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Comparing the Top Live Streaming Services: Which One Is Right for You?

In this comparison, we will specifically be focusing on the featured paid services for each of the providers, and not looking at the free products that they offer. The reason for this is to do a true comparison of what users will get out of their money, seeing as free products are obviously severely limited in their services. The four paid services examined here will be those of Justin.tv, Stickam, Ustream, and BlogTV. Each of these are among the most popular live streaming companies around so this comparison should be helpful to many.

This paper will examine the top live streaming services on the market today and dissect what they are really offering to broadcasters and how effective those services are. The subject is very relevant with the recent emergence of Justin.tv and the live streaming abilities of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. With so many players in the game, it is important to differentiate the traits of each service, and in that sense, this article will serve as a guide to help users determine which service best fits their needs.

Features and Pricing

YouTube is an interesting service in the context of streaming, hence it is not generally associated with it. However, its newly launched YouTube Gaming service has changed that. YouTube’s approach is quite simple; there is only one membership type which offers the same features to all users, and YouTube partners need not worry as the membership is the same as the standard partnership. Its main strength is the potential to capture new viewers, as streamers can also directly host their streams on their regular YouTube channels. YouTube’s live analytics, which display data such as viewer count and playtime during a video, and its quick access to recently recorded streams make it a compelling choice for those who are already invested in creating video content. However, for a streamer who does not already have a significant viewer base or following, it could be challenging to obtain these viewers from an initial stream. Nonetheless, it must be said that YouTube’s streaming service is an interesting new component that is worth trying out for any channel.

Twitch is unique for offering a much scalable pricing system, meant to cater to anyone, whether they are just starting to stream or are a veteran. The free membership’s list of features is quite expansive. The ability to create and join groups is a nice organization feature, video on demand is great for people who missed the live stream, and the custom emoticons feature is simply fun. Twitch’s premium membership is divided into ‘Turbo’, which offers an ad-free experience and access to priority customer support, and ‘Twitch Plus’, which adds on an expanded file size limit and increased video storage duration for past broadcasts. Though it is arguable whether these features are worth the pricing, Twitch’s free membership is very robust, and its premium and pay-as-you-go features are worth some consideration.

Service 1

Service 1: Ustream Ustream boasts a service that is mainly free, aside from pricing for Ustream’s Pro Broadcaster Package for higher quality video that has a monthly fee. It is a decent service for those that are only interested in broadcasting their content to an audience with a fairly high viewer cap for a free service. However, many of its features are not as polished or filled out as other services at comparable pricing. One thing that Ustream excels at is its mobile client and integration with mobile devices. Users can broadcast and view content from any mobile device with an Ustream app. High-end mobile device users could benefit from the Pro Broadcaster Package if they are looking to stream mobile content over any distance. Overall, Ustream is a decent service with a good, though somewhat limited, free package and is great for those interested in mobile broadcasting.

Service 2

The best feature of this service, that is not offered with the free versions of other services, is the ability to use a custom stream key to broadcast with. This key can be plugged into broadcast software such as OBS, which is widely used by streamers who require more from their casts in a professional and visual sense. OBS users are accustomed to using Twitch TV as a stream platform, but Twitch TV limits the use of their custom stream key to other streaming services. OBS users who desire to use uStream’s custom stream key have found it has provided a solution to many technical problems with the software. This is a huge benefit for streamers and a major selling point of this service.

Service 2 claims that the ‘best things in life are free and so is this’, though not all of its features. This service is available for both PC and Mac users, no Linux support though. Limitations of this service include one can broadcast using the free version of this service all of the data is sent to US servers so for people with large non-US based viewership the delay between chat interaction and response may be longer than desired. An average PC gamer has reported the service using between 18-25% of the CPU so the system requirements are not too high. A major advantage of this service is the URL that it provides for your stream. This can be posted on websites and forums to direct people straight to your stream. This is not something that all services offer. Depending on your internet speed and computer specifications, you will be provided with optimal settings when you select the quality of your stream.

