How to Play RTSP Streams

By Shea Laverty

Real Time Streaming Protocol is used to stream online radio stations, streaming video and podcasts. While some websites play the stream for you in your Web browser, other streams can only be accessed with a desktop client. Many media players are capable of connecting to and playing RTSP streams. The process for connecting to a stream is so simple, anyone can do it.

Desktop Media Players

PC users can choose from several free options including Windows Media Player, QuickTime, Winamp and VLC Media Player. With the exception of WMP, Mac users can use the same programs to play RTSP streams. All four of these programs open RTSP streams the same way, by connecting to the RTSP stream directly. Each connects when you choose the "Open URL" or "Open Network Stream" option and enter a stream's address. After the connection is established, the stream starts playing from the current point in its broadcast.

Mobile Players

To enjoy RTSP streams on the go, Android users can choose BSPlayer, MX Player, VPlayer and VLC, with all but VLC offering free versions with paid upgrades; VLC is completely free and full featured by default. For folks with iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, options are more limited because few apps are built with RTSP support. However, VLC for iOS and Live Media Player are both free and support RTSP streaming.

Advantages and Disadvantages

RTSP players don't predownload any of the stream data. Instead, they download and play the data as it is needed and then delete the data after it plays. As a result, fast forwarding or rewinding to any point in the stream is inefficient, as the data must be redownloaded to play. The video or audio quality can be changed at the source during playback to offer the best experience with the available bandwidth and to minimize slowdown or buffering times. With slow connections, where quality is lowered to fit bandwidth limitations, the video or audio may not be able to play at all without occasional pauses to buffer and download more data.

Playback Quality

If you experience playback quality problems, improve your overall experience by closing any unneeded programs that require an Internet connection or otherwise use the Internet. This reduces the bandwidth strain and opens up more bandwidth for the stream. Avoid using RTSP streams while other people are also using your network connection; the bandwidth is divided among everyone currently using the network.