From grainy visuals to frustrating buffering times, the wrong bitrate can severely impact your video’s overall quality and viewers’ experience. And if you’re thinking of streaming video content on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, or Twitch, figuring out the ideal bitrate specifications for each platform can quickly become overwhelming.
Good news though? Understanding bitrate isn’t as complicated as you may think.
In this guide, we’ll break down what is bitrate in video, how it impacts the overall quality of your video, and what you can do to make sure your final result is published in higher quality.
Jump to a specific section:
- What is Bitrate in Video? (And Why it Matters)
- What is Bitrate Encoding and Why is it Important in Streaming?
- Does a Higher Bitrate Mean a Good Thing?
- What is a Good Bitrate for Streaming?
[#TOC1]What is Bitrate in Video?[#TOC1]
Picture bitrate as the quality knob for your video. Crank it up, and you get clarity and sharpness. Turn it down, and things might get noisy and a bit fuzzy. The higher the bitrate of a video, the better quality it has from a viewing perspective.
Technically, bits are units of data that make up a piece of digital content such as a photo or video. Bitrate is the amount of data transmitted or processed in a given amount of time. It’s measured in the number of bits per second: megabits per second (Mbps) or kilobits per second (Kbps) for digital media like videos.
So, if you were to record a 1080p video from your mobile, the bitrate or quality per second of your video could be 10 Mbps. But if you want to export your video file in 4K, the general rule of thumb says you need to quadruple (4X) your video bitrate for better clarity, which means turning it up to 40 Mbps.
Why Does Bitrate Matter?
Bitrate is not just limited to the visual quality of a video, rather it influences a variety of other factors that contribute to how polished and engaging your final video looks and feels.
- Audio Quality Enhancement: Bitrate impacts audio clarity and fidelity, delivering high-quality sound.
- Smooth Playback and Streaming: Adequate bitrate prevents slow buffering and ensures seamless video and audio playback.
- Dynamic Scenes Quality: Complex, fast-moving scenes benefit from a higher bitrate to avoid blurriness and artifacts.
- Complex Content Handling: Different types of content, such as gaming or animation, may require varying bitrates for optimal quality.
- Audience Experience: Bitrate directly influences the viewer's experience, making it a key factor for content creators and platforms.
[#TOC2]What is Bitrate Encoding and Why is it Important in Streaming?[#TOC2]
Bitrate encoding is the process of compressing digital audio or video data by adjusting the bitrate, which is the amount of data processed per unit of time.
Most creators perform bitrate encoding to reduce the file size of their digital media. By compressing the data, you can store more content in the same amount of space, making it more efficient for storage and transmission. In addition, adjusting the bitrate helps you deliver a smoother playbook and streaming experience, especially in situations with limited bandwidth.
Bitrate encoding can vary depending on the type of footage. For instance, a mobile-recorded SD (standard definition) video might have a 480p resolution and a 3.5Mbps bitrate, while a professional camera-recorded UHD (ultra high definition) 4K video can range from 44-85 Mbps, depending on the frame rate.
What About Bitrate Encoding for Live Streaming?
To understand what’s the best bitrate encoding method for live streaming, you need to first understand the two different types of bitrate encoding:
- CBR: As the name indicates, constant bitrate (CBR) refers to transmitting data at a constant rate. This means the encoder isn’t responsive to the varying size or complexity of the files it processes and instead outputs data at a constant rate. CBR is widely preferred for online live streaming as it’s the most compatible option.
- VBR: Variable bitrate (VBR) refers to transmitting data at a variable rate. Here, data is packaged by its complexity and so, the transmission process is optimized. This type of bitrate is best suited for on-demand video transcoding as it takes longer to process the data.
Since CBR produces consistent results (e.g. if you set it to 2000 kbps, it’ll remain constant throughout the stream), it’s the perfect option for live stream encoding.
Considering that CBR outputs data at a constant rate, it’s recommended to set a higher bitrate so your encoder can process more complex scenes and data segments seamlessly. Setting a high bitrate sounds like an obvious choice since it also leads to higher quality video footage.
