A no-nonsense guide to streaming quality without all of the tech specs and data sheets.
I have been wanting to include the content below in many of my past blog posts but never have found a good fit for working it in. So I decided today’s post would be all about helping people understand the varying qualities used in live streaming. If you are looking for all of the charts and data sheets on which bitrate is best with each frame setting and size then you are in the wrong place. If you looking for a basic opinion on what general qualities you should set your live stream to, then continue reading.
Why shouldn’t you stream at the highest quality possible?
One of the most common problems we see from broadcasters is that they try to live stream at a higher quality than their internet or equipment allows and sometimes even higher than any of their viewers can watch. Most everyone is streaming multiple bitrates now so the viewers still get to see the stream, but many of them will be watching the low resolution versions if you set your other streams too high. One recent example we had was a church that was streaming 1080p with a bitrate of 6000 kbps through our system. Their equipment could handle it and their internet connection was great. However, when we checked the viewer stats we found that of their 224 live viewers only 2 had watched the 1080p version. All 222 of the others had connected to either their medium (720p/1500kbps) or their low (360p/350kbps) feed. This church had spent valuable resources on better equipment and a better internet connection and it only increased the quality for 1% of their viewers. There is also a very good chance that those 2 viewers were watching on a normal size screen and would never notice the difference in the 720p and 1080p qualities.
What is a good setting for HD quality?
For a guide on which quality would best serve your viewers for your HD bitrate lets take a look at a company that handles many live streams each week with millions of viewers, ESPN. In most cases ESPN sets their highest live streaming quality at 720p/2500kbps. We feel like this is a very good example of real world HD when live streaming. If you decide to stream at this quality then you would also want to include 1 or 2 additional lower qualities for viewers with slower internet connections (I will address this below). If you do your research you will find that some services like Netflix will have bitrates as high as 6000kbps for their Ultra HD movies. What you have to remember is that Netflix is serving up replay files and not live streams. It is much easier to have a seamless streaming experience from a replay file that only has to go from the server to the viewer than it is from a live stream that has to be ingested, processed in real time, and then delivered in real time.
So what settings should I have my streams at?
What I am offering here is merely general suggestions and each broadcaster’s situation can vary. However, here are the most common scenarios we see our broadcasters choose after testing their equipment and viewership.
- Scenario 1: Very good equipment and very good internet connection
- Stream 1 – 720p/2500kbps
- Stream 2 – 480p/800kbps
- Stream 3 – 216p/350kbps
- Scenario 2: Good equipment and good internet connection
- Stream 1 – 720p/1500kbps
- Stream 2 – 360p/500kbps
- Scenario 3: Fair equipment and fair internet connection
- Stream 1 – 480p/800kbps
- Stream 2 – 216p/350kbps
- Scenario 4: Borderline equipment or internet connection
- Stream 1 – 216p/350kbps
Ultimately, you should consult your streaming provider and run a series of test before deciding your final settings. But hopefully these scenarios give you a good starting point.