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HTML5 Live Video Streaming via WebSockets

When I build my Instant Webcam App, I was searching for solutions to stream live video from the iPhone's Camera to browsers. There were none.

When it comes to (live) streaming video with HTML5, the situation is pretty dire. HTML5 Video currently has no formalized support for streaming whatsoever. Safari supports the awkward HTTP Live Streaming and there's an upcomming Media Source Extension standard as well as MPEG-DASH. But all these solutions divide the video in shorter segments, each of which can be downloaded by the browser individually. This introduces a minimum lag of 5 seconds.

So here's a totally different solution that works in any modern browser: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Mobile Safari, Chrome for Android and even Internet Explorer 10.

Please use a browser that supports the Canvas Element, like Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer 10

A live view at recording from our office in Darmstadt, Germany. For a live streaming example, please check the free iOS app instead.

It's quite backwards, uses outdated technology and doesn't support audio at the moment. But it works. Surprisingly well.

The Camera Video is encoded by ffmpeg sent to a tiny nodejs script over HTTP that simply distributes the MPEG stream via WebSockets to all connected Browsers. The Browser then decodes the MPEG stream in JavaScript and renders the decoded pictures into a Canvas Element.

You can even use a Raspberry Pi to stream the video. It's a bit on the slow side, but In my tests it had no problem encoding 320x240 video on the fly with 30fps. This makes it the, to my knowledge, best video streaming solution for the Raspberry Pi right now.

Here's how to set this up. First get a current version of ffmpeg. Up to date packages are available at deb-multimedia. If you are on Linux, your Webcam should be available at /dev/video0 or /dev/video1. On OSX or Windows you may be able to feed ffmpeg through VLC somehow.

Make sure you have nodejs installed on the server through which you want to distribute the stream. Get the stream-server.js script from jsmpeg and change the default password at the top of the file. This password is there to ensure that no one can hijack the video stream.

Now install its dependency to the ws WebSocket package and start the server:

npm install ws
node stream-server.js yourpassword

You should see the following output when the server is running correctly:

Listening for MPEG Stream on http://127.0.0.1:8082/<secret>/<width>/<height>
Awaiting WebSocket connections on ws://127.0.0.1:8084/

With the server started, you can now start ffmpeg and point it to the domain and port where it is running:

ffmpeg -s 640x480 -f video4linux2 -i /dev/video0 -f mpeg1video \
-b 800k -r 30 http://example.com:8082/yourpassword/640/480/

This starts capturing the webcam video in 640x480 and encodes an MPEG video with 30fps and a bitrate of 800kbit/s. The encoded video is then sent to the specified host and port via HTTP. Make sure to provide the correct secret as specified in the stream-server.js. The width and height parameters in the destination URL also have to be set correctly; the stream server otherwise has no way to figure out the correct dimensions.

On the Raspberry Pi you will probably have to turn down the resolution to 320x240 to still be able to encode with 30fps.

To view the stream, get the stream-example.html and jsmpg.js from the jsmpeg project. Change the WebSocket URL in the stream-example.html to the one of your server and open it in your favorite browser.

If everything works, you should be able to see a smooth camera video with less than 100ms lag. Quite nice for such hackery and a humble MPEG decoder in JS.

Again, for an easier to use solution, check the Instant Webcam App.

Wednesday, September 11th 2013

55 Comments:

#1 – meh – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 16:42

What a novel solution, but what a fucking backwards step. It's 2013 and we still don't have ubiqous live streaming across browsers. end rant.

#2 – dude – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:07

what about webRTS? Can't it be leveraged somehow?

#3Simon – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:19

How have you managed to get the encoding on the iPhone that fast?
I tried to build something like this for a small project. I compiled ffmpeg for iOS and used it to encode a video stream. Maybe I did something wrong, but the encoder couldn't keep up with the camera, the resulting video was always very bad.

