RTMP or HLS for Optimal Video Streaming Experience

9 min read
March 12, 2024

Looking for a streaming experience that flows seamlessly without interruptions? The key lies in choosing the right protocol! Our guide dives deep into the realm of HLS and RTMP, uncovering their strengths and weaknesses to help you select the perfect fit for your needs. 

Whether you're passionate about immersive virtual meetings or crave flawless on-demand movies, we're here to elevate your viewing pleasure to new heights! Ready to say goodbye to buffering blues and stream like a pro? Let's dive in and unlock the world of uninterrupted entertainment!

Table of Contents

  1. What is HLS?
  2. Advantages of HLS
  3. Disadvantages of HLS
  4. What is RTMP?
  5. Advantages of RTMP
  6. Disadvantages of RTMP
  7. Differences between HLS and RTMP
  8. Best HLS and RTMP alternative
  9. Advantages of WebRTC over HLS and RTMP
  10. Disadvantages of WebRTC
  11. Enhancing video conferencing with Digital Samba: Harnessing the power of WebRTC
  12. Conclusion

What is HLS?

HTTP Live Streaming, or HLS, is a video streaming protocol created by Apple. It works by breaking down the video stream into small files called segments, which are stored on a web server. HLS also creates a master playlist that provides instructions for finding and playing back these video segments sequentially. When someone wants to play the video stream, the HLS protocol communicates with the web server to deliver the segments. The video is assembled from these parts and played back to the viewer.

One of HLS's primary advantages is its capacity to adjust the video stream's quality according to the user's network speed. It seamlessly switches between lower or higher-quality segments as necessary, effectively minimising buffering. This adaptability makes it particularly suitable for streaming video calls, smoothly accommodating bandwidth fluctuations mid-call. Moreover, since HLS operates on standard web servers, it seamlessly functions across a wide array of modern devices and browsers, eliminating the need for additional plugins. Additionally, with built-in encryption and captioning features, HLS fulfils the criteria for secure and inclusive video calling experiences over the internet.

Advantages of HLS

HLS technology has revolutionised the way we consume video content online. It offers a range of benefits that enhance the viewing experience for audiences worldwide. Here are some key advantages of using HLS for streaming media:

Incorporating HLS into your streaming solution can significantly improve the user experience, offering a seamless, high-quality, and secure way to deliver content to a global audience.

Disadvantages of HLS

While HLS reigns supreme in many streaming scenarios, it isn't perfect. Here are some potential drawbacks to consider:

Remember, the ideal streaming solution depends on your specific needs and priorities. Weigh these potential downsides against HLS's strengths to make an informed decision.

What is RTMP?

RTMP, or Real-Time Messaging Protocol, is a way to get live audio, video, and data onto a streaming server over the internet, allowing them to be played smoothly and in real-time for viewers. While historically used for direct playback in web browsers (via Flash Player), modern web environments rely on servers to convert RTMP streams into formats compatible with HTML5 technologies.

RTMP sets up an ongoing connection for smooth, low-delay information transfer. It lets you broadcast live video streams or send video files directly to a server. RTMP can adapt to internet speed and bandwidth changes to avoid buffering, ensuring high-quality video keeps playing with no interruptions.

Initially introduced in 2002 by Macromedia, RTMP enhances standard TCP internet communication by incorporating additional functionalities such as simultaneous data streams, packet fragmentation, and control messages. These enhancements are crucial for effectively coordinating timing and synchronisation, particularly in streaming contexts. Moreover, RTMP facilitates encryption and login capabilities, making it suitable for securing private streams.

With capabilities like low latency, adaptive bitrates, and multipart streaming, RTMP is a robust and scalable protocol for the initial stage of real-time multimedia communication over the internet. 

Advantages of RTMP

Want your live streams to feel like you're broadcasting straight from the action ground? For getting your content to the server quickly, RTMP is a strong choice. Here's what makes RTMP valuable for this specific use case:

Disadvantages of RTMP

While RTMP has its strengths, it's necessary to be aware of the limitations in the modern streaming landscape:

RTMP continues to hold significant value in the arsenal of live streaming tools, thanks to its impressive low latency and versatile nature. Recognising its primary role as an ingestion protocol rather than the comprehensive end-to-end solution it was previously perceived as is essential for harnessing its full potential in contemporary streaming configurations.

