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What is HLS and why you should care

hls http live streaming protocolThe dreaded “THE ADOBE FLASH PLAYER IS REQUIRED FOR VIDEO PLAYBACK. GET THE LASTEST FLASH PLAYER” message. Or perhaps you’ve seen “This content requires Flash”. Either way, you’re most likely on an Apple computer or device trying to watch a video in your browser. But you can’t because it uses Flash, a video format created by Adobe.

You get that error message because Apple doesn’t like Flash. There are many reasons for it, good reasons too. If you really want to know why, you can read Apple’s “Thoughts on Flash” written by Steve Jobs (the company has not changed its position since the original posting in 2010).

Apple supports many other formats and protocols however. In fact, they’ve created one of their own: HTTP Live Streaming, or HLS.

HLS is an adaptive, or multi-bitrate, streaming protocol. This means it checks the conditions on the viewer’s device and adjusts the bitrate up or down to provide the best experience. The viewer can request a different bitrate at any time during playback too.

Why HLS matters

While Apple developed HLS for its own use (to stream to iOS and OSX devices), it has become one of the standard protocols supported by most players and streaming servers.

Mobile devices using the Android operating systems after 4.x (Gingerbread or Honeycomb) also support HLS. As with everything Android, the fragmentation of the market means not every version or every device supports HLS the same. Compatibility though, is better with each new release of Android and mobile devices.

According to, Android and iOS devices account for over 85% of the mobile market. And many of the mobile operating systems in the remaining 15% support HLS too. That means if you use HLS, the overwhelming majority of mobile users will be able to view your video on their device.

More importantly, viewers will see your video optimised for their current situation. If they are using a Wi-Fi hotspot they can get the full HD experience. If they are on a 3G network experiencing congestion, they will automatically be shown the SD version at the appropriate bitrate.

And HLS supports both live and on demand video too so you can always have the option of using it.

If you have questions about using HLS for your live or on demand streaming, we can help. Talk with us via live chat, email, or call to speak with our streaming experts.

Oliver Burt

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