CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — Here at Wild Hits, we run an EDM format for an online audience. Like any other format, we want minimal hassle to get new people listening but we also want a high-quality stream that works well over cellular connections. That’s especially important, since a lot of what we play might not be a brand name artist in the U.S.
If you’re like me, you don’t think about your stream encoder very much. That’s a good thing. We just want something that works reliably and doesn’t degrade the audio any further than the codec requires.
Encoding for broadcast is the primary focus of StreamS’ business. The conmpany was founded by Greg Ogonowski, who has more knowledge about audio processing and encoding in his little pinky than I have in my whole body. Like you would expect, the StreamS encoder is industrial-grade software. The encoder runs as a service (as does the Optimod software). A Windows desktop application is provided to allow for configuration.
If you’re new to HLS, here’s a short primer. Most of us stream to an Icecast server (or some variant of Icecast) provided by a broadcast streaming provider. If you’re lucky, like me, your server runs on Port 80, so there won’t be any firewall issues. However, you might not be so lucky. Your encoder is making a proprietary connection using the Icecast protocol to deliver the live stream audio. Your listeners, in turn, make a connection using software that understands the Icecast protocol, as well. You also pick one bitrate to run. So if you want a nicer-sounding stream for desktop users, you need to create a separate Icecast mount on the server (cha-ching), you also need to have your web person redesign your page to create new links to your new bitrate stream (cha-ching).
HLS eliminates those problems. You no longer require an Icecast server at all. You just use any plain FTP server that also has an HTTP/web interface. All stream listening happens over Port 80, by definition. Your website already likely has what you need. The audio is still encoded using whatever codec you want to use (this product only supports AAC and its variants). Once encoded, small chunks of audio are uploaded to the FTP server. On the receiving side, the player stitches the small chunks of audio back together for a seamless experience. It’s that simple, but you’ll want to think through things like user accounts and permissions for a production installation. If you have a web provider that already supports HLS, they’ve likely worked out those details for you.
Do you want to provide multiple bitrates for different kinds of users? Do you even want the player to sort of automatically figure out which bitrate it can support? HLS has you covered there, too. You upload your audio “stream” to one main folder, and various bitrates can exist within that folder. This all uses a standard naming convention that HLS capable players will understand.
So what about the StreamS encoder? It’s good. I had relatively little trouble getting it up and running, and I refuse to read manuals! To actually get the audio to the server, they support FTPS (not SFTP) and regular FTP. I wish they did support SFTP, because then it would work out of the box on virtually every Linux server known to mankind. However, you can use VSFTP on Linux to provide an FTP server. Again, for a real installation, that’s not what you want. FTP is a highly insecure protocol where your credentials are shipped to the server in the clear. So take the time (or ask your provider to take the time) to get you a secure FTP/FTPS interface to the server.
The audio provided by the AAC encoder is great. This is a professional implementation of the codec, so you know the kinks were worked out long ago. The benefits of HE-AAC at low bitrates were established about 11 years ago, so I’m not going to bore you with those details. Both the HLS and legacy encoders have been updated to support the nascent xHE-AAC codec. Unfortunately, apps that can play this codec are only available on iOS platforms, so I was unable to test this exciting new codec.
As a final bonus, the user interface for the configuration application is attractive and uses a dark theme, which is easy on the eyes. Overall, I give the StreamS encoder a thumbs-up. It isn’t going to let you down. You’re going to set it up and walk away, just like you want.
For information, contact John Schaab at StreamS at 940-206-7702 or visit www.streamindex.com.