30 Jan 2017

Why use a media server, anyway?

Hello readers,

As mentioned before by Jaron, I will kick off the first post. I will be giving a short and simple overview on why you would want a media server instead of other solutions like a regular web server. I’ll feature what I think are the four biggest reasons to use a media server in favor of the alternatives.

1. Superior handling of media files means guaranteed delivery

As a media server specializes in media, it should come as no surprise that it will have superior handling of media files when compared to other solutions. A true media server can take your source file and make sure it gets to your viewer regardless of the chosen delivery method. The most important feature of any solution is to make sure your media works in any situation on any device.

Alternatives often cannot handle this transmuxing and must stick to the type of media prepared in advance, forcing your users to use a certain player, plugin or delivery method. Even worse is that when that method isn't supported by their device/system, they will not be able to watch at all! Especially hosting a live stream can become a chore if you don't have a media server, as most consumer-grade live streaming is based on RTMP, which is disappearing in favor of HTML5-capable methods.

A media server alleviates this problem by transmuxing the stream, making sure it can be viewed by anyone at any time, whether it is a live or on demand stream.

2. Deeper analysis is possible through media servers

Because media servers can handle media so much better they also allow deeper insight in how your media is consumed. You'll be able to see just what part of your media files or live streams is most popular, how many viewers you've had and through what protocol or device they've connected.

If you are not using a media server you will most likely be stuck with just a viewer count and are not sure if they watched the entire thing or just a part of it. Furthermore, the viewer count may well be off by a significant amount when using segmented delivery methods, as it becomes hard to track single views when these delivery methods are used.

Using the deeper knowledge you gain about your users allows you to decide where your focus for media should be and how to keep your viewers interested, or what area you could try to grow next.

3. Keep on growing

Probably the most forgotten feature of media servers is that you will be able to keep growing, taking advantage of the newest developments and innovations in streaming media at practically no extra cost. Media servers specialize in developing and implementing features that improve your media delivery, making sure you will always be caught up with the latest innovations.

Implementing these new features, protocols or outputs yourself is a full-time job. Streaming media developments happen so quickly that settling for a system that isn’t keeping up with developments will most likely render your entire media chain outdated or unusable within just a few years.

As an example: using flash players was considered a good, stable and proven solution just a few years ago. These days, the Flash plugin is blocked automatically by the majority of consumer browsers.

4. User-oriented, content-aware connection handling

Using a media server allows you to customize every user's experience individually. This means that you are able to change the experience of a single viewer without affecting the experience of others.

Web servers usually send the entire file at the speed they have available, meaning that even if your viewers do not watch the entire video they will still have received the largest part of it. This means bandwidth is wasted, and bandwidth costs are often the highest costs you have when running a media service.

Media servers are able to send media in a real-time sense, which means viewers will have downloaded just a bit more than they have watched. This can easily save you hundreds of GBs of bandwidth. This also means that when your platform grows, the savings of using a media server grow proportionally.

Besides saving bandwidth this user oriented connection handling also allows for several other tricks, which Erik will highlight in the next blog post.