Video Bitrate: What It Is And The Best Bitrates for Streaming Video

By Harmonie Duhamel

14 Min Read

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Harmonie Duhamel

Harmonie is a Senior digital marketer with over 6 years in the Tech Industry. She has a strong marketing and sales background and loves to work in multilingual environments.

Table of Contents

    You’ve carefully planned your business’ video content strategy, gathered your streaming equipment, and chosen the platform you want to use for video hosting and streaming your videos.

    An important thing to keep in mind is making sure you are always serving up the highest-quality videos to your audience, regardless of their device or internet connection. One way to ensure that you are always delivering great-looking videos to your viewers is to choose the optimal video bitrate for your streaming needs.

    In this piece, we will further discuss what video bitrate is, how it compares to video resolution, and how to choose the best video bitrate for streaming your content.

    You will walk away with an understanding of what is bitrate in video and what is the best bitrate for streaming. 

    Table of Contents

    • What is Video Bitrate?
    • How is Video Bitrate Measured?
    • What is Video Resolution?
    • A Guide to Video Bitrates
    • What is the Best Video Bitrate for Streaming?
    • Conclusion

    With so many different terms in the online video world, it’s easy for them to become confused, especially if you’re not an experienced video streamer in the first place.

    Before we can dig into the optimal video bitrate for your content, it’s essential that you fully understand the difference between video bitrate and a commonly confused term, video resolution.

    What is Video Bitrate?

    what is video bitrate
    Video bitrate refers to how much data you are transferring via the internet at any given time.

    What is video bitrate? Video bitrate is, quite simply, the amount of video data transferred over the internet at any given time. Video bitrate is a measurement of the quantity of data that you are sending over the internet at one point in time. 

    A high bitrate is one of the key factors that contribute to your video’s overall quality. If your video has a high bitrate, as well as high resolution and a high frame rate, it will provide your viewers with a high-quality video that streams seamlessly. The video bitrate impacts the quality of the stream for the end-user. 

    Because video data is much larger than the data required to transmit photos or text, ensuring that your videos’ bitrate is high enough to quickly and reliably move your data over the internet is key to making sure your viewers have a smooth, reliable stream when they’re watching your videos. Having a good video bitrate is essential for a quality video. 

    In short, the bitrate is the speed at which your video content uploads to the internet from your camera or your server, as well as the speed at which your viewers are able to download your video content from the internet onto their devices. Video bitrate impacts the end-user experience.

    How is Video Bitrate Measured?

    Bitrate is measured in bits per second or bps. 

    While using a measurement such as kilobits per second (kbps) works for audio and other smaller files, it isn’t enough to capture just how much data is moved quickly with video files. That is why bps are used instead of kbps; bits per second are a larger unit of measure than kilobits. 

    Megabits per second, or Mbps, are used when discussing the bitrate of a video file. This number shows the millions of bits of data uploaded to and downloaded from the internet each second.

    What is Video Resolution?

    what is video resolution
    Video resolution is a measure of the number of pixels that form your video’s frame.

    Video resolution is another marker of the overall quality of a video file, but it doesn’t have anything to do with how quickly video data is transferred over the internet.

    Instead, video resolution refers to the number of pixels forming the video frame, creating the video’s image on the screen. The more pixels a video contains, the higher that video’s quality.

    Because it takes more data to move more pixels, a video with a higher resolution often requires a higher bitrate in order to get to the viewer quickly and reliably.

    In most cases, if it’s a matter of choosing video quality over the quick transmission of files, it’s better to choose a lower video resolution and have the video file transmit without pausing than to use a high video resolution but force the viewer to sit and wait for all that data to travel to their device.

    Video resolution and video bitrate are connected together, but they are not the same thing. Video resolution is the number of pixels creating the video frame; video bitrate is the speed at which the data for the video is transferred, with higher video resolutions requiring the transfer of more data.

    A Guide to Video Bitrates

    Choosing the right video bitrate for your content is dependent greatly upon how that video will be consumed and whether you are trying to transmit high-resolution video.

    The lower the resolution needs for your video, and the lower the resolution of the screen a user will be viewing, the lower the bitrate your video needs. But, as the resolution of the video increases, the more your video’s bitrate needs to increase.

    Additionally, your bitrates need to take into consideration variable internet speeds.

    For viewers that have better, more reliable internet connections, a higher bitrate is ideal. But those viewers with lower-quality, less reliable internet connections need a lower bitrate to avoid constant buffering and lagging video feeds.

    The best bitrate for video streaming depends in part on the end user’s internet speed and the device they are using to access your content. 

    Bitrates and Video Encoding

    Selecting a video file’s bitrate happens during the encoding process.

    You select the bitrate you want your video to be transferred at, and your video encoder ensures that the file is compressed into one smooth, steady video to help meet that bitrate. 

    Your videos also need to be transcoded, or compressed into a smaller file size, to help with their uninterrupted delivery to the viewer.

    Because you are likely to have different viewers with different bitrate needs, making sure that your videos are available in all these different bitrates is important to serving up the right version to each viewer at the right time. But doesn’t this mean that you need to transcode multiple versions of your video, each at a different bitrate?

    No, it doesn’t — that’s where multi-bitrate streaming comes in.

    Multi-bitrate streaming involves making multiple copies of a video, each with a different bitrate. These videos are then waiting to be used, chosen specifically by the user.

    This type of streaming also supports adaptive bitrate streaming. This process analyzes the internet signal in use by an individual user and then serves them the bitrate best suited to their signal. So, one user with a great signal will be sent a video file at a high bitrate, while another user will be sent the same video in a lower bitrate because they have a weak signal.

