What is Video Bitrate?: The Ultimate Guide to Bitrate for Streaming
Video streaming offers a massive opportunity for businesses and creators to grow and connect with their audiences. Live streams can be used to build your brand, engage with followers on your social channels, and even encourage users to make a purchase.
With that, it’s so incredibly important to prioritize video quality. Most viewers will be turned off from your brand if your stream is choppy, blurry, laggy, or otherwise hard to watch. On the other hand, high production values and a fluid video experience can give your audience a favorable impression of you and your content.
It’s important to identify the best bitrate for streaming so that you can balance sharp video with smooth playback. This guide will cover everything you need to know about bitrate and provide the information you need to get the optimal value out of your live streaming efforts.
Table of Contents
- What is Bitrate?
- How to Choose the Best Bitrate for Streaming
- How to Improve Video Bitrate Streaming Quality
- Stream on Maestro
What is Bitrate?
First things first: let’s define the term “bitrate.” You can think of it in two parts:
- Bit: A basic unit of data.
- Rate: The speed at which that data is transmitted.
When it comes to live streaming specifically, your bitrate refers to how fast video content is uploaded to the internet from your camera or server – and how quickly viewers can then download that video to consume it.
The bitrate for video is usually measured in Kilobits per second (Kbps) or Megabits per second (Mbps). Note that 1000 Kbps = 1 Mbps.
A high-speed internet connection is necessary for you to go live and for your viewers to have a good viewing experience. Fortunately, you can easily check how well your internet connection supports live streaming by doing a speed test.
For example, if I go to Google to test my internet speed, I get a result of 43.4 Mbps on download and 5.6 Mbps on upload.
As we’ll touch on in a moment, your ideal bitrate for live streaming is partly based on how fast your own internet is, especially upload speed. It should also factor in the internet speeds of your audience.
Video vs. Audio Bitrate for Streaming
When you’re looking at bitrates, you need to be aware of the difference between the video bitrate and the audio bitrate.
The video bitrate for your stream refers to how much data is processed to display your video per second. Usually, this will range between 3 Mbps and 12 Mbps.
The audio bitrate refers to how much data is processed for audio playback per second. This is usually set to 128 Kbps in 2 channels (stereo), though this can vary depending on how important audio is for your streaming use case.
You should also know that video bitrate can either be constant or variable. The viewing experience will be more consistent at a constant bitrate that you define upfront, while a variable bitrate may change viewing quality dynamically depending on your viewers’ connection.
Bitrate and Resolution
Bitrate is sometimes confused with video resolution. While the two are definitely related, they aren’t exactly the same thing.
First, here are the most common options for video resolutions in live streaming:
- Standard resolution - 480p
- High definition (HD) - 720p
- Full HD - 1080p
- QHD 2K - 1440p
- UHD 4K - 2160p
For an optimal viewing experience, you’ll probably want to aim for either the 720p or 1080p (Full HD) video resolution, assuming you have fast enough internet to accommodate it. (Note that while 2K and 4K will allow for a higher quality video, they’re generally not practical resolutions for most live streams yet.
To understand the balance between bitrate and video resolution, think of bitrate as the size of a road and resolution as the size of a truck driving down that road. If you have a wide “oversized load” truck on a narrow road, then the truck will have a tough time getting where it’s going – but if the road is sufficiently wider than the truck, then the truck will be able to cruise smoothly to its destination without any obstacles.
You’ll want to have a much wider road than the truck you’re sending down it. Usually, the higher the bitrate, the higher your video quality can be. With that in mind, let’s look at how to choose an optimal video resolution based on your audience!
How to Choose the Best Bitrate for Streaming
Okay, now we come to the million-dollar question: how do you come up with the best bitrate for streaming on your own live video streams?
Well, one important factor is your own connection’s upload speed. A good rule of thumb is to ensure your internet upload speed is 3x the bitrate of your live stream bitrate.
For example, if your upload speed is 10 Mbps, then you should aim for a streaming bitrate of roughly 3.5 Mbps. This gives you a lot of breathing room in case there’s ever an unexpected strain on your connection, which helps ensure a smooth playback experience for your audience.
Another way to consider the ideal bitrate is by determining your target video resolution and the bitrate that corresponds to it.
To explore them, let’s look at some of the recommended settings for streaming on Maestro.
- Video: H.264 (Main Profile)
- Audio: AAC
Here are the recommended encoder settings for different video resolutions:
- Great (1080p/30fps)
- Bitrate: 5000 kbps
- Keyframe Interval: 2 seconds
- Good (720p/30fps)
- Bitrate: 3500 kbps
- Keyframe Interval: 2 seconds
- Works (480p/30fps)
- Bitrate: 1000 kbps
- Keyframe Interval: 5 seconds
- File Format: MP4
- Max File Size: 10 GB
These exact settings can vary by streaming platform or type of video, of course, but it’s a good general range you can refer to. As you can see, the higher your bitrate, the higher your video resolution can be.
Also, note that these settings assume a standard frame rate of 30 frames per second (fps) – but you may be able to get better performance if you opt for a lower frame rate (such as 25 fps). You may also find cases where streaming at 60 fps is necessary, such as gaming.
Learn more about encoder settings in our guide on what an encoder is.
How to Improve Video Bitrate Streaming Quality
Of course, while selecting the right bitrate is key for a successful live stream, it’s not the only factor that will impact your stream’s quality.
In fact, simply choosing a higher bitrate doesn’t automatically mean you’ll stream a sharper picture – it just means your connection has the potential to support a better-looking video. Going back to our truck and road analogy, just because the road is bigger doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a wider truck.
So, you’ll need to make sure you’re capturing video optimally at the source (i.e. at a high resolution). Beyond that, in order to improve video quality for your stream, think about other important elements of a high-value live production, such as:
- Camera Quality: Invest in a professional HD or 4K camera designed for live streaming.
- Lighting: Set up at least a basic 3-point lighting kit if you’re going to stream in a studio. Don’t underestimate the importance of lighting to improve video quality.
- Encoder Quality: Optimize your encoder settings, but also pick the right encoder (check out our comparison of hardware vs. software encoders)
- Reliable Internet: Upgrade to a faster and more reliable Internet connection. You may also want to go with ethernet over a wireless connection.
- Online Video Platform: Pick a trusted online video platform that supports live streaming for businesses and creators, such as Maestro.
It may take some time to find the right balance between resolution and playback for your live streams. We recommend testing before you go live in front of an actual audience. Make note of your encoder settings, equipment, and internet connection each time you go live so you can pinpoint the best combination for your business.
Stream on Maestro
Ultimately, the right bitrate remains an important factor in helping you achieve the best possible streaming quality.
As we’ve said, a high-quality video stream requires a high bitrate to transmit the data seamlessly to your viewers. Fortunately, Maestro supports a range of live streaming settings so you can maximize the viewing experience for every one of your live stream viewers.
Maestro also allows you to create interactive video experiences, monetize your videos, and even build a unique branded site for your live streaming.
Are you ready to stream and monetize your own high-quality videos on Maestro? Sign up today to get started.
Join our Discord server for more helpful tips and tricks!