Recently, we’ve seen a sharp jump in the popularity of video content for business and personal use. It’s become an effective tool for marketing strategies, bringing good ROI and increasing traffic on websites. But, like many other types of content, the video must be of superior quality to attract clients to your project. This is where the biggest misconception takes place, because many people find the resolution to be almost the only important video quality indicator, excluding many other factors, like video bitrate.
The higher the bitrate, the sharper the video image, which is especially crucial when you prepare for live broadcasting. When being published on different video hosting sites, like Vimeo or YouTube, the video gets compressed, hence bitrates are reduced. This may result in poor image quality, but only if you are not familiar with bitrate yet. To change that, let’s get to the fundamentals that will answer the questions “What is bitrate?” and “What does bitrate do?” With sufficient knowledge, you can easily achieve a professional-looking video.
What is video bitrate?
Simply put, video bitrate defines video data transferred at any given time. A high bitrate is doubtlessly one of the most crucial factors in the quality of a video. Together with a satisfactory bitrate value, high resolution and frame rate contribute to a good-looking video. Otherwise, they have little effect on the way it looks.
Videos of any length and size require much more data to use than, say, high-res photos or regular email. To reach the audience with distinctive content on a live broadcast platform or video hosting site, make sure the data transmission is fast enough.
When talking about video in broadcasting, data transmission is explained through uploads and downloads. Uploading means the data is transferred from your remote device to the web after you send the video signal to the encoder for data compression. Downloading, in its turn, illustrates the process when users receive the video to their devices from the web.
Regardless of the transfer types, we measure their speed using bitrates. A higher transfer speed involves more data to pass through, whereas a higher bitrate results in better-quality video.
Video bitrate measurements
Bitrate is measured in bits per second, which is referred to as “bps.” While kilobits per second is fine to use for measuring audio files, this same value is not suitable for video. Because the volume of footage is large, we’d rather talk about it in megabits per second.
Avoid mixing up Mbps and MBps, which mean different things. Megabits (Mbps) per second refers to uploading and downloading speed, while megabytes (MBps) per second is used to define the wealth of info transferred.
How does bitrate affect video quality?
Broadcasting is doubtlessly an effective method to connect with the audience. But, what is the key to producing a professional-looking live video? Some might say it is the gear you use. This is only partly right, because the gear is only a drop in the bucket. What’s more crucial is the bitrate it records video at, since this has a direct impact on the size of the file and video quality you’ll end up with when streaming.
A higher bitrate results in better quality and larger file sizes. This is where you should consider keeping them balanced. The larger the file, the more buffering issues it may cause, since the server resources of most viewers can hardly process an extensive file quickly. Quite the opposite, a lower bitrate results in worse quality and a less professional look for the video streamed.
Other factors influencing video quality
So, you are 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 affecting 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 represented in frames per second. The standard rate is 24 fps for most video formats. However, there can also be videos with higher fps ranging from 30 to 60. Frame rate plays a significant role in live streaming, especially when it comes to broadcasting fast-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 in 480, 720, 1080, and 4K terms. Resolution matters when it comes to improving the viewing experience on large displays.
It makes more sense to get a stable stream with a lower resolution or frame rate than to choose higher values and end up streaming with delay.
Read later: What is transcoding and why do you need it 📍
Bitrate and bandwidth limits
When broadcasting, you may experience bandwidth limits for both upload and download transfers.
Bandwidth defines the maximum throughput of the network needed to upload and download data; hence, it transfers the data between the web and your local network. So, 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 and 5 Mbps for download and upload correspondingly, the network can easily cope with downloading content. However, for live streaming, the given upload bandwidth may be quite restrictive. The recommended parameters for broadcast is dependent on content quality and presented is in the following values.
How to deal with bandwidth limits
The issue of scant bandwidth is not the final verdict for broadcasting. There are still a few ways to surpass the limits from both sides — streamers and viewers. 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 compressing video without affecting the quality — it allows for more reduced file size and consequently more reduced bandwidth. Besides, if the viewers have devices compatible with H.265, they also need less bandwidth; hence, they get more chances to watch the stream in premium quality.
- Platforms that support adaptive bitrate streaming (ABS). They work well when it is necessary to eliminate downloading limits. Not only do they provide bufferless playback mode, but they also automatically optimize the resolution, which results in more viewing options to choose from. The viewers with higher bandwidth can watch the broadcast in top quality, whereas people with limited bandwidth consume content with 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 added onto a website. Upload speed depends on different factors comprising the type of content, encoding, and site you want to stream to, as well as resolution and frame rate. But, let’s stop at numbers for a while.
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 a few tips to enhance the upload speed for streaming.
- Leave only the wired connection on. 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 its 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.
No matter how popular video is among other types of content, one shown with poor quality can hardly attract people. So, to reach a wider audience and keep it engaged, you should take care of video bitrate together with frame rate, resolution, and the gear you leverage.
Bitrate plays a significant role when you put the quality of your stream first. 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, whereas the recommended bitrates specific for different video settings avoid the buffering. Besides, to improve the upload speed, you can leave a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi, use multistreaming services, like Restream, turn on ad blockers, and work 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.