In the end, I just convert each video frame to a jpeg image. This is hardware accelerated on iOS devices and I managed to get ~20 fps on my local wifi. No fancy JavaScript mpeg decoder needed, I just reload the image every 0,05s and draw it on a canvas

#4 – john john – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:23

It's all fun and all, but there is no audio :P

#5 – joel – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:25

Hello, i am a research of video streaming. And i like your work !!

#6 – john john – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:26

I never met a research before

#7Robert Swain – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:27

Have you looked at fragmented mp4 or WebM?

#8wedtm – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 17:43

What's the difference between this and WebRTC?

#9Dominic – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 18:08

@Simon: I made the same discovery at first. Encoding MPEG1 seemed very slow on iOS. However, I found out that the ffmpeg build script I used disabled all ARM optimizations. Maybe you had the same issue:
github.com/kolyvan/kxmovie/issues/55#issuecomment-20847017

With this, I got about ~20fps of 320x240 video on the iPhone4. I then used the profiler to find some bottlenecks in ffmpeg and re-wrote some of them with ARM NEON instructions. I'll probably write a blog post about this in the coming days.

@wedtm: WebRTC isn't available everywhere (this here works on iOS and android for instance) and implementing it in your own native App (i.e. like my iPhone App) seems impossibly complicated. I still have some research to do about this, though.

#10Ray Brooks – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 18:31

Hey, this is great news! I was trying for an HTML5 streaming solution for a while (woeful native support drove me elsewhere and I will endeavour to check out your technique as soon as I can), but in the meantime, have you seen my streaming solution on the R-Pi forum? It uses a Strobe Player for H264 decoding, which the Pi supplies natively, and I have full HD video at 30fps in the browser with less than 1/2 second delay.

#11Christopher Elwell – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 18:36

Works surprisingly well. But, as stated, no audio?

#12 – foo – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 19:04

Can you not do this leveraging the GPU on the Pi? ffmpeg -f h264 instead or does jsmpeg not support h264?

#13Ankur Oberoi – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 19:11

Great job getting this to work on low-scale hardware!

If you or anyone else is still trying to get video streaming from iOS to a browser (or vice-versa, or iOS to iOS, or web to web even) OpenTok is a pretty great solution.

#14Criação – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 19:20

A nice solution anyway! Thanks a lot for this!

#15Anthony Catel – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 19:31

It's awkward that in 2013 we have to complexify design to this point :
"Streaming video through WebSocket (thus over http upgrade) through a plain-tcp-to-websocket-proxy on top of...".
It feels over-engineered and like TCP-Sockets are a revolution. I know, we can't easily expose plain-socket because of security but still... What's next? UDP for 2018? Socket-binding for 2022?
(Nice work though)

#16 – Dan – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 20:17

Excellent solution. But you should leave a light on over night. Maybe shine it on your brand ;) I had to take a hard look to realize that there were shapes in the black background and the stream wasn't somehow broken.

#17 – Lindsay – Wednesday, September 11th 2013, 20:54

A similar approach that worked well for me about a year ago using almost the same technology and stack. Instead of pushing the mpeg stream via websockets though I simply ran an ffmpeg capture loop of jpeg images into a ramdisk and pushed those down the websocket pipe using nodejs. You can render those very quickly (15+ fps depending on image size) on a canvas without any special js decoders on the client-side. The result was a very lightweight real-time remote system desktop (1080) or camera monitor that worked well over low bandwidth. Since all it was really doing was serving static images, it also scaled really well and worked over websockets and long-polling connections. The long-polling actually worked better as the client could adjust for network response times -- slightly different url gave current frame with different quality.

#18namuol – Thursday, September 12th 2013, 06:41

You've made a career out of trampling the slow-moving, inconsistent world of HTML "standards" in the name of good web experiences. Once again, bravo. :)

#19 – balamaci – Friday, September 13th 2013, 00:18

Thanks for this, it's great stuff.

