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The Broadcasters Guide to HD vs SD Streaming for Live Video

By Emily Krings

11 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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    Table of Contents

      Several components play into the quality of a video stream. The resolution of a video is a major component that broadcasters can manipulate to get their desired results.

      Different video resolutions are categorized based on the quality of the video they produce. Two of the most common categorizations are standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). However, one of these is more ideal than the other.

      In this post, we’re going to provide a thorough breakdown of HD vs. SD streaming and the related aspects that contribute to your live stream’s quality. We will discuss video resolution and aspect ratio before we take a close look at the differences between SD and HD streaming. We’ll discuss which of these is better for streaming today before we look at some specific encoder settings for achieving your desired definition.

      To wrap things up, we will discuss multi-bitrate streaming and how it helps provide an optimal streaming experience. 

      Table of Contents

      • What is Video Resolution?
      • What is an Aspect Ratio?
      • HD vs. SD: What’s the Difference?
        • What is SD Streaming?
        • What is HD Streaming?
        • What is 4K Streaming?
      • Does SD vs. HD Matter for Streaming?
      • How to Stream in HD
      • How are Resolution and Bitrate Related?
      • Final Thoughts

      What is Video Resolution?

      Before we dive into SD and HD streaming, it’s important to understand what video resolution is. Video resolution is a term that describes the width by height measurement of a video in pixels.

      For example, a video that is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall would have a resolution of 1920 × 1080. Sometimes, the resolution is only labeled by its height. In that case, 1920 x 1080 would be referred to simply as “1080p.”

      We’d like to point out that a higher resolution does not always equal higher video quality. For viewers with super fast internet speeds, a higher resolution does create a better video quality, but viewers with slower internet will likely experience lagging and buffering if they try to stream in a high resolution.

      What is an Aspect Ratio?

      video aspect ratio
      There are a few common aspect ratios for online video streaming.

      Video aspect ratio is another concept that is important to understand before dissecting SD and HD video streaming.

      Aspect ratio describes the width to height ratio of a video. This also uses pixels to measure, but the figure is reduced to a simple ratio. For example, a video with 1920 × 1080 resolution has an aspect ratio of 16:9.

      16:9 is currently the standard aspect ratio for most streaming, however, 1:1 and 9:16 are common for mobile streaming. 4:3 used to be the standard aspect ratio for full-screen television, but that has since been replaced with 16:9 after wide-screen TVs became the norm.

      HD vs. SD: What’s the Difference?

      The difference between HD and SD videos is the resolution that each streams at, and therefore, the potential quality it can reach.

      Let’s take a closer look at the specs for each SD and HD streaming to give you a more concrete explanation for the difference between the two.

      What is SD Streaming?

      SD stands for “standard definition,” but SD streaming is no longer the standard in the video broadcasting industry. This is used to describe videos that have a maximum resolution of 480p.

      Compared to the streaming capabilities and technology that we have access to today, a resolution of 480p is very low. However, if you are streaming to an audience that has notoriously slow internet speeds, this may be your only option.

      It is also important to point out that it is common for SD videos to use the 4:3 aspect ratio that was popular with older televisions. This, too, is relatively outdated.

      Standard definition will likely die out over the next few years because online video streaming technology is moving beyond it. 

      What is HD Streaming?

      HD stands for “high definition,” and HD streaming is pretty much the industry standard. This is used to describe videos with resolutions around 720p to 1080p. 

      In general, the high resolution of HD streaming produces a much better video quality than SD. Having more pixels makes the image clearer and crisper. 

      Thanks to developments in video streaming technology, HD streaming is currently the standard. However, HD streaming probably will not be the standard for long since it’s likely that new technology will push it out of the way.

      What is 4K Streaming?

      As we discuss HD vs. SD streaming, it is important to point out that 4K streaming is also a possibility. 4K surpasses the resolution of both SD and HD streaming, and it produces much higher quality streams with very clear visuals.

      There are two standard resolutions of 4K streaming: 3840 x 2160 and 4096 x 2160.

      4K is currently the top option in video streaming. Although cameras can capture video in 5K and 6K resolutions, streaming technology has not caught up to this yet.

      What’s interesting about 4K video is that it is only possible with over-the-top (OTT) streaming that uses the internet to deliver video. It is not possible on traditional television delivery methods, like satellite or cable.

