S T R I V E C A S T
December 7th, 2019

Adaptive HTTP Streaming Technologies: HLS vs. DASH

Adaptive HTTP Streaming Technologies: HLS vs. DASH

You’re into Live Streaming and don’t know whether to use HLS or DASH? You’re new to the Live Streaming and want to get to know about the technical side behind it?

This article about HLS vs. DASH will help you with your decision by giving you an insight into the technical side.

First things first: What are streaming protocols?

A streaming protocol is a standardized format for delivering multimedia content. Every time someone watches a live stream or an on-demand video via a P2P CDN, a streaming protocol is used.

Simply put, streaming protocols define how content (or rather „chunks of content“) are sent from one device to another and how they are reassembled into playable content. Consequently, it is imperative that the receiving device supports the protocol used by the sending device. For example, a stream sent in HLS won’t work if the receiver’s device doesn´t support this format.

This is the reason why standardization is so important. The industry of adaptive HTTP streaming technologies is currently led by Apple with HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and the internationally standardized Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP from MPEG, MPEG-DASH. There is also Microsoft Smooth Streaming (MSS) and HDS, HTTP Dynamic Streaming, from Adobe.

As already mentioned, HLS and DASH are currently market leaders, which is the reason why this article deals only with these two adaptive HTTP streaming technologies.

hls vs dash, Adaptive HTTP Streaming Technologies: HLS vs. DASH

What is HLS?

description HLS streaming
Sample flow of an HLS video stream

Instead of using a single video file, HLS separates a video into many small parts. As video codec you have to use H264 to encode the normally 10 seconds long .ts files. A separate .m3u8 file then links to these chunks. This text file, specially formatted for HLS, also contains metadata about the stream. It is extremely important that a .m3u8 file can link to other .m3u8 files. Thus, only the current .ts chunks will be loaded into the video player and can be displayed. 

The video quality can be automatically adjusted if the available bandwidth is too low. For example, if a user watches a stream in the highest video quality and the system notices that the download of a .ts chunk takes longer than its playback length, the video is automatically resumed in the next lower quality. This prevents the video from constantly having to buffer. 

Because HLS was developed by Apple, it is currently the only method that supports video streaming on iOS devices (iPads and iPhones)

What is DASH?

dash chart
Sample flow of a DASH video stream

Similar to HLS, DASH splits a large video file into many small sections. These are normally slightly shorter than the HLS standard of 10 seconds, namely only 2-4 seconds. Unlike HLS, DASH does not require a specific video codec, so the successor version H265 can be used instead of H264. Instead of a .m3u8 file, DASH uses a so-called media presentation description file (.mpd) as a manifest. Its functionality is the same as that of a .m3u8 file.

Unlike HLS, there is no universal DRM solution for DASH. DASH requires Widevine from Google and PlayReady from Microsoft to deliver video content.

hls vs dash, Adaptive HTTP Streaming Technologies: HLS vs. DASH

HSL vs DASH: A Comparison

Now let’s compare some features of HLS vs DASH. These, of course, do not give a hundred percent statement about the usability of the corresponding software but are intended to provide a brief overview.

Usage on standard
HTTP servers

Both HLS and DASH can be used on regular HTTP servers such as Nginx, Apache and similar.

Multiple audio channels


Especially with multilingual content, it is important to be able to switch between different audio channels of the individual languages. This is possible with both DASH and HLS.

Subtitles and captions


To add subtitles to a video, a separate file is usually created, which can have the WebVTT format, for example. This is then referenced from the manifest (i.e. the .m3u8 or .mpd file).

Inserting advertising

In general, it is possible to insert advertising into a live stream at both HLS and DASH. To do so, individual video chunks are simply exchanged. DASH provides an effective method for this: A standardized interface allows advertising to be inserted effectively.

Fast channel switching

How quickly you can switch between individual channels depends on the largest of the sub-segments (chunks). The smaller the chunks, the faster a channel can be changed. As already mentioned in the introduction, chunks are usually about 10 seconds long with HLS, whereas they are usually 2 to 4 seconds long with DASH. So DASH is one step ahead in this respect.

Small chunks also have the disadvantage that they reduce the efficiency of the code. Playlists with small chunks have to be updated more often than playlists with larger chunks. This means that playlists containing shorter video segments must be updated more often by an HTTP.

Recap

HLS and DASH have their advantages and disadvantages. HLS is the older product and has slightly fewer features than DASH. But DASH doesn’t offer iOS support and so it depends on what kind of live stream you want to offer yourself. Before you decide on one of the two adaptive live stream technologies, you should first consider which features you need and which audience you want to reach. 

Of course, you can also use both services, but you need twice as much storage space as the content has to be encoded twice. It also states that DASH may soon be subject to a charge. This would speak against the use of DASH and for the use of HLS.

At Strive, we use HLS by default because a unified DRM solution can be used and the full range of viewers including iOS users is covered. On request, we are also able to realize your live stream with the help of DASH.

About StriveCast

StriveCast is a leading technology provider for eCDN solutions. Our WebRTC-based P2P mesh network is used by large companies like Swisscom, Siemens, Gazprom, and NEP group to solve the problem of network congestion during live events. Based in Germany, we are constantly improving and adapting our cutting-edge P2P technology in order to provide the next generation of enterprise video delivery. Today, StriveCast connects over 150,000 users worldwide on a daily basis, saving customers up to 95% of CDN traffic with a unique server-side-managed Peer-To-Peer network.

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