Technological breakthroughs have fundamentally changed the way we consume media. The transition in media delivery techniques from cassette tapes and DVDs to digital downloads and streaming is undeniable.
HLS is a protocol for transmitting adaptive bitrate video. Originally developed by Apple for Apple systems, today HLS has become the most widely used protocol for streaming media.
In this article, we will discuss one such streaming technology, HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), with a focus on how it is used on iOS.
Understanding HTTP Live Streaming
Apple created HTTP Live Streaming, a streaming protocol for transmitting audio and video over the internet. Instead of having to wait for the entire file to download, HLS lets you start watching a video or listening to a song almost immediately.
HLS is based on a straightforward idea: it divides a video or audio file into smaller pieces and sends them in a continuous stream to the viewer’s device. These sections are played in order by the device, which results in a fluid viewing or listening experience.
HLS and iOS
The HLS protocol breaks the media stream into small fragments and then creates a special file, a manifest, where information about these fragments is stored. The player periodically re-requests the manifest; if new fragments appear in the file, it will load and play them. At the same time, thanks to the adaptive bitrate, the video quality will adjust depending on the screen size or the bandwidth of the Internet connection.
HLS is not just an option but rather a standard for Apple devices. Apple mandates that HLS be used for all apps that stream videos longer than 10 minutes over cellular networks.
The HLS protocol continues to evolve. In the summer of 2019, Apple developed the LHLS extension, which allows you to achieve a delay of less than 2 seconds. In the future, almost all players and mobile devices will support this modification.
Advantages of HLS for iOS
There are several reasons why HLS for iOS is particularly well-suited:
1. Adaptive Streaming
Support for adaptive bitrate streaming is one of HLS’s key advantages. Using this feature, the video or audio quality can be changed in real time according to the network and device capabilities of the viewer.
HLS can reduce the quality, for instance, if the viewer has a sluggish internet connection, to avoid buffering. On the other hand, HLS can deliver a high-definition stream if the connection is strong and the device can handle it.
2. Wide Compatibility
Despite the fact that Apple created HLS, it is not just for Apple devices. Due to the wide range of hardware and software that support HLS, it is a flexible option for media delivery. You can easily port an iOS app you create using HLS to other platforms.
3. Unlimited Audience
The HLS protocol scales very well to any number of viewers using CDN services and guarantees uninterrupted delivery of content anywhere in the world.
4. Digital rights management
The HLS protocol supports Digital Rights Management (DRM). The technology allows you to track the illegal use of content—both recordings and live broadcasts. At the same time, the digital rights management infrastructure is quite simple.
Implementing HLS in iOS Apps
Apple offers a set of tools and frameworks to make the process of integrating HLS into iOS apps simpler:
- Classes for streaming and playing audiovisual content are included in the AVFoundation Framework.The AVPlayer class, for instance, has HLS streaming capabilities.
- Apple offers FairPlay Streaming for apps that need DRM security.
- Your content is secured using this technology’s integration with HLS.
- Apple offers a set of tools for creating and validating HTTP Live Streaming services. You can segment media files with these tools, make playlists, and more.
Axon can help use this powerful technology that has reshaped the landscape of media delivery. With its adaptive streaming capabilities, wide compatibility, and support for DRM, it’s an excellent choice for any iOS app that delivers audio or video content.
The HLS protocol supports both live broadcasts and viewing recordings. Thanks to manifest and fragmentation technology, rewind is fast and available at the same time as the ability to switch to live. This is an important advantage over the RTMP and WEBRTC protocols, which are focused only on live broadcasts.
Develop your iOS app using HLS, and you’ll be prepared to offer users a seamless, optimized streaming experience.
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