      Does SD vs. HD Matter for Streaming?

      SD vs. HD
      Which is better for streaming: SD or HD?

      If you are wondering if it matters whether you use SD or HD for streaming over the internet, the answer is yes. Each has its own benefits and downsides, but it is very important to consider your options.

      As a broadcaster, your viewers’ experience is very important. No matter if your streaming revenue-generating content or trying to grow your audience, the quality of your stream reflects back on your brand.

      We mentioned before that high resolution does not automatically equate to high quality. However, with more widespread accessibility to fast, reliable internet, broadcasters can count on a large portion of their audience having connections that can support HD streaming.

      We’d also like to point out that HD streaming eats up more bandwidth than SD streaming since it requires streaming at a higher bitrate. However, if you are looking to provide a top-notch experience for your viewers, making the extra investment in high-quality content should be a no-brainer.

      The bottom line is that HD streaming is typically the best way to go if the majority of your audience has access to reliable internet.

      How to Stream in HD

      Streaming in HD requires the support of a reliable camera and online video player. If your streaming setup isn’t in check, HD is out of the picture. Luckily most online video players, including Dacast, support HD streaming or better.

      If you are live streaming, your internet speed is also very important. In fact, it may be even more important than your viewers’ internet speed. Your internet network’s upload speed much be at least double the bandwidth that you’re intending to use for the stream.  

      Here are some general guidelines for internet speed and streaming video:

      • 25 Mbps: sufficient for streaming 1080p HD video
      • 10 Mbps: sufficient for 720p video
      • 5 Mbps: sufficient for 480p video

      A quick Google search for “internet speed” will pull up Google’s speed test tool. Run it to see where your connection is at.

      You must also properly configure your encoder’s bitrate and resolutions settings to ensure that your stream quality is where you want it to be.

      How are Resolution and Bitrate Related?

      Bitrate vs. Resolution
      Bitrate is nearly as important as resolution.

      Bitrate is a term that is used to describe the speed at which media is transferred over the internet.

      In many ways, bitrate and resolution go hand in hand. How you configure each in your encoder settings will determine the outcome of your video.

      Bitrate and Resolution Settings for Streaming in Different Definitions

      As we mentioned, broadcasting can control the resolution of their streams but manipulating the bitrate. This gives you the power to choose between standard and high definition.

      Here are the recommended bitrate and resolution settings for streaming in ultra-low definition, low definition, standard definition, high definition, and full high definition on Dacast.

        ULD LD SD HD FHD
      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
      H.264 Profile Main Main High High High

      For additional recommended and required encoder settings, please check out our dedicated post on encoder configurations.

      Multi-Bitrate Streaming

      Multi-Bitrate Streaming
      Multi-bitrate streaming with an adaptive bitrate video player makes HD streaming more feasible. 

      Even with relatively reliable internet connections across the board, the issue of finding one “perfect” bitrate/resolution combination is nearly impossible because there will still be some variety in viewers’ internet speeds.

      Luckily, there is a solution that addresses this issue. Multi-bitrate streaming actually allows broadcasters to create multiple copies of a video that use different bitrates so that users can access the video with the specs that make the most sense for their internet.

      These video copies are called renditions, and they are created through a process called “transcoding.” Having multiple renditions means that you’re prepared to serve content to users with any level of internet speed with no lagging or buffering.

      Multi-bitrate streaming with an adaptive video player takes this to the next level. With an adaptive video player, viewers are automatically served the optimal rendition for their internet speed. This enhances the user experience because the viewers can access the best video quality possible without making any manual indications.

      Final Thoughts

      Understanding the difference between HD and SD streaming is pretty simple. Simply put, HD videos have a much higher resolution than SD which makes them capable of providing a higher-quality streaming experience.

      With Dacast, you can stream at any resolution from ultra-low definition to full high definition. It all comes down to your encoder settings.

      If you are in need of a live streaming platform that gives you that sort of flexibility, we invite you to try Dacast. You can try our platform risk-free for 30 days to test out our professional features and see how our online video platform could work for you.

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

      GET STARTED FOR FREE

      For more tips and updates on live streaming, we invite you to join our LinkedIn group.

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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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