But what’s interesting is that when it comes to live streaming, deciding on bitrate is a tradeoff between quality and functionality. Live streaming with excessively high bitrates can lead to a choppy or lagging stream.
Think of it like this: would you watch a video stream at a lower resolution like 720p without any interruptions, buffering, and lagging, or watch a 4K stream that keeps refreshing with frozen frames?
Both, as a creator and viewer, the first option seems marginally better since it delivers a consistent and engaging experience.
Note: Mbps and MBps are two entirely different things. Megabits per second (Mbps) refers to the upload and download speeds, while megabytes per second (MBps) refers to the volume of information that gets transferred.
[#TOC3]Does a Higher Bitrate Mean a Good Thing?[#TOC3]
Well, it depends. A higher video bitrate results in better quality but it also increases the size of your file. The larger your file, the more buffering or lagging issues it may be susceptible to, dampening the viewers’ experience.
In live streaming, an excessively high video bitrate may result in a choppy stream that could lag for viewers depending on their internet connection. Ideally, you should stick to an optimal bitrate and resolution depending on the platform you’re streaming on.
So, does a higher bitrate offer any practical benefits? A higher bitrate is mainly helpful when adding special effects to your footage. For example, it’s easier to “key” a green screen in a video shot in a high bitrate, as it allows video editing software to discern the green color better. This results in effects that seem more realistic.
In addition, for live-action videos, fast-paced gaming, or animation, higher bitrates ensure that the content appears smooth and crisp, preserving the details even in complex scenes. However, simpler or static content may not require such high bitrates and can be efficiently compressed, making it easier to stream and store.
The simple reason behind this is that as your video’s complexity and resolution scales up, it also packs in more visual details and supports a broader color spectrum. To support these additional elements, it’s important to increase your video bitrate. That way, you can preserve finer visual details, minimize compression artifacts, maintain color and depth accuracy, and deliver stunning visuals.
Ultimately, the suitability of a higher bitrate depends on the specific goals of your video. The key is to strike the right balance considering the goal of your video, where it’ll be shared, and the preferences of your audience.
[#TOC4]What is a Good Bitrate for Streaming?[#TOC4]
When live streaming on different platforms, you may experience bandwidth limits for upload and download transfers.
Bandwidth in video streaming refers to the amount of video data that can be transmitted over an internet connection in a given period. It’s usually measured in bits per second (ps) or kilobits per second (Kbps), megabits per second (Mbps), or gigabits per second (Gbps).
To ensure a buffer-free streaming experience, make sure you use optimal bitrate recommendations tailored to the specific platform you’re hosting your live stream on.
Here’s a list of the most popular live streaming platforms, different video resolutions, and their best video bitrate recommendations.
In the context of video streaming, bandwidth is a critical factor because it determines the quality and smoothness of the streaming experience. A higher available bandwidth allows more data transfer, resulting in higher audio and video quality. Conversely, a lower bandwidth can lead to reduced video quality, buffering, and interruptions during playback, particularly for high-resolution or high-bitrate content.
There’s no single bitrate that works best for every creator because the right choice will depend on how, what, and where you plan to stream or publish your video.
It’s all great to have higher bitrates and publish incredibly appealing videos or stream like it’s being captured on a $3,000 camera. But if your bitrate interferes with the viewing experience, it defeats the purpose.
Key points to remember:
- Use your streaming platform’s recommended bitrate specs to ensure your video doesn’t have buffering or freezing issues for viewers.
- When recording a video, select a higher bitrate by default, as you can bring it down in post-production if needed. In case you opt to record your footage at a lower bitrate, you might struggle to amp up its overall quality in the editing stage.
- Use video editing software like VEED to create high-production quality videos as it comes with pre-designed templates that have optimal settings. No need to remember technical specs for different platforms, simply plug your video, edit it, and export in the ideal aspect ratio and other specs.