    With multi-bitrate streaming, the viewer selects the resolution they want to watch the video at. With adaptive bitrate streaming, the user’s internet signal is analyzed, and the highest quality version of the video is sent to them. 

    Bitrates and Frame Rate

    frame rate fps
    Frame rate measures how quickly individual frames of your video appear in succession to one another.

    Your video’s frame rate is measured in frames per second or FPS. This metric measures how quickly consecutive images appear in a video feed.

    Think of frame rate kind of like a flipbook: The faster you turn a page holding an individual image, the more consistent and smooth the overall image appears. As you slowed down, you began to see more of the individual images instead of one fluid, moving image.

    If you have a lower frame rate, you are more likely to experience jerky, slow video viewing than if your video’s frame rate is higher.

    However, there is no one “optimal” frame rate. Instead, the frame rate of your video is determined largely by what you’re depicting.

    If you’re shooting just a regular video with low action, you can get away with a lower frame rate. For things such as sporting events, however, you need a higher frame rate to keep up with the quick-moving action and to keep the details crisp for viewers.

    Frame Rate vs. Resolution and Bitrate

    So, how do frame rate, resolution, and bitrate work together?

    The frame rate and resolution of a video are somewhat related. If you have a higher frame rate, chances are you’re going to have a higher video resolution, too, so that the video’s details are more clear. 

    And, both the frame rate and resolution are related to a video’s bitrate, as the higher the resolution and frame rate, the higher the bitrate will have to be for a file to travel quickly over the internet.

    The best video bitrate depends upon the original frame rate and resolution of the video file. 

    Mobile Bitrates

    With so much video being consumed on mobile devices, and with mobile data plans becoming more and more limited for users, the bitrate of video streamed on mobile devices is crucial. 

    Additionally, because the internet connections used by viewers when live streaming from mobile devices can be unpredictable, it’s important that you are able to provide video files at a bitrate that will stream well on your users’ mobile devices without unnecessarily eating up their data.

    Providing a wide range of bitrates in your videos, thanks to multi-bitrate streaming, allows you to reach the largest number of devices and offer the best quality video.

    For those with older devices, a lower bitrate is necessary since they cannot stream high-definition content; newer devices, on the other hand, are capable of streaming exceptionally high-quality content and require higher bitrates.

    What is the Best Video Bitrate for Streaming?

    Finding the right bitrate for your content can be a challenge.

    Here are some recommended bitrates, depending on the resolution of the video you’re planning to stream:

    NameDescriptionMax Video BitrateMax Audio Bitrate
    4K – 2160pUHD (Ultra High Definition)20 Mbps128
    2K – 1440pQHD (Quad High Definition)15 Mbps128
    FHD – 1080pFHD (Full HD)7 Mbps128
    HD – 720pSHD (Standard HD)5 Mbps128
    SD – 480pFWGVA (Full Wide Video Graphics Array)2 Mbps128
    LD – 360pnHD (Ninth of High Definition)1.5 Mbps128
    ULD – 240pWQVGA (Wide Quarter Video Graphics Array)0.5 Mbps128

    As you can see, the best video bitrate depends upon the quality of the original video file. The highest bitrate necessary for 4K content is 20 Mbps

    Optimal Bitrates for 20 Popular Streaming Platforms

    Knowing the best video bitrate for streaming on the video streaming platform you use is one of the key factors for selecting the best bitrate for streaming your content.

    Here are the optimal bitrates for 20 popular streaming platforms:

    Platform NameOptimal Video BitrateOptimal Audio Bitrate
    Facebook Live4 Mbps128 Kbps
    DacastUp to 4.5 Mbps128 Kbps
    WirecastUp to 6 Mbps128 Kbps
    IBM Cloud VideoUp to 8 Mbps128 Kbps
    WistiaUp to 10 Mbps128 Kbps
    Vimeo LivestreamUp to 5 Mbps128 Kbps
    Kaltura2 Mbps128 Kbps
    Brightcove10 Mbps128 Kbps
    JW PlayerUp to 9 Mbps128 Kbps
    FlowplayerUp to 10 Mbps128 Kbps
    VidyardUp to 12 Mbps128 Kbps
    WowzaUp to 12 Mbps128 Kbps
    Youtube1.5 to 4 Mbps128 Kbps
    Twitch2.5 to 4 Mbps128 Kbps
    DailymotionUp to 4 Mbps192 Kbps
    TikTokUnknownUnknown
    Instagram3.5 Mbps128 Kbps
    vMixUp to 25 Mbps128 Kbps
    Periscope2.5 Mbps128 Kbps
    MuviUp to 6 Mbps128 Kbps

    The best streaming bitrate depends upon the video resolution and frames per second of your source video, as well as the video hosting and streaming platform you are working with. 

    Conclusion

    The video bitrate you select for your video content makes all the difference in how quickly it is uploaded and downloaded from the internet, and also plays directly into the overall quality of the video.

    The higher-quality your picture, the higher your video’s bitrate needs to be to transmit your video data with as little interruption to your viewer as possible.

    With Dacast, you get multi-bitrate streaming capability, allowing you to transcode your videos so they stream on a variety of devices with just a few settings. And, with adaptive bitrate streaming, your viewers get the video file with the optimal bitrate for their device automatically for seamless streaming.

    This all works together to ensure that your viewers have the best video-watching experience possible. 

    Are you ready to see what the Dacast platform can do for your VOD and live streaming content? Try it free for 14 days. You get access to all our great features without paying high startup fees, signing a contract, or giving away your credit card number.

    Get started for free

    Do you still have questions or feedback about video bitrates? Send us a question or a comment and we will get back to you. For regular tips and exclusive offers, you can join our LