables providers to securely deliver and monetize content to a range of computers, mobile devices, and set-top boxes with other players.
The four software versions vary as follows. The Starter version is free, but maxes out at 10 simultaneous RTMP connections, and limited durations for IP multicast, HTTP based Dynamic Streaming (HDS), HTTP Live Streaming to iOS devices (HLS), IP multicast, RTMFP unicast, and RTMFP P2P. You can also experiment with higher-level video streaming and content protection functionality, as well as implement closed captions, which all versions support. Overall, however, this version is good for evaluation and debugging, but not real day-to-day operation.
The Adobe Media Server 5 Standard version ($995) offers unlimited RTMP, HDS, and HLS streaming, but no IP multicast, RTMFP unicast and RTMFP P2P, or the two-way webcam/audio support needed for videoconferencing. You also can't access multicast fusion for Flash or application-level multicast, or protected HDS or HLS. This should suffice for many externally focused streamers, but not for enterprise clients or those who require content protection.
The Adobe Media Server 5 Professional ($4,500) offers unlimited RTMP, HDS, HLS, and IP multicast streaming, but limits RTMFP unicast and RTMFP P2P streams to 500 users. However, you also get full access to multicast fusion and application-level multicast, streaming splitting and multicast ingest and recording, protected HDS and HLS, and realtime encryption for multicast and P2P. Bi-direction audio/video capture capabilities enable video chat, videoconferencing, and similar apps.
The most capable version, the Adobe Media Server 5 Extended edition, includes unlimited access to all the features available in other versions, but you have to call for pricing. The version on Amazon Web Service offers most but not all of the features of the installed versions of the server, including transmuxing for HDS and HLS, protected HLS and HDS, peer-to-peer delivery and application-level multicast. Beyond a $5 one-time charge for setup, and recurring monthly charges of $5, you also pay according to the number of simultaneous connections and a fee for data transfer. Check the Adobe website for more details about features and versions. Although the Adobe family of servers can securely deliver to a range of desktop, set-top box, and mobile players, if your client plans to deliver video to either Microsoft’s Silverlight player or the older RealPlayer, or to IPTV platforms, you’ll have to use a different server.
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