From WebRTC to HTTP Streaming to WebSockets: What will replace Flash?

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — With Adobe announcing over the summer that it will end support for its Flash video player in 2020, and many popular browsers including Chrome and Safari already having phased out the software, the search is on for a new go-to video player technology that will work on a wide assortment of devices. 

As it turns out, there’s no one magic bullet that will let will fit every OTT video distributor. At Streaming Media West last week, Robert Reinhardt, CTO of videoRx, showcased the benefits and drawbacks for a number of potential player replacement technologies. 

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is an HTTP-based media streaming communications protocol implemented by Apple as part of its QuickTime, Safari, OS X and iOS software. It’s broadly supported across the technology stack—encoders, servers and and playback devices. It’s cost effective for most content models, and it supports new video codecs, Reinhardt said. The drawbacks, he noted, are that HTTP Streaming has very high latency (10 to 30 seconds) and its utility is limited to one-to-many broadcast uses. 

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications) is a collection of protocols and interfaces that enable communications over peer-to-peer connections. The upshot of WebRTC, Reinhardt said, is that it’s supported as an option for most browsers, and its available now for Safari iOS 11. It utilizes APIs in browsers and supports multiple codecs. The drawbacks, he said, are that it lacks compatibility with older browsers. And as of right now, the specification is only in the working draft phase. 

RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) is a network control protocol designed for use in entertainment and communications systems to control streaming media servers. The benefits, according to Reinhardt, are that it’s supported by some layers of the tech stack (encoders and servers) and that it has very low latency. The drawbacks: It’s not available in browsers, and is ripe with potential port/firewall restrictions. 

WebSocket is a communications protocol providing full-duplex channels over a single TCP connection. Reinhardt said it’s supported by more browsers than WebRTC is and it has very low latency. But it’s difficult to scale, he added, and its also troubled by potential port/firewall restrictions. 

“Considering Adobe’s recent announcement providing an end of support date for Flash, you need to be ready for a Flash-less world,” Reinhardt said.