Service 3

Service 3 is Meerkat. This platform allows users to stream live video from their mobile device to the internet. Meerkat feeds can be shared to a social network and followers can receive a notification that a broadcast is occurring. Meerkat is useful for anyone who wants to keep an audience updated on an event, e.g. behind the scenes of making a product, touring a conference for the first time, demoing a new app, and more. The original focus of Meerkat was creating a new form of interaction on social media by offering direct video; the service hoped to create a different model for social networking that relied more on interaction between users than shares or likes on content. Meerkat also has an engagement system that ranks users by how many engaged concurrent viewers they have on a feed. The system ranks users as 1, 2, and 3 based on viewers and once one reaches concurrent 4 viewers they earn the title of ‘mob’ which allows them to control features such as photo taking to create a Twitter post and stream scheduling.

User Experience and Interface

Hulu + Live TV is presented in a manner that is different from all of the other services on this list. For better or for worse, the live TV section of the Hulu app is mixed in to the on-demand section. There are a few different ways to access the live TV section. The first is on the home screen, scroll down until you see “Watch Your TV Here”, “More from your channels”, or channels under “Live Now”. The second place you can go to is the “My Stuff” section by clicking on a show or movie that has on-demand content and seeing if there is a DVR recording or On Demand episode available. If the show or movie is on live TV now or comes on live TV later, there will be a “Go to Live TV” option. This will bring you to a third way to access the live TV via a curated guide that shows all the shows and movies on live TV, shows and movies that you DVR’ed, and recent channels. The last way to access live TV is by going to Network or more from your networks. This will show you a list of channels where you can continue to scroll right to see shows and movies on those specific channels. Navigation is fairly straightforward and makes sense, but finding live TV may not be an intuitive process for everyone.

Service 1

One of the most beneficial features of streaming on YouTube is the automatic video synchronization following a live stream. This has been a feature since the conception of the live streaming service on YouTube, and is a blessing to those that are primarily YouTubers over streamers. This provides a single video with a live chat, allowing for video views and ad revenue without the requirement of uploading the streamed content as a video from the local computer after editing. Finally, an additional feature that many streamers may find useful or entertaining is the ability to add various live stream delays.

The interface for starting a stream is very straightforward since it is only a couple of clicks away. Best of all, any scheduled events on YouTube’s streaming service can be synced to live immediately, allowing for less confusion and a simpler platform for the streamer and the subscribers. This can be very useful for streamers who are considering migrating from uploading content regularly to live streaming. With a similar interface to that of uploading a video, viewers can be notified of when your stream will go live, playing as a video on their home page or subscription tab. YouTube’s interface is globally known and the access to live streaming does not differentiate, making it comprehensive for international users.

Service 1 is known as the live stream for everyone. This is because anyone and everyone can go live on YouTube and begin streaming today. There are a load of features including encoding options and the accessibility to stream on desktop, mobile or tablet. YouTube live streaming provides ease of access without any additional expenses or hardware.

Service 2

Browser Integration Service 2 comes with a couple of plugins that make it easy to broadcast from your capture device or computer. ShadowPlay and DXtory are both very popular programs for those wanting to use a capture device to broadcast games. Using the FME plugin, users can send the output from either program to their channel on Service 2. The other plugin recommended for those using a capture device is the VHScrCap plugin that enables users to capture a particular window or the entire screen and broadcast that. These plugins offer a simple and reliable way to get your game onto your stream.

User Experience The user experience from the channel’s point of view is relatively simple: The channel is taken to the dashboard with dashboard settings down the right-hand side, profile, and online status under the channel’s logo. Below that would be the video player and chat below that. This is a simple layout and easy to use and navigate. Along with a fast and effective interface, the user will be getting a high stream quality with options to change the quality as they please and a reliable chat system for viewer interaction.

