How Bitrate and Resolution affect your live streams

How do you maximize your streaming quality while keeping buffer times low for your viewers?

How do you maximize your streaming quality while keeping buffer times low for your viewers? This is an important question that any experienced live streamer should know the answer to. Luckily, we’re here to go over the basics with you.

Being a pioneer in web video content since 1999, live streaming has been an established part of Qbrick for many years. Offering a reliable, modern and well tested platform both companies and public organizations utilize the Qbrick Video Platform (QVP) as their primary streaming solution.

Today the streaming process has become streamlined to the point that almost all thresholds have been leveled, opening up for more content and bigger publishing freedom.

Yet there are aspects to consider in order to maximize performance and quality of your broadcast, let’s look at how bitrate and resolution play into this. 

What is bitrate?

In short bitrate is the amount of data being displayed during a set time frame. The most common measurements are megabits or kilobits per second (mbts and kbts), meaning that a higher bit value results in a higher quality image.

Resolution on the other hand is measured by the number of pixels within the video frame; 1920×1080 equals High Definition (HD) while 3840×2160 is commonly referred to as 4K resolution. While technically not being tied to one another, the two aspects do play off each other to determine video playback quality – a video can have a high resolution but still look bad because of bad bitrate and vice versa. We covered the basics of what this means in a previous blog post. Check it out for more details.

Video resolutions map

The downsides of maximum quality

Seeing how higher bitrate and resolution leads to better quality one might then be tempted to turn all the knobs to eleven for best effect. Sadly, this isn’t viable, neither for the producer or the viewer. Higher quality means more data needs to be transferred which will strain the internet connection often leading to a choppy, buffer filled, annoying and, ultimately, unwatchable stream. 

Instead, approach the quality settings as being on a “budget” where the settings must fit within the capacity of the average internet connection.

Assess what would be an adequate quality and then optimize the settings to match it. Now you know exactly how your stream will look under perfect circumstances.

And even without these “budget limitations”, the truth of the matter is that beyond a certain (quality) point it makes little to no difference how HQ your feed is, as most viewers won’t have devices that support that extraordinary quality. 

In fact, many of your viewers won’t have the optimal conditions even if you make a functioning streaming “budget”. Whether it’s viewed on a smartphone plan with limited data or a flimsy wi-fi connection your prime quality setting won’t always be feasible as the viewer would experience buffering every time the connection dipped.

Luckily the solution to this dilemma is built into most modern streaming platforms.

The benefits of streaming platforms

Without getting into the nitty gritty details, pushing a stream through a streaming platform essentially recalibrates the original feed into several lesser quality alternatives.

This makes watching the stream plausible even with a less than optimal internet connection, as when the connection eventually dips the stream continues but in a lower quality format (until the connection speed is back on track and the higher quality is available again).

streaming qualities

Find the sweet spot

As previously mentioned, pushing your settings too far is unnecessary, as most viewers won’t benefit from this. Buffer times will increase, and viewers might find this frustrating.

However, viewers with strong internet connections should be able to watch your stream on reasonable high quality settings. This means that your original maximum settings should be good enough to satisfy this group of viewers. Let’s call them your super star viewers.

Beyond that, your streaming platform will offer up lower quality versions of your stream to viewers with lesser connection quality, making it redundant to push the original broadcast settings too low.

What you need to find is a sweet spot. Evaluate your target audience, where your stream will be watched from, and decide how far you want to go with your maximum streaming settings. And then your streaming platform will solve the rest for you.

Need help finding the balance?

As with most things finding the best balance is a matter of trial and error. When you’re first starting out, it’s important to have a streaming platform that can act as a helping hand and partner for you.

If you’re wondering how to get started, you can contact our team to get a personal demo and onboarding into the world of live streaming. 

Before you know it, you’ll be an expert in quality settings.


Andreas Bard

Video editor and content creator

Andreas Bard (Qbrick Production Team) is a video editor and content creator based in Stockholm.

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