Ran on raspberry PI with:
raspivid -t 999999 -fps 15 -vf -w 320 -h 240 -o - | avconv -f h264 -i pipe:0 -f mpeg1video -b 500k -r 25 127.0.0.1:8082/s3cret/320/240/

but the delay is somewhere around 10sec and avconv is eattin up all the cpu.

#20 – Engleek – Friday, September 13th 2013, 14:48

I'm wondering if you couldn't achieve the same thing using a GIF file with no specified number of frames.

I saw this technique used to emulate web sockets [hackaday.com/2013/02/07/gifsockets-websockets-using-animated-gif-files/], so presumably it could be used to stream video at low frame rates with little bother.

#21ImDeity – Saturday, September 14th 2013, 06:44

Works great, thanks for making this.

Made a live player stream for our Minecraft server:
stream.imdeity.com/

#22 – Phil – Saturday, September 14th 2013, 17:49

Installed. Love it.

#23 – John Doe – Sunday, September 15th 2013, 18:29

Installed on iphone4 and tried to connect via my ipad 1; doesnt work :(

#24 – Max – Sunday, September 15th 2013, 19:15

Great App!
Could you describe how this technique can be used to embed the stream on a website in the www?

#25 – Jdog – Sunday, September 15th 2013, 22:12

hey there
i tried streaming the outpu of the iOS app via internet to another IP but it seem like im to stupid to manage that....
i opened ports an forwarded them to my device but nothing happens...
can somone help me?

#26 – Florian – Monday, September 16th 2013, 13:07

Hi,

Just wanted to say thank you for giving this app away for free. It's a great little app! I'm pretty sure it will help me find out who's regularly stealing my newspaper since a couple of months. :)

Viele Grüße!

#27vivian – Tuesday, September 24th 2013, 09:49

Why nobody use 800li media server? Just click and copy-paste just make a complete live broadcasting stream. It produces HTML code and SWF playback address. It doesn't have any fame but I tried it. Work well!!!!!

#28vivian – Tuesday, September 24th 2013, 09:53

I have to add another post: 800li server software can support Android and iOS viewing!!! I found this yesterday!

#29 – Max – Thursday, October 3rd 2013, 13:23

Hey, can you describe more how iOS app works? ffmpeg + nodesj?

#30Dominic – Tuesday, October 8th 2013, 16:14

The iOS App uses ffmpeg for encoding and libwebsockets to serve the static files (.html, .css, .js) and of course the video stream:
libwebsockets.org/

#31 – imbm – Wednesday, October 16th 2013, 13:26

There is memory leaking in your jsmpeg.js. When you have your broswers. Chrome runs longer but FireFox would be soon to grow to 2GB in a short time.

#32 – imbm – Wednesday, October 16th 2013, 13:33

I mean it would freeze when you have your browser stay longer and keep monitoring your webcam. It's a great job though.

#33 – EddyF – Wednesday, November 6th 2013, 23:56

When I try to stream the mpg video I get an error message with the following: "Option video_size not found."
I am using
ffmpeg -s 640/480 -f mpeg -i /dev/video0 -f mpeg1video -b 800k -r 30 my-IP-Address:8082/pass/640/480

I've tried several different heights and widths, any ideas?
Thank you!

#34 – K Buckingham – Saturday, November 9th 2013, 02:53

This is the coolest thing I've ever seen.

#35 – surgemcgee – Tuesday, November 12th 2013, 15:54

Dude, cool. Well done with the canvas. Tickled by this..

#36 – chu – Saturday, November 23rd 2013, 15:13

wow, the app is so nice!
i wonder how you used ffmpeg on ios.

#37 – Mano – Sunday, November 24th 2013, 23:19

what if want to convert rtmp based stream coming from AMS and then sending it over websocket server to clients ?

#38Reynold – Monday, December 2nd 2013, 05:34

Great work! Thank you so much :)

#39 – Russell – Saturday, December 14th 2013, 22:50

Sometimes older, simpler, faster is the magic combo
Instead of bleeding edge. All I wanted was a very simple
X platform client to client video stream for recording studio
Links. This is great for my iPhone cam but I'm gonna
See if I can implement this on Linux (my recording system)
And also use the iSight cam on my old
MacBook. Don't need the audio.... Just fast, simple, LAN video!!
Nice app!!

