Decoding 720p: The Best Streaming Resolution Settings for Live Quality Video
You probably started live streaming to channel your inner AdinRoss, or even become the next NICKMERCS. Or maybe you create live streams to spread awareness for a cause or to grow your client base for your business or organization.
Unless you’re a video fanatic, you probably didn’t get into live streaming to learn all about the inner workings of 720p live stream resolution, aspect ratios, or H.264 streaming encoders. But thanks to the upsurge in the popularity of video content of all genres, bringing your unique perspective to the global video content scene is no longer enough. Broadcasters need to level up their video-quality game to magnetize, engage and maintain their audience.
Regardless of the motivation behind your live streams, chances are you’re not a professional videographer. Leaving you to wonder why a 720p live stream sometimes has better quality video than a 1080p live stream. Which streaming encoder do you need? And how learning about the H.264 bitrate can enable you to deliver an enhanced viewing experience?
Streaming video resolution is a crucial metric for live streaming. It contributes to the quality of a video stream which plays a huge role in the user experience. This blog explains how to master basic resolution settings and the best use cases for common stream resolutions, even for the least tech-savvy broadcasters.
Learning the basics of the inner workings of video resolution can enable content creators to troubleshoot and resolve common live streaming issues. Broadcasters must get familiar with encoders and their various settings to achieve the desired streaming resolution settings. One of the encoders that broadcasters need to learn about is the H.264 streaming encoder.
Learning the best streaming resolution is one of the fundamental basics to help make your content look more polished, professional, and high-end. We’ve also simplified why the 720p live stream resolution is currently every broadcaster’s favorite.
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. That’ll 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?
- The Best Resolution for Live Streaming
- The 720p Live Stream
- What is an Encoder and What Does it Do?
- Choosing Encoder Settings Based on Internet Speed
- Other Recommended Encoder Settings
- Multi-bitrate Streaming & Adaptive Bitrate Streaming
What is Video Streaming Resolution?
Streaming resolution is the measurement of your video width by height, 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.”
Often, 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 referred to as “1440p” or “1440i.” In these resolution examples, “p” stands for “progressive,” and“i” stands for “interlaced.” Most people are used to resolutions starting from 720p live stream quality up to 1080p, 1440p, and 2160p (4K). These resolutions are used for televisions and online video streaming.
The Best Resolution for Live Streaming
When it comes to live streaming, it is typically believed that higher video resolution equates to better streaming quality. That is the main factor in creating a better viewing experience on any live streaming platform. However, this is not entirely true.
Live streaming requires a trade-off between video quality and speed. That 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
- Standard definition at 720 x 480 pixels (480p)
- High definition at 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p)
In practice, this usually gets sampled down to a 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, as one limits the other. Streaming at a higher data rate allows for higher resolution. That means that a viewer’s data capabilities greatly impact streaming resolution.
It’s also important to consider the download rate for viewers. For high-definition streaming, all your viewers should have an effective download rate of at least 5 Mbps.
Higher bandwidth is a good idea. It’s 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 your internet can handle allows recipients to view the video in the best streaming resolution 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.
The 720p Live Stream
Most broadcasters prefer the 720p live stream [1280×720 pixels] resolution for multiple reasons, making it the most commonly used streaming resolution. The 720p live streaming video quality is also known as HD, HD ready, or standard HD.
This standard live stream configuration quality allows for smooth content delivery while maintaining relatively high video quality. You and your viewers don’t need super high-tech gear or internet connections to view 720p live streams seamlessly.
Another reason is that there is little to no noticeable difference between the 720p live stream quality and 1080p resolution for most small to mid-sized screens. So video content creators can deliver high-end-looking content even with limited bandwidth. That’s partly because the 720p live stream is displayed horizontally across the viewer’s screen.
Ready to start your 720p live stream but wondering if your internet connection is up to mark? Before you tweak your encoder settings, checking if your internet connection can match the streaming resolution you aim for is a good idea. Remember, download speed is not always an accurate indicator of your actual upload speed when it comes to live streaming.
A simple way to have peace of mind, the best streaming resolution, and minimal lag during live streaming is to use the free Google Fiber Speed Test tool to test your bandwidth. Another useful pointer is not to max out your internet speed aiming for the highest streaming resolution.
Your computer system and internet connection multitask during live streams other than just uploading. So if you’re putting out a 1080p stream while running other programs on your system simultaneously, it might cause you to lose frames. That’s another reason the 720p live stream resolution is ideal for most use cases.