Service 2 Overview Service 2 is known for its fast interface and ability to offer high quality integrated with exceptional chat capability. It is considered a premium service with a monthly subscription costing around $10. Service 2 does not offer much for those migrating from the free streaming services trying to decide on whether or not to take the plunge into paid premium services. Although Service 2 has an exceptional service, the more professional streamer would want to look towards using this over the free services due to its ease of use, quality, and chat functionality.

3.3. Service 3

Service 3 is an HTML5 website which highly complements their web application. The webpage is quite quick and responsive, and the site also has a mobile application compatible with most devices. One downside to the application is that it occasionally plays the older broadcasts in Adobe Flash format, which is unplayable on some mobile devices. Given that everything on the internet is converting to HTML5, it won’t be long until the Adobe Flash broadcasts are replaced with the HTML5 counterpart, ultimately improving the mobile application.

Service 3 has a great design for its user interface. The first thing you see when visiting the site is a large window displaying the footage of whichever channel is currently the most popular at that time. Not only does this show off the quality of the stream on the website, it also brings attention to the most popular channels on the site, boosting the amount of viewers they have, therefore maximizing the use of the website for streamers. When you start to navigate the site, you’ll find that most of the content is only a couple clicks away from the homepage. The navigation bar is very minimal, featuring only a directory of games, a stream browser, a subscription status page, and not much else. This gives the user an easier time when trying to find something specific on the site. In comparison to other streaming websites, finding things on twitch.tv is almost like finding a needle in a haystack due to the amount of content the site has.

Service 4

Service 4’s interface is very user-friendly, but its customizability and layout are somewhat limited. Features and settings are organized into logical tabs on the dashboard; creating a new event is as simple as clicking ‘new event’ and entering the details. However, the settings for the event are somewhat limited: you can choose whether or not people can chat (with very basic moderation settings), whether or not people can view the record, and whether or not it will automatically tweet/Facebook post when you begin the event. The video is recorded and saved until deleted, with unlimited capacity, before or after it is streamed. The playback video has no expiration date and can be shown to viewers at any time. If you wish to have the video file, you can download the recorded video file and store it on your computer. This on-demand video feature is not offered this smoothly with any other service. Viewing live and recorded video is done through the same interface, the latter being under the ‘on-demand’ tab. Recorded videos are shown in a list, which can be custom organized by dragging them, and have the same access settings as live videos. Overall, with a very simple and easy to use interface and some more hidden, but powerful, features, this is a great option for both novice and advanced streamers.

Performance and Reliability

Service 2 has consistently been successful with regards to technical performance and stream reliability. Their viewer base is smaller than service 1, but still significant at around 10 thousand viewers. Despite this, there are no issues for higher viewed streams since the technical infrastructure is strong. The highest quality available for streamers is 720p, 30 frames per second, still higher than every quality option that the viewers have. The stream delay is fairly low at around 10 seconds. Users on streams with low to medium viewer count will have virtually no issues with buffering or disconnection on this service. The same goes for users on higher viewed streams since there are no quality options for the viewers at this time. Overall, the very few issues that occur using this service make it a great choice for consistent reliable streaming.

Service 1 has experienced extensive growth in their audience over the last year, seeing up to 13 thousand live viewers on a single stream. While this is astounding growth, it’s important to see if the growth has outpaced the technical capability of the service since there have been many reported issues on their platform in their quest for growth. This has led to mixed results on stream performance. The service boasts the ability of partners to stream at the maximum quality of 1080p, 60 frames per second, providing a great viewing experience for their audience. Non-partners have the capability to stream at 720p, 30 frames per second. While the quality of the stream is high, there have been many reports from users of buffering issues and frequent disconnects from lower viewed streams, even for their partners. This is a huge issue because viewers are generally turned off by frequent buffering and will quickly leave the stream and look for an alternative.

