HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is an adaptive streaming technology created by Apple for streaming to iDevices, and submitted by the company to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for more general use. Over the last two months, both Google and Adobe have added HLS support to key products in their portfolio, which probably means that other mobile vendors, like BlackBerry, HP and Microsoft Phone will fall in line.
By way of background, HLS already has significant support on the delivery side, with Microsoft supporting delivery to iOS devices in IIS Media Services since early 2010, and Wowza Media Server supporting HLS delivery since April 2009. More recently, Google added HTTP Live Streaming support to Android version 3.0, which was announced in February, 2011. Here’s a blurb from the Android 3 Highlights document, “Applications can now pass an M3U playlist URL to the media framework to begin an HTTP Live streaming session. The media framework supports most of the HTTP Live streaming specification, including adaptive bit rate.”
Android 3 also supports Flash, so now video producers have two alternatives for distributing adaptive streaming to Android devices, Flash and HLS. What about HP webOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices?
On the webOS (formerly Palm) discussion board, one thread titled “Apple Live Streaming” asked about support for HLS. Unwired Ben, who appears to be an HP employee, commented on April 1, 2011, “We’ve been looking into HTTP Live Streaming, but I don’t think there will be an implementation in webOS 3.0.”
Flash doesn’t run on Windows Phone 7 , though Silverlight does, making Smooth Streaming the best (and perhaps only) way to adaptively stream to that platform. I was unable to find any indications on the Microsoft or RIM (BlackBerry) sites as to whether HTTP Live Streaming support was forthcoming or even under consideration.
HLS Support by Adobe
At NAB 2011, Adobe announced support for HTTP Live Streaming in both the Flash Media Server and Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder. Here are the relevant quotes from Adobe product manager Kevin Towes.
As we continue to evolve [HTTP Dynamic Streaming] we will be adding support for another format, HTTP Live Streaming (HLS). HLS is an MPEG2 transport stream (container) used by devices such as the Apple iPad 2. By adding support for HLS within the Flash Media Server, Adobe is reducing the publishing complexity for broadcasters who need to reach browsers supporting HLS through HTML5 (such as Safari) or devices where Adobe Flash is not installed. Where Flash is installed, Flash Media Server packages the stream using MPEG4-fragments (F4F) to deliver video over HTTP to Flash
We also began previewing the next version of Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder, which can capture a live broadcast stream and publish out to multiple devices including Android, Apple iOS and Samsung TVs.
By integrating HLS into both products, Adobe is making it easier for their customers to deliver adaptive video into the Flash and iOS environments, which are the two most critical targets for streaming producers. If the uncommitted mobile vendors end up implementing HTTP Live Streaming as well, it will make things easier for all streaming producers.