Using 720p live streaming resolution lets you ensure excellent stream configuration quality while freeing up enough processing power and internet to run other programs. The 720p live stream resolution is also ideal for broadcasters with shared internet connections. Uploading a 720p live stream lets you maintain great streaming quality while building in a buffer in case someone else is browsing.
What is an Encoder and What Does it Do?
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 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 can easily work with.
As we mentioned, the settings we review in this post are specifically for H.264 streaming encoding. H.264 is the optimal codec for live video streaming, so we will discuss encoders compatible with video streaming protocols. H.264 bitrate 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 live stream resolution and higher and lower resolution streaming settings.
It is important to remember 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 correct 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 use. That’ll help you establish your video streaming settings.
However, suppose you know that your audience has the technical ability to handle HD-quality broadcasting. In that case, 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
To control your video’s streaming quality, you will 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. That’ll help you choose live encoder settings, bitrates, and resolutions.
|Name||Ultra-Low Definition||Low Definition||Standard Definition||High Definition||Full High Definition|
|Video Bitrate (kbps)||350||350 – 800||800 – 1200||1200 – 1900||1900 – 4500|
|Resolution Width (px)||426||640||854||1280||1920|
|Resolution Height (px)||240||360||480||720||1080|
Other Recommended Encoder Settings
Streaming resolution is simply one of many encoder settings that broadcasters can use to control the stream configuration quality of your video content. We’d like to point out that there’s no definitive set of “best” encoder settings for live streaming. However, your choices are limited by your upload bandwidth and the connection speed available to your viewers. The best streaming resolution is a compromise between what you can offer and your viewers’ internet quality.
Here is an overview of some of the suggested encoder settings for high-quality live streaming.
Bitrate refers to the rate of data transmission. The main thing to remember is that you need a higher bitrate setting to broadcast at a higher definition and frame rate effectively. Transmitting HD video at a low bit rate is pointless since the transmission speed won’t allow the high quality you’re looking for.
Take H. 264 bitrate for example. The compressed H 264 bitrate provides a higher video quality than other compressed bitrate formats. The H 264 bitrate also works well with low-latency internet connections because of its low bandwidth consumption. That makes the H 264 bitrate an ideal candidate for most online video platforms.
For video bitrates, you must 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 optimal quality and user experience, depending on their connection speed.
However, multi-bitrate streaming requires a breakneck 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.
Multi-Bitrate Streaming & Adaptive Bitrate Streaming
Both multi-bitrate streaming and adaptive bitrate streaming provide the viewer with the best viewing experience. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are referring to two different processes. Here is a simple explanation of the difference between these two and their different use cases.
What is Adaptive Bitrate Streaming?
Adaptive bitrate streaming is all about providing viewers with videos most efficiently and effectively for each user.
ABR technology adjusts the quality of each video a person watches based on three different criteria:
- Available bandwidth
- Network conditions
- User’s device performance
If you have ever started a video, and the quality looks a little hazy, and then it cleared up in a few seconds, you have experienced adaptive bitrate streaming in action. Behind the scenes, the video quality is adjusted, providing you with a clear image.
Adaptive bitrate streaming is always working behind the scenes to provide the best quality experience to your end users. It happens without the user having to do anything.
What is Multi-Bitrate Streaming?
Multi-bitrate streaming is different from adaptive bitrate streaming. Adaptive bitrate streaming happens behind the scenes, without the user having to do anything.
With multi-bitrate streaming, a video is made available in different bitrates, and the user can select the best video quality. If you have ever clicked on a video and can choose between 144p, 240p, 480p, and 720p live stream quality, that is multi-bitrate streaming.
It allows the users to choose what video quality they want. A viewer could choose to use a lower bitrate if they are trying to save data or a higher quality video to experience the best viewing experience.
Your video stays at the same rate regardless of what happens with your internet connection; with adaptive bitrate streaming, the stream configuration quality varies as your internet connection varies.
The Verdict Between ABR vs. MBR
With ABR, the video player selects the best video quality based on a viewer’s internet speed and changes as one watches the video.
With MBR, the user selects the video stream configuration quality manually. ABR provides a better end-user experience.
Frame Rate Settings
Videos may look like smooth-moving images, but they are 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 measured in frames per second (fps).
As with streaming configuration quality, 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 below 24 fps results in significant choppiness, especially when fast motion is shown.
That said, 30 fps is the standard, often called a full-frame. It’s 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. That 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.
Setting up your encoder with the best streaming resolution may seem a little daunting initially, 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 remember is your streaming platform and any encoding requirements for that software.
Once the settings are 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.
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Thanks for reading, and good luck with your broadcasts!