Service 1

When it comes to performance and reliability, one of the most important concerns for any live streaming service, each of the services caters to different needs and expectations. Service 1, despite being a relatively small player in the live streaming service, has received positive feedback from its users. It has a good combination of features, with a playlist, video archiving, screen and game capture to channel ‘TV-like’ live streamed events. Viewers have praised the site for its consistent, high-quality streams. “udem.tv is the most reliable platform I’ve used,” says a viewer. At peak times, the major streaming services can become slow and sometimes saturated by many free users. Premium subscribers to Service 1 can manually select their video quality to avoid buffering and lower video resolution. Service 1 prices its premium services well, with the less expensive package providing a lot more than the competition steps in a similar field, but for this subject, the higher package is recommended, with HD 720 and 1080 available and VOD Commercial free viewer note only negative video ads are served up pre-roll on the site in the live channels page for the corresponding channel. This should not be too much of an issue since the placement of these ads is very unobtrusive. A rare feature for premium users is the ability to select a thumbnail image for their videos in the Video Manager, convenient for those who don’t want the automatic thumbnail displayed and want a good specific depiction of their video. On the downside, Service 1 has been known to have subpar customer support, which can severely hurt the overall reliability of the service and the number of users, despite the support team being helpful to users in the forums. Service 2, compared to Service 1 (Info from own personal IT knowledge), has above sufficient reliability for free users with less or no technical knowledge looking to stream their game live without any problems and serve a small audience. The interface of Service 2 is clean and simple, easy to use with the most basic features of just mere video streaming. Viewers have an auto quality selection to best suit their internet connection and the website server performance, but for a free user, this is usually only 360p. Many viewers are annoyed at the promotion for the premium services, including the annoying 30-second video ads pre-roll and the huge ad slot advertising the premium purchase, above the site video that takes up way too much space. Service 2 has a free trial for premium purchase but from what I’ve experienced, viewers will need to know enough about the service to consider the premium version. Service 3 is probably the most unreliable service at the moment, coming with varying quality. Many viewers would rate a high-quality stream on this service to the equivalent of a medium-quality stream on another, and at worst, the streaming page will be blank with a server outage. Despite this, Service 3 has some useful features with various stream backend options and detailed encoding settings to get the best out of your stream to the site. However, anyone expecting to stream in HD and high quality will need to use a paid service to a video service provider.

Service 2

The mean time between failures (MTBF) for this test equated to 1.41 days. Again, very similar to Service 1. The MTBF is roughly translated into the average time a service is functional before encountering an issue that renders it unusable. Overall, Justin.tv demonstrated slightly better results with uptime. This is due to the fact that outages were very brief and more infrequent. However, the actual success in time of viewer ability to watch a stream was fairly similar in both Justin.tv and Service 1.

Service 2, Justin.tv, demonstrated similar results when compared with Service 1. As previously stated, the data in this report was collected over a period of 28 days with an interval of 5 minutes. On average, Justin.tv’s actual uptime over the 28 days was 94.66%. The outages were very brief, with a majority of them being less than 10 minutes in duration. The most noteworthy aspect of Justin.tv’s uptime was that 82.4% of the outages resulted in a viewer unable to watch a stream. This number correlates to how often maintenance and other issues result in the site being completely down and inhospitable for viewers.

Service 3

Indeed, Ustream is a significantly popular service. As a result, it’s known for its light server load and high performance, good for environments that have underpowered hardware or unstable internet connections. Ustream also offers the most advanced adaptive bitrate technology available, which will also help maintain smooth playback when viewers experience fluctuating bandwidth conditions. However, all these features come with a cost. Ustream only offers its higher quality streaming capabilities with its premium plans, and as a result, users must fork over a large amount of money. From personal use, anyone with a free Ustream channel can tell you that the quality settings provided for free channels are abysmal, only offering a dated low-resolution player that does not use the full capabilities of modern widescreen monitors. While premium channels do get access to HD and SD broadcasting, the cost to achieve that quality will be around $100-500 a month. One other possible negative about Ustream is the fact that recorded content only stays on its servers for a maximum of 30 days for some channels.

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