If you’re live streaming, you want your audience to be able to get the best experience possible, with video that runs smoothly and without delay. Reducing latency will help keep your viewers watching in as close to real time as possible.
As with many things when it comes to digital, there are lots of links in the chain, any one of which could cause you issues, but in this article, we’ll look at some of the most common causes of latency and how you can help to reduce the chances of untimely delays when you’re live streaming.
Latency is another word for a delay, in this case the delay of a data signal travelling from point A to point B. In terms of live streaming, latency could mean a time lag between your broadcast (when each part of the video is captured) and what your audience see (when that capture is displayed to your viewer).
If the delay is significant, the video buffering (read-ahead) will struggle to keep up, and that's when you end up with issues like a loss in quality, and delays and glitches.
Internet Connection and Wi-Fi vs Hardwiring
As you might have expected, streaming over your Wi-Fi usually slows things down more than if you were hardwired to your router. For most people, this difference is often negligible, but if you’re having difficulty with latency when you stream then it’s probably one of the things you should check. Even something you might not expect could be causing trouble, like interference from other things – your neighbours’ Wi-Fi or electrical objects – or even physical items around your home blocking the signal from your router to your computer
You can test this delay by using a ping command to send a signal to your router’s IP address. Do it while you’re on Wi-Fi and make a note of the result, and then repeat it while you’re hardwired via ethernet cable and see what the difference is.
Everyone’s Wi-Fi drops out now and again, too. It’s not usually a huge problem but if you’re in the middle of a live stream then it can be really inconvenient, connecting to your router with a cable makes drop-out less likely.
How good your internet provider is and what plan you’re on will obviously change things too
Bandwidth is the thing that determines how much information can travel at once. It helps us to visualise how data travels. I once read a good analogy that described your internet connection as like a pipe: and the wider it is (the larger your bandwidth), the more information can pass through at once. Latency problems are the result of how information goes through that ‘pipe.’ If both latency and bandwidth are low then that will screw up throughput – a backup at a choke point somewhere along the line of the data being transferred, like a traffic jam, clogs up the signal and causes problems with playback.
On that note it’s also wise to keep everyone else in your household off the network when you plan to live stream. If other people are chewing up the resources available by watching TV shows or downloading files, then that ultimately will impact what you’re trying to do.
Content Delivery Networks
The idea of a CDN is to spread your content around multiple servers in different locations, with the idea that whoever is watching your live stream watches via the server that is closest to them, in theory reducing the distance the information needs to travel and so reducing latency. CDNs sometimes also make use of particular hardware and software optimisations to make them more effective and crucially, faster.
As your audience can watch this way without buffering or interruptions, it can be a better experience for them (and you!) and also means that if one server goes offline for whatever reason, the traffic can be moved to servers that are still operational.
Encoder – Software vs Hardware
Choosing an encoder for your live stream is one of the most important things to consider. Video (including sound and graphics) must be converted in order to be properly read and displayed at the other end.
Most programs that are designed for streaming (OBS Studio, Streamlabs OBS, etc) have encoders as part of the application. I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s covered in the article I’ve linked to above, but the main benefit of a software encoder is that it generally keeps things very simple – if you just want to get to streaming it’ll choose the best options for you based on your hardware. If you know exactly what you want, you can choose those options to suit your needs. A software encoder is often slower than hardware, as it’s only as good as your computer hardware and can often be slowed down by those limitations.
A hardware encoder can be very expensive, and takes a lot more setting up than software, but it has the benefit of being designed to do one job, and that means it’s usually faster – meaning reduced latency – than software encoders would be as it’s not slowed down by other CPU tasks like your computer might be.
A viable alternative to this would be to have a dedicated computer for live streaming. You’d use a software encoder, but the computer wouldn’t be used for anything else, freeing up resources for your stream.
Computer and Devices
I’ve already mentioned that you could have a dedicated computer to stream from but whether it is or isn’t, you should try to upgrade where you can. Every device is limited, including your router and it’s amazing how much time can pass without you getting a router upgrade, particularly if you’ve been with the same company for a while. If you think your router might be a bit dated, it’s worth ringing up your provider and asking if you can get a newer replacement – they’ll often do this for free if a reasonable time has passed since you were given it.
Live Streaming With Low Latency is a Balance
Even though there's a lot to think about when it comes to latency and what might impact it, it's really all just a balance. You'll never get every single part in the data pipes to be perfect, so it's best to work on those things within your control and budget, like the computer you're using, your internet connection and whichever encoder you're using.
The key is to get everything up to the best it can be and you'll probably find you don't have many issues. If you've got one really bad link in the chain then you'll be wasting your time trying to improve everything else around it if that problem will still be there.
If you become more popular with your live stream and you want to improve your content delivery then it's worth you looking into more professional options like a hardware encoder if you think that it'll help you progress.
More Help With Live Streaming
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Photo & Video tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.Update me weekly
Envato Tuts+ tutorials are translated into other languages by our community members—you can be involved too!Translate this post