Differences between HLS and RTMP

When it comes to online video streaming, two protocols reign supreme: HLS and RTMP. But choosing between them can be confusing, especially for newbies. Understanding the key differences between HLS and RTMP is crucial for making an informed decision. Let's break it down using some vital parameters:

Delivery method:

  • HLS: Think of it like a postman delivering pre-packaged parcels (video segments) over the internet. It uses the familiar HTTP protocol, making it readily accessible by most devices and browsers.
  • RTMP: Imagine a dedicated courier service continuously streaming data in real-time. This protocol offers a persistent connection, ideal for low-latency applications.

Device compatibility:

  • HLS: Because it uses the HTTP protocol, HLS is seen as the king of cross-platform compatibility! It works seamlessly on desktops, mobiles, tablets, and smart TVs, making it ideal for reaching a broad audience.
  • RTMP: Basically used for stream ingestion nowadays. Many modern browsers do not support it.


  • HLS: Videos are delivered in segments. Hence, HLS is a master of adjusting here! It delivers multiple versions of your video at different bitrates, allowing viewers with varying internet speeds to enjoy a smooth experience. This is called adaptive bitrate streaming.
  • RTMP: Less flexible. It delivers a single video stream, which might cause buffering issues for viewers with slower connections.


  • HLS: Takes a slight time before reaching viewers, resulting in slightly higher latency (delay). This is due to its segmented nature and reliance on HTTP requests.
  • RTMP: Delivers video in real-time and offers lower latency. It is ideal for live streams where minimal delay is crucial, like online gaming or live auctions.


  • HLS: Can be secured with HTTPS and DRM (Digital Rights Management) to protect your content from unauthorised access.
  • RTMP: Traditionally less secure than HLS, but secure versions like RTMPS are available.

Ease of use:

  • HLS: Generally easier to set up and manage, especially with readily available libraries and tools.
  • RTMP: It might require more technical expertise for configuration and deployment.

Use cases:

  • HLS: Perfect for on-demand video streaming, live streams with moderate latency requirements, and reaching a wide audience across various devices.
  • RTMP: Ideal for low-latency live streams like online gaming, live auctions, and interactive applications where minimal delay is essential.

Remember, the best protocol depends on your specific needs. Consider factors like target audience, latency requirements, budget, and technical expertise before choosing one.

Best HLS and RTMP alternative

As you weigh the strengths and weaknesses of both HLS and RTMP, you might find yourself questioning if there's a superior option out there. Prepare to be amazed because the answer lies in WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication), a robust alternative that adeptly tackles the limitations of its predecessors.

WebRTC is a revolutionary technology built right into modern browsers. This eliminates the need for plugins or additional software, making it incredibly accessible and user-friendly. It shines in real-time communication, offering low latency and smooth performance, similar to RTMP. Additionally, WebRTC boasts built-in security features, including encryption and authentication, for peace of mind when streaming sensitive content.

Advantages of WebRTC over HLS and RTMP

Disadvantages of WebRTC

Enhancing video conferencing with Digital Samba: harnessing the power of WebRTC

The Digital Samba SDK/API, powered by the amazing WebRTC technology, lets you add high-quality video calls to your apps or websites with just a few clicks and customisation.

This means anyone, anywhere, can join your meeting easily, regardless of their device selection. Thanks to our powerful central media server, WebRTC delivers crystal-clear audio and video, even with limited bandwidth. Say goodbye to choppy visuals and frustrating lags!

But Digital Samba doesn't stop there. We take WebRTC to the next level by adding powerful features like screen sharing, live document editing, and interactive whiteboards. That means your video calls become dynamic hubs for real-time collaboration. Imagine brainstorming together, annotating documents in real-time, and presenting ideas side-by-side—all within the same virtual space.


Selecting the best protocol is akin to choosing the perfect outfit – it all depends on the occasion. If your priority is reaching a wide audience with on-demand content or live streams with moderate latency, HLS is the ideal choice. For ultra-low latency live streams where every millisecond counts, RTMP is unrivalled. However, if you're in search of a versatile, secure, and future-proof option, exploring WebRTC is highly recommended.

So, carefully assess your needs, take your audience into account, and always remember: the right protocol has the power to elevate your streaming experience from ordinary to extraordinary.

If you want to add high-quality video conferencing functionality to your app, try Digital Samba, an easy-to-use video conferencing platform with broad streaming capabilities. Create a free account to get 10,000 HD-quality video call minutes and enjoy smooth video streaming.

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