Delivering Live YouTube Content via HLS

This document explains how to use the HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) protocol to stream live data on YouTube from an encoder. This document is intended for encoder vendors who want to add HLS ingestion support to their products. HLS ingestion is a good choice for premium content that requires high quality and high resolution at a relatively higher latency. See this document for a brief comparison of different ingestion protocols that YouTube Live Streaming supports.

To stream live data via HLS, the encoder should send a series of Media Playlists and Media Segments to YouTube's HLS endpoint via HTTP PUT or POST requests. From the encoder's perspective, the YouTube HLS endpoint appears to be a passive HTTP server.

Each Media Segment represents the actual multimedia content for a brief portion of the stream lasting between one and four seconds. Each Media Playlist describes how to reassemble the Media Segments in correct stream order.

Obtaining an HLS Ingestion URL

Obtaining an HLS Ingestion URL from the YouTube API

To obtain the full ingestion URL, encoders can use the YouTube Live Streaming API to insert a liveStream resource with the following properties:

"cdn": {
  "ingestionType": "hls",
  "frameRate": "variable",
  "resolution": "variable"
}

In the API response, the cdn.ingestionInfo.ingestionAddress field specifies the primary ingestion URL, and cdn.ingestionInfo.backupIngestionAddress field specifies the backup ingestion URL. For more details, see the documentation for the liveStreams resource.

Obtaining an HLS Ingestion URL from YouTube Creator Studio

In the YouTube Creator Studio web interface, after the creator clicks "Create Stream", YouTube displays a "Stream Key" consisting of alphanumeric characters and hyphens. This secret key identifies both the creator and the stream to YouTube.

You can construct an HLS URL from this stream key, as follows:

https://a.upload.youtube.com/http_upload_hls?cid=$STREAM_KEY&copy=0&file=

... where $STREAM_KEY is the Stream Key displayed in the web interface. For example: https://a.upload.youtube.com/http_upload_hls?cid=abcd-efgh-ijkl-mnop-qrst&copy=0&file=

For added reliability, you can transmit a redundant second copy of the ingestion to this backup URL:

https://b.upload.youtube.com/http_upload_hls?cid=$STREAM_KEY&copy=1&file=

Note the backup has two differences from the primary URL: both the hostname and the copy= parameter have changed. The backup ingestion must send a different copy= parameter value than the primary ingestion to avoid corrupting the stream.

Completing the HLS Ingestion URL

URLs obtained via either method above are incomplete templates; each ends with an empty file= query parameter. To form the final URL, the encoder must append the filename of a Media Playlist or Media Segment to the end of the URL, thus completing the file= parameter.

The following rules apply to the file= parameter's value:

  • The encoder may construct a Media Playlist or Media Segment filename from alphanumeric characters, underscores, forward slashes, hyphens, and periods; no other characters are supported.
  • The encoder must not URL-encode the filename.
  • The encoder may include relative or absolute path components in filenames, though this is never required. If the encoder includes a path component within a Media Segment filename, it must reference the same path in the corresponding playlist entry.

Requirements

The Media Playlists and the Media Segments sent by the encoder must conform to the HTTP Live Streaming 2nd Edition Specification.

The HLS specification defines two types of playlist: Media Playlist and Master Playlist. Since YouTube transcodes streamed content to different resolutions and bitrates, the encoder does not need to send content with different bitrates to YouTube. As a result, YouTube supports only Media Playlists for HLS ingestion, and Master Playlists are ignored. (A Master Playlist provides a set of Variant Streams, each of which describes a different version of the same content.)

The encoder must:

  • send exactly one encoded stream with the highest resolution that you want to serve to users (single resolution and codec)
  • mux audio and video
  • use HTTPS and a persistent connection for all requests

The following sections contain more specific requirements for Media Playlists and Media Segments.

Media Playlists

A Media Playlist contains a list of Media Segments that can be concatenated to represent a continuous, decodable multimedia stream. The Media Playlist tells the server which Media Segments to expect and how to order them properly in the reassembled stream.

Requirements

  • The Media Playlist file name must end with either .m3u8 or .m3u.

  • The first Media Playlist sent for a stream must start at sequence number 0 and the sequence number must increase monotonically.

  • The EXT-X-MEDIA-SEQUENCE tag must identify the sequence number of the first Media Segment listed in the playlist.

  • A Media Playlist must not contain more than five outstanding segments. A segment is outstanding if the server has not received it or acknowledged receipt of it.

    In addition to the outstanding segments, also include a few acknowledged segments in each Media Playlist. This practice makes it less likely for a segment to be skipped if a Media Playlist is lost on the server side. For example, you could include up to two acknowledged segments and up to five outstanding segments in each Media Playlist.

    Note that the server acknowledges receipt of a Media Segment by returning a 200 (OK) or 202 (Accepted) response on the upload of that segment. A 202 response indicates that the server received the segment before a playlist identifying that segment.

  • Send an updated Media Playlist for every Media Segment so that the server can recover quickly if a Media Playlist is lost.