#40 – FRED – Friday, December 20th 2013, 09:37

Woderfull! What a nice app. How can I capture teh full hd? Any suggestions? i want to use it for stopmotion an other trickfilms

#41Jason – Friday, January 17th 2014, 13:29

This is absolutely fantastic – thanks for taking the time to put the demo together. I'd love to use it in a project of my own if possible. What is the license for jsmpeg?

#42John Tattersall – Thursday, February 13th 2014, 15:14

Brilliant Dominic!
I was wondering if this method is still the best way for Pi > public and responsive online video streaming in 2014 ?
I am building an educational garden robot for kids : sprigawatt.com and need to get this happening asap - thanks!
I'm based in Berlin, so if you know anyone here who might be helpful that'd be amazing too - thanks! John

#43 – Peter Sorensen – Friday, February 14th 2014, 12:41

You could simply setup your server (if fast enough/depending on camera source codec) to encode/mux the content to a browser supported container like mp4 with h264 video and aac/mp3/ogg/wav audio, all depending on browser...

This is technically not live, the browser sees it as a video with an unknown duration...

All depending on how the browser buffers and stores loaded data, this may cause big temporary files... Though it may make it possible to pause and continue the live stream, as it's theoretically recorded and then played back... (if the browser stores incoming data)

#44 – Amir – Sunday, February 16th 2014, 16:20

Hi guys,
I need stream by anything to my server and display on mobile.
Is there any solution?

#45 – Viktoria – Sunday, February 16th 2014, 16:57

Hi, excellent tutorial, but what about the audio please? I would like to setup something like skype on my server, is that possible at all?

#46 – Stefano – Thursday, February 20th 2014, 14:49

Dominic, You rock!!!
Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
I tried Instant Webcam too: cool!

#47vlad – Monday, March 3rd 2014, 22:17

hello. would you like to help me building a video streaming server to include it with a mobile app? let me know ask@workedo.com

#48Michael Romanenko – Tuesday, March 11th 2014, 21:37

Great idea, superb implementation. Instant Webcam is fantastic! I wish JSMPEG become more mature and gain community support!

#49curiosul – Tuesday, March 25th 2014, 15:29

I'm a beginner and your tutorial looks hard for me. How to install WebSocket package on my raspberry? Did you have any resource for a totally beginner? I'm trying to broadcast from my raspberry pi to a c# application... . Thanks.

#50Learning – Friday, March 28th 2014, 18:52

Very good job, I'm new to this subject so I was wondering if there is a way to clear the password or at least know what this default, since I do not get your code running altogether .. help please. Thank you.

#51Alex Cohn – Friday, April 11th 2014, 15:00

Thanks! I used your approach to answer a related question.

#52 – nosretep – Monday, April 14th 2014, 08:51

Awesome! Thanks!

#53 – bpersich – Monday, April 14th 2014, 17:30

What do I actually do with the jsmpg.js and stream-server.html files? Does jsmph.js go in the same directory as stream-server.js? Do I need to run it in node like I did with stream-server.js?

#54 – nosretep – Monday, April 14th 2014, 20:39

find stream-server.html in your file system and simply open it in your browser (which includes jsmpg.js). it will have the file:/// stuff in the address bar ...

you'll have to figure out on your own how to serve stream-server.html (and jsmpg.js) via webserver, I don't think that's an aspect that they wanted/needed to spend time on in this tutorial.

#55Ithorion – Saturday, April 19th 2014, 15:41

If you are using a Raspberry Cam,
you can't access to /dev/video0 directly.
I had to install video4linux2 driver & follow the steps describe in :
www.linux-projects.org/modules/sections/index.php?op=viewarticle&artid=14

Thanks a lot for sharing this !! It's awesome !! i'll try to add OpenCV & do some transformation in between !

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