No matter how good your streaming video content is, poor image quality can really hold you back. And if you’re only thinking about image quality in terms of resolution, you’re missing half the picture. That’s right — it’s time to talk about video bitrate.
Video bitrate explained
OK, so what is bitrate? When we’re talking about upload and download speeds, or internet speed in general, what we’re really talking about is bitrate.
Bits are units of data that make up a piece of digital content, like a photo or video. Bitrate refers to how many bits can be transferred or processed within a certain amount of time. Bitrate is usually measured in number of bits per second.
Videos contain a lot more bits than, say, high-res photos or regular old emails. If the bitrate is too low, your video may get compressed. That means even if your video starts out with high resolution and a high frame rate, your viewers may end up seeing a poorer image quality.
Video bitrate measurements
Bitrate is measured in bits per second, which is often abbreviated as bps. Audio files are typically measured in kilobits per second, but because video files tend to be so large, we sometimes measure them in megabits per second (Mbps).
Avoid mixing up Mbps and MBps, which mean different things. Megabits (Mbps) per second refers to upload and download speeds, while megabytes (MBps) per second refers to the volume of info that gets transferred.
How does bitrate affect video quality?
When it comes down to it, what really matters for producing professional-looking live video? Some might say it’s the gear you use. Gear matters, sure, but not nearly as much as you might think. What’s more crucial is the bitrate at which all that gear records video, since that has a direct impact on the size of the file and video quality you’ll end up with when streaming.
So a higher bitrate is always better, right? Well, not necessarily. A higher bitrate results in better quality but also larger file sizes. The larger the file, the more buffering issues it may cause, since the server resources of most viewers can’t process really big files quickly. So finding the best bitrate is a bit of a balancing act. You want it to be high enough that your video is sharp and clear, but not so high that viewers struggle to watch it
- Facebook Live recommends a max bitrate of 4,000 Kbps, plus a max audio bitrate of 128 Kbps.
- YouTube Live recommends a range between 1,500 and 4,000 Kbps for video, plus 128 Kbps for audio.
- Twitch recommends a range between 2,500 and 4,000 Kbps for video, plus up to 160 Kbps for audio.
Other factors that influence video quality
So, you’re sure you’ve found the golden mean between the size and quality of the video. What’s next? When you’re ready with bitrate, consider the other factors that affect your live videos, like frame rate and resolution.
- Frame rate is a rate at which the images or video frames are played to create motion. The frame rate is measured in frames per second (fps). The standard rate is 24fps for most video formats. But there are also videos with higher frame rates, ranging from 30fps to 60fps. Frame rate plays a significant role in live streaming, especially when it comes to broadcasting high-tempo sports or music events. On this point, higher fps leads to a better output video signal.
- Resolution indicates the number of pixels that form the video frame and make up its image. Generally, more pixels bring on a sharper look for the frame. The video resolution types often used for broadcasts are represented as 480p, 720p, 1080p, and 4K. Resolution matters when it comes to improving the viewing experience on large displays.
It’s better to have a stable stream with a lower resolution or frame rate than to choose higher values and end up streaming with a delay.
Bitrate and bandwidth limits
When broadcasting, you may experience bandwidth limits for both upload and download transfers.
Bandwidth refers to the maximum throughput of the network for uploading and downloading data. The larger the data request, the higher bandwidth it needs to pass through. When the bandwidth is insufficient, it induces breakpoints and slows down the transferring process.
The bandwidth, same as speed, can be measured in Mbps. Many internet providers specify how much bandwidth their networks allow. If they provide 100 Mbps for downloads and 5 Mbps for uploads, the network can easily cope with downloading content but may not handle uploads fast enough for quality live streaming.
How to deal with bandwidth limits
Feeling squeezed by your bandwidth? Fear not — there are a few things both streamers and viewers can do to adapt. Let’s take a closer look at them.
- High-efficiency video coding (HEVC) or H.265. This is an extended version of H.264 or AVC, which is the industry standard for video compression. HEVC enables video compression without affecting the quality — it allows for a smaller file size that requires less bandwidth. Plus, viewers whose devices are compatible with H.265 also need less bandwidth; hence, they have a better chance of watching the stream in premium quality.
- Platforms that support adaptive bitrate streaming (ABS). These work well when it is necessary to eliminate downloading limits. Not only do they provide bufferless playback mode, but they also automatically optimize video resolution, which results in more viewing options to choose from. Viewers with higher bandwidth can watch the broadcast in top quality, whereas people with limited bandwidth can watch it with a lower resolution and frame rate to match their restrictions.
Buffer-free broadcasting: the best video bitrates
As we’ve already mentioned, broadcasting usually requires more bandwidth compared to a video that is simply uploaded to a website. Upload speed depends on several factors, including the type of content, encoding, and site you want to stream to, as well as resolution and frame rate. Now let’s look at a few practical ways you can reduce buffering issues for your broadcast.
Let’s say you want to stream on platforms like Facebook, YouTube or Twitch and expect the broadcast to be bufferless. Here are some insights on the best video bitrates to use:
Additionally, consider these tips to enhance your upload speed for streaming.
- Use a wired connection. Since it is more stable compared to Wi-Fi, you can expect no interruptions during the stream and consequently better quality of live video.
- Go with multistreaming services, like Restream. It allows broadcasting to multiple platforms simultaneously and relieves your system by carrying part of the load.
- Turn on ad-blockers and privacy tools. They will limit the use of upload bandwidth by various unwanted programs. Make sure to use modern software and hardware. Out-of-date systems slow down your computer and become a real bottleneck for your upload bandwidth, which generally leads to worse streaming quality.
What’s the best video bitrate for 1080p broadcasts?
For 1080p videos, the ideal bitrate ranges from 3,500 to 6,000 Kbps. If you’re using a standard frame rate (30fps), aim for the lower end of the range, between 3,500 and 5,000 Kbps. If you have a high frame rate (60fps), aim for a bitrate of 4,500 to 6,000 Kbps.
Does bitrate affect video quality?
Bitrate does affect video quality, but it’s not the only thing that affects video quality. Resolution and frame rate are key factors, too.
What bitrate should I use for recording 1080p 60fps?
When broadcasting in full HD (1080p) with a frame rate of 60fps, use a bitrate of 4,500 to 6,000 Kbps.
What happens if my bitrate is too high?
High bitrate means higher quality video, but it also means your video file will be much larger. The larger the file, the more likely it is that your viewers may experience buffering issues.
There’s no question that video is a popular form of content, but poor image quality makes it tough to capture viewers. Take care of video bitrate along with frame rate, resolution and the gear you leverage.
Key points to remember: a higher bitrate results in a larger file and better look for the video. Although you can still experience some challenges in the form of limited bandwidth and buffering, there are fortunately several ways to resolve the issue.
HEVC or platforms supporting ABS aim to tackle the problem with bandwidth limits, while the recommended bitrates for different video settings help avoid buffering. And you can improve your upload speed by sticking to a wired connection, using multistreaming services like Restream, turning on ad blockers, and working only with the latest programs.
By following these simple guidelines, you’ll end up with a professional-looking broadcast that will gather a lot of people around your project.