The Best Streaming Resolution Settings for Live Quality Video

By Emily Krings

14 Min Read

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Emily Krings

Emily is a strategic content writer and story teller. She specializes in helping businesses create blog content that connects with their audience.

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    Streaming video resolution is a very important metric for live streaming. It contributes to the quality of a video stream which plays a huge role in the user experience.

    To achieve the desired streaming resolution settings, broadcasters must get familiar with encoders and their various settings. One of the encoders that broadcasters need to learn about is the H.264 streaming encoder. 

    Encoders include a wide range of settings for video resolution quality, frame rate, audio bitrate, and other variables, as well as protocol, bitrate encoding type, pixel aspect ratio, and so on. With all of this in mind, you’re likely wondering what are the best streaming resolution settings.

    In this post, we will discuss the best resolution for streaming for high-quality live streaming. We’ll also cover what an encoder is, how encoder settings relate to internet speed, and other suggested encoder settings for streaming. This will allow you to learn about the best resolution for streaming, so your viewers can enjoy the highest possible streaming quality.

    Table of Contents:

    • What is Video Streaming Resolution?
    • What is an Encoder and What Does it Do?
    • Choosing Encoder Settings Based on Internet Speed
    • The Best Resolution for Live Streaming
    • Other Recommended Encoder Settings
    • Conclusion

    What is Video Streaming Resolution?

    Video Streaming Resolution
    Streaming resolution measures the size of a video in pixels.

    Streaming resolution is the measurement of your video width by height, and it is measured in pixels. For example, a video with a 2560 x 1440 aspect ratio would measure 2560 pixels along the bottom and 1440 pixels in height. This measurement is also called “spatial resolution.”

    When discussing video streaming resolution, it’s important to acknowledge the difference between progressive and interlaced, which determines how the pixels are displayed on the screen.  Progressive videos produce a more fluid image, and interlaced videos appear more “pixelated.”

    Oftentimes, video streaming resolution is called out by just the height of the video. Continuing the example from above, a stream with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 would be simply referred to as “1440p” or “1440i.” In these resolution examples “p” stands for “progressive,” and“i” stands for “interlaced.” Most people are used to streaming resolutions such as 720p, 1080p, 1440p, and 2160p (4K). These resolutions are used for televisions and online video streaming.

    The Best Resolution for Live Streaming

    best video resolution
    Configuring your video resolution settings requires a bit of compromise.

    When it comes to live streaming, it is typically believed that higher video resolution equates to a better quality viewing experience on any given live streaming platform. However, this is not entirely true.

    Live streaming requires a trade-off between video quality and speed. This has to do with the fact that a higher resolution also requires higher bandwidth to stream the video effectively.

    The two most common streaming resolution settings are:

    1. Standard definition at 720 x 480 pixels (480p)
    2. High definition at 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p)

    In practice, this usually gets sampled down to a somewhat lower resolution, 640 x 360 pixels (360p), or smaller.

    Please keep in mind that most resolutions are communicated based on their height, which is why it’s common to see HD TVs billed as 1080p.

    It’s always necessary to consider data rate and resolution together, as one limits the other. Streaming at a higher data rate allows higher resolution. That means that streaming resolution is greatly impacted by a viewer’s data capabilities. 

    It’s also important to consider the download rate for viewers. For high-definition streaming, all of your viewers should have an effective download rate of at least 5 Mbps.

    Higher bandwidth is a good idea. This is all possible with high-speed internet connections, which typically run at over 100 Mbps. Keep in mind that not all of your viewers have such high internet speeds, which impact their streaming resolution.

    Most encoders allow settings of 1080p, 720p, 480p, 360p and 240p (height) and corresponding width. Setting this to the highest resolution that your internet can handle allows recipients to view the video in the best streaming resolution quality without buffering.

    It’s possible to broadcast simultaneously in SD and HD, but this requires sending two streams to your host service. It does not affect the download bandwidth requirement but does require more upload speed than a single transmission. Sending multiple streams to your streaming service is referred to as multi-bitrate streaming. 

    What is an Encoder and What Does it Do?

    what is an encoder?
    An encoder is essential for professional broadcasting.

    An encoder is an essential tool for professional live streaming. It takes the RAW video files from your camera and converts them to files suitable for streaming over the internet. With streaming video size, the smaller the files, the better. 

    There are both hardware and software encoders. Each of these options comes with its own pros and cons. Generally, software encoders are much cheaper and easier to use. On the other hand, hardware encoders are dedicated devices, so they tend to be better at their job.

    We recommend starting with a free encoder, such as OBS Studio, to familiarize yourself with the different encoding features before making a larger investment in an encoder with advanced capabilities. The best encoder for streaming is one that you are able to easily work with.

    As we mentioned, the settings that we review in this post are specifically for H.264 encoding. H.264 is the optimal codec for live video streaming, so we will be talking about encoders that are compatible with video streaming protocols. H.264 is great for live streaming and video-on-demand. 

    Choosing Encoder Settings Based on Internet Speed

    The average download speed in the United States varies widely by state. Even within one state, individuals likely have different live streaming internet speeds depending on their service for internet connection. That is why it is important to offer a range of resolutions to viewers, such as 720p resolution streaming as well as higher and lower resolution settings.

    It is important to keep in mind that many people will view your broadcast from free WiFi connections or over cellular data on their smartphones. Those tend to be a bit slower than high-speed home connections.