  • As the server acknowledges receipt of Media Segments, you can increment the EXT-X-MEDIA-SEQUENCE tag value to prevent the Media Playlist from becoming too long. For example, if the server has already acknowledged receipt of the first nine Media Segments, the next Media Playlist might list the eighth, ninth, and tenth Media Segments.

  • EXT-X-KEY and EXT-X-SESSION-KEY tags are not supported.

Examples

The list below shows an example of the files that the encoder is expected to send:

Media Playlist file with seqnum #0
Media Segment file #0
Media Playlist file with seqnum #0-#1
Media Segment file #1
Media Playlist file with seqnum #0-#2
Media Segment file #2
Media Playlist file with seqnum #1-#3
Media Segment file #3
...

The following example shows a Media Playlist sent in the middle of a live video stream. Since the example is from the middle of a stream, the EXT-X-MEDIA-SEQUENCE tag has a nonzero value.

#EXTM3U
#EXT-X-VERSION:3
#EXT-X-TARGETDURATION:4
#EXT-X-MEDIA-SEQUENCE:2680

#EXTINF:3.975,
fileSequence2680.ts
#EXTINF:3.941,
fileSequence2681.ts
#EXTINF:3.975,
fileSequence2682.ts

Media Segments

The list below identifies requirements for Media Segments:

  • Filenames
    • Media Segment file names in the URL must have the .ts filename extension and must match the filenames in the playlist.
    • Media Segment file names must be unique across encoder reboots and stream restarts.
  • Format
    • Media Segments must be in M2TS format and should be self-initializing.
    • Each M2TS Segment must contain a single MPEG-2 Program.
    • The M2TS Segment must contain a PAT and a PMT, and the first two Transport Stream packets in a Segment should be a PAT and a PMT.
  • Content
    • Video and audio should be muxed.
    • Supported video codecs are H.264 and HEVC.
    • Frame rates up to 60fps are supported.
    • Only closed GOP is supported.
    • The supported audio codec is AAC, and only single-track audio is supported.
    • Media Segments are recommended to have a duration between one and four seconds, as discussed in the following section. Media Segments must not have a duration longer than 5 seconds.
    • Media segments must only be encrypted in the TLS/SSL layer with HTTPS. Other encryption mechanisms are not supported.

Media Segment duration

We expect HLS ingestion to be used for premium content that requires high quality and high resolution. HLS ingestion usually has higher latency than RTMP- and WebRTC-based ingestions because HLS ingestion is segment-based.

We recommend a Media Segment duration of one to four seconds because having smaller Media Segments can result in lower latency, albeit at a cost of a higher rebuffer rate and lower encoding efficiency. As noted in the previous section, Media Segments must not be longer than 5 seconds.

Bitrates

The YouTube Help Center provides guidelines for bitrate settings.

Note that HEVC generally yields 25% to 50% more data compression at the same video quality compared to H.264. As such, bitrate values in the lower end of the suggested ranges can be used with HEVC to save bandwidth, which is especially useful for 4K content.

Other Requirements

  • Encoders should set the User-Agent header in the HTTP request using the following syntax, which includes the manufacturer's name, model name, and version:

    User-Agent: <manufacturer> / <model> / <version>
    

Closed captions

HLS ingestion supports two options for sending closed captions:

  • Send closed captions via separate HTTP POST requests. This works for all HLS ingestions.
  • Embedded 608/708 closed captions work with HLS ingestions that use the H264 video codec but not with ingestions that use the HEVC video codec. See the Live Caption Requirements in the YouTube Help Center for more details.

HTTP response codes

The following sections explain the response codes that YouTube returns in response to Media Segments and Media Playlists delivered via HLS.

200 (OK)

In response to a PUT or POST request, an HTTP 200 (OK) response indicates that the YouTube server received an expected operation and handled it successfully.

In response to a DELETE request, an HTTP 200 (OK) response indicates that the YouTube server received and ignored the request. The YouTube server does not require the client to DELETE any resource in the stream, and it ignores DELETE requests. For performance reasons, YouTube recommends clients do not send DELETEs.

202 (Accepted)

An HTTP 202 (Accepted) response indicates that the YouTube server received the Media Segment before receiving a Media Playlist containing that Media Segment. This indicates to the client that it should send the Media Playlist containing that Media Segment as soon as possible to prevent a delay in processing that segment. Note that this will not be an issue if the encoder sends an updated Media Playlist for every Media Segment.

400 (Bad Request)

An HTTP 400 (Bad Request) response indicates one of the following problems occurred:

  • The URL is malformed
  • The Playlist cannot be parsed or contains unsupported tags
401 (Unauthorized)

An HTTP 401 (Unauthorized) response indicates that the cid parameter in the base URL for the YouTube HLS endpoint is corrupted or expired. The client should update the cid parameter in order to proceed.

405 (Method Not Allowed)

An HTTP 405 (Method Not Allowed) response indicates that the request was not a POST, PUT, or DELETE request.

500 (Internal Server Error)

An HTTP 500 (Internal Server Error) response indicates that the server was unable to process the request. For this error, we recommend that you retry the request with exponential backoff.