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Recommended Host for Streaming Audio/Video
What is Streaming Hosting?
If you produce audio and video content, you may need a web host that supports streaming media. Not all of them do. In addition, you'll need a host that can cope with potential traffic spikes without downtime, and it'll need to support the type of content that you intend to publish or distribute.
Is your website the next YouTube? Pandora? Spotify? If your goal is to provide video or audio on demand to your site's users, you need streaming hosting. OK, so maybe your site's not quite that big yet. Regardless, if you plan to stream movies, music, or video or audio files of any kind, streaming hosting is what will keep that media running smoothly with fewer snags and interruptions.
Not all hosting plans can accommodate the resources it takes to stream audio or video files. Streaming hosting is specialized for media sharing. Imagine how frustrating it would be for your users to sit through a video that constantly stops and starts. Or for them to try to listen to music only to have their favorite songs cut off. How many of those visitors do you think would return to your site? Right.
Streaming hosting alleviates those kinds of issues. Some hosts that offer streaming plans are making them available via cloud hosting, which takes much of the burden of streaming off the local computer, speeding things up and increasing fidelity and reliability.
Many streaming audio/video hosting providers also offer managed hosting, removing much of the day-to-day management and maintenance from your plate, and you can be there's more to be done with a media-streaming site.
If what you plan to stream is anything along the lines of webinars, tutorials, or industry leader interviews, you may want to look for a host that archives your streaming media. This way, should anything happen to your site, you'll be able to recover that data, and continue to provide service to your customers and listeners.
Why Use Streaming?
Over the last decade, streaming sites have sprung up all over the web. YouTube is perhaps the most common, but there are thousands. Why would you want to bypass these established services and set up your own streaming service?
There are a few reasons:
- Streaming gives you more control over the way content is distributed
- You can host content for other users using a membership system, possibly charging a fee
- Your content doesn't need to be associated with anyone else's brand or website
- It's easier (though not hassle-free) to host content that other sites may not publish
- You can create your own niche
Note that publishing your own content isn't going to protect you from the law. If a site like YouTube won't allow something because it's copyrighted (or controversial), your web host will probably have the same opinion. However, some hosts do have more relaxed rules about what's allowed to be streamed.
Features to Look For
When looking for hosting for a streaming site, you're looking for reliability, resources, storage and speed.
- Reliability: If your goal is to provide streaming media, your server needs to be constantly online. If media disappears half way through streaming, it's going to frustrate people, and users are unlikely to revisit the site. 100 per cent uptime is not common in the web hosting industry, and when you find it, it's not cheap.
- Resources: While a typical shared hosting plan may be marketed as 'unlimited', you'll run into problems fairly quickly, since your usage is going to be disproportionate and could cause issues for other users. You need sufficient bandwidth to handle massive amounts of data flowing from your host to your users, and the flexibility to cope with spikes in demand.
- Storage: Where are all your media files going to be stored? Rather than opting for a massive disk space limit, you should consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Read on for more information.
- Speed: There's nothing more frustrating than a video, or audio track, that continually stops and starts. Make sure you have speed on your side. Choose a server location close to your users, use a CDN and consider Solid State Drives (SSDs) if your host offers them.
A VPS is the minimum you should buy for a streaming site, although serious sites use dedicated servers so that they run a completely isolated environment. Cloud hosting is also worth considering, since your site will be served from multiple servers in a cluster, which should help it cope with peak demand and downtime.
Additionally, your server must specifically support the streaming technology that you want to use. Many hosts offer HTTP streaming on entry level or mid-cost hosting plans, but this limits you to older technologies like RealPlayer and Windows Media Player. For anything more complex, such as streaming Flash video, you'll need something like FFMpeg instead.
What About a CDN?
On our blog, we've referred to the CDN as a game-changing technology for hosting. Since web hosting customers are producing more content, the CDN is really coming into its own, and streaming media is one of its many specialties.
With a CDN, your streaming content is hosted in multiple locations (in your area, or around the world), so it's served more quickly no matter where the user is based. The technology is ideal for any website that needs very high uptime and good speeds, and is used by gaming giant Steam for this purpose.
If your hosting provider doesn't offer media streaming, you could use a third party CDN to bridge the gap. However, this means you have to deal with two providers just to publish your posts or content. Additionally, not all CDN providers will allow you to stream media, so check the specs carefully. Amazon S3 doesn't. You'll also nee to weigh up the pros and cons of push vs pull CDNs.
CDNs are very powerful, but they add a layer of complexity and a secondary cost. To conclude: keep it simple, if you can. Choose a host that offers a robust streaming service. If you have the perfect host but no streaming support, a CDN could be the answer.