    With more and more people using mobile devices for viewing content online, you want to ensure you have the right resolution streaming settings for your content. 

    You should be streaming with the video resolution and other encoder settings that will work best for the upload and download speed that your viewers have access to. To determine which settings are best, you should identify where your viewers live and what kind of connection and hardware they’ll be using. This will help you establish your video streaming settings. 

    However, if you know that your audience has the technical ability to handle HD quality broadcasting, it’s also a good idea to know what settings will optimize that experience for them.

    Suggested Streaming Resolution and Bitrate Settings for Different Video Qualities

    video resolution settings
    Bitrate and streaming resolution settings go hand-in-hand.

    To control the quality of your video, you’re going to need to choose the proper combination of streaming resolution and bitrate settings.

    Here are the suggested streaming resolution settings for ultra-low definition, low definition, standard definition, high definition, and full high definition. As you will see, we’ve also listed the video bitrates and H.246 profile that corresponds with each resolution. This will help you choose live encoder settings, bitrates, and resolutions. 

    ULDLDSDHDFHD
    NameUltra-Low DefinitionLow DefinitionStandard DefinitionHigh DefinitionFull High Definition
    Video Bitrate (kbps)350350 – 800800 – 12001200 – 19001900 – 4500
    Resolution Width (px)42664085412801920
    Resolution Height (px)2403604807201080
    H.264 ProfileMainMainHighHighHigh

    Other Recommended Encoder Settings

    Streaming resolution is simply one of many encoder settings that broadcasters can use to control the quality of your live stream.

    We’d like to point out that there’s no definitive set of “best” encoder settings for live streaming. However, your choices are limited not only by your own upload bandwidth but also by the connection speed available to your viewers. The best streaming resolution is a compromise between what you can offer and what internet quality your viewers have.

    That said, here is an overview of some of the suggested encoder settings for high-quality live streaming.

    Bitrate Settings

    Bitrate refers to the rate of data transmission. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need a higher bitrate setting to effectively broadcast at a higher definition and frame rate. Transmitting HD video at a low bitrate is pointless since the transmission speed won’t allow the high quality you’re looking for.

    For video bitrates, you have to walk a tightrope between video quality and user experience. There is a hack to navigate this issue with grace.

    Multi-bitrate streaming allows you to stream at different bitrates so that users with different internet speeds can access the optimal file size.

    For example, you can stream in high definition at 2MB per second alongside a standard definition 500kbps feed. That way you can cater to both an optimal quality and optimal user experience, depending on their connection speed.

    However, please note that multi-bitrate streaming requires a very fast upload speed. You’ll want to make sure your upload speed is double the total bitrate you plan to stream at. Another general rule of thumb is to allow for an adaptive bitrate and offer your bitrate at something lower than 1MB per second if you are only doing a single bitrate stream.

    Frame Rate Settings

    frame rate
    Frame rate measures how many frames (or images) are transmitted per second.

    Videos may look like smooth moving images, but they are actually a series of still shots that are presented to your eyes at a rapid speed, to create the illusion of motion.

    That is where the other main variable setting, frame rate, comes into play. Frame rate is the number of “frames,” or still images, that are transmitted each second, and it is measured in frames per second (fps).

    As with streaming resolution, there’s a trade-off between higher frame rates, which improve video quality, and higher video bandwidth requirements.

    Most streaming video today has a frame rate of 24 fps or higher, with video running at 60 fps is at the very high end and rarely used. Dropping it much below 24 fps results in significant choppiness especially when fast motion is shown.

    That said, 30 fps is the standard, which is often called a full-frame. This is the general frame rate seen for a lot of televised content. Therefore 30 fps works as a good base, and if the motion does not look as smooth as desired, it can be slowly adjusted until the playback is optimal.

    You can use a feature called “variable bitrate streaming” to adjust the rate automatically to have the best image even if a lot is happening on the screen.

    A related setting is keyframe frequency or keyframe interval. This should be set to 2 or 3 seconds in every scenario.

    Additional Encoder Settings

    Besides resolution and frame rate, your encoding software allows you to choose the streaming protocol, video codec, audio codec, and other parameters for how the video and audio content is encoded and broadcast.

    Most of these other settings don’t affect video quality or bandwidth requirements in the same way as resolution and frame rate. Instead, they should be set to whatever your video platform requires.

    Please check out our dedicated guide to live streaming encoder configurations for more information on encoder settings.

    Conclusion

    Setting up your encoder with the best streaming resolution may seem a little daunting at first, but it shouldn’t be. Using an H.264 streaming encoder should be simple. There are two main things to remember.

    One is the trade-off between video quality (as determined by resolution and frame rate) and required bandwidth for both upload and download streaming. The other thing to keep in mind is your streaming platform and any encoding requirements for that software.

    Once you have the settings figured out and tested, you can leave them alone unless something significant changes.

    As we mentioned, free encoding software is your best bet if you are new to professional broadcasting. We recommend the OBS Studio version that is customized to integrate seamlessly with the Dacast streaming solution.

    Want to try Dacast risk-free for 14 days? We invite you to take advantage of our free trial to test out our professional streaming features.

    All you have to do to get started is create a Dacast account today. No credit card is required.

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    For regular tips on live streaming, feel free to join our LinkedIn group.

    Thanks for reading, and good luck with your broadcasts!

    author avatar

    Emily Krings

    Emily is a strategic content writer and story teller. She specializes in helping businesses create blog content that connects with their audience.

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