Streaming media is the future, and that future is now. Provide video or audio to your audience and customers by using a reliable streaming host.
Streaming Audio/Video Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What is streaming?
Streaming is a way of delivering multimedia content on demand over the internet.
What's a typical use case?
With streaming, you can also serve live content in real time, which is a key advantage over other methods. For example, you could host a radio show and stream the audio live to listeners on your website.
Some website owners also create video content and serve streaming versions on their website, bypassing sites like YouTube.
Why would I need support for streaming on my hosting account?
Streaming audio or video can be consumed as it is received, so it's ideal for websites that want to deliver audio or video without lengthy downloads. Most users prefer to stream media content, rather than waiting for the whole file to download before they can play it, and streaming offers that convenience.
Is streaming video or audio supported by all web hosting companies?
No. Many hosts will ask that you purchase a VPS or dedicated server. Streaming is supported on some shared hosting packages, but it is not a standard feature because of the server resource it consumes. Be sure to check the host's technical specifications carefully to find out which streaming media file types are supported, and what its acceptable use policy is.
Do hosting packages with streaming cost more than regular hosting?
Not necessarily, but you will certainly find that you need additional resources. Video and audio media files are much larger than HTML files, images, and scripts, so you will need a much larger disk space allowance. Additionally, video and audio use up a lot of bandwidth, and purchasing a high-bandwidth plan can be expensive.
Can I be penalized for streaming content on a shared hosting account?
Few shared hosting accounts support streaming in the true sense. If yours does, your host will expect you to use it sparingly. Excessive consumption of resources will impact other users on your server, and you will probably be asked to upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server if that happens. Your host may bill you, or close your account, if your resource use is excessive.
Do I need streaming to embed video and audio on my website?
No. You can simply embed the file into your web page, and it will start playing as it is downloaded. This is called progressive downloading. It's less flexible than streaming, but it is sufficient if you only need to provide media occasionally.
What is the difference between streaming and progressive downloading?
From the user's point of view, streaming and progressive downloading are similar. Behind the scenes, there are some differences.
With streaming, the data isn’t (normally) being saved to disk, but is being played as it is downloaded. This means that you can create live streams (like radio shows), and the user can listen in near-real time.
With progressive downloading, the user’s computer begins to download the media file to disk, and then starts playing it as soon as there is enough data to start playback. This is a similar experience, but it can result in more buffering, and it can't be used for live broadcasts.
What is buffering?
Buffering occurs when the user's connection speed is too slow to download the file as it is played. When a file buffers, playback pauses to allow the next section of the file to be retrieved. Playback then automatically resumes.
Most media players will download a portion of the file before streaming begins. This provides a cushion against buffering. However, users with slow or intermittent connections may experience buffering no matter how you serve the content.
What is the difference between live streaming and on-demand streaming?
Normally, your viewer/ listener cannot cannot pause, rewind, or fast-forward when streaming, because the file is not necessarily being stored on disk first. On-demand streaming means that the file has been created already, and is saved on the server. The viewer can open it at any time, and use a timeline to skip forward or back.
Can the person streaming the content save it to disk?
Technically, yes, but it doesn't normally happen by default. The user would need to have special software, like VLC Player, to record the stream locally.
What software will the end user need to play streaming video or audio?
This depends on the file type that you use. Most web browsers have streaming audio and video players built in, so with many standard streaming media files, your views or listeners will not need any additional software. In some cases, they may need to install a plugin or codec. The browser should detect this and guide them through the process.
Some streaming content publishers will create apps for their own streams, which are just generic stream players packaged with a branded UI and information about the stream’s broadcasting source.
What is a codec?
A codec is a specific format used for encoding and decoding a streaming audio or video file. Different players support different codecs, and it's possible to download additional codecs for some players.
As a broadcaster, it's best to select a codec that is supported on the most popular browsers and devices.
Why are there so many codec formats?
There is no single industry standard, and no one codec is superior to the others. Some people prefer certain codecs because of file size, quality, processing speed, or device interoperability.
Are there any alternatives to streaming on my own server?
If you're running your own audio or video website, you probably need control of your own files, which is where streaming support is useful. No other solution offers this control.
But if you just want to embed content, and you don't need that control, you can upload your content to YouTube, Vimeo, or Soundcloud. You use the third party to host your media, and then link to it dynamically from your own website. This provides reduced storage and bandwidth costs, and a larger potential audience, as well as automatic reformatting for different connection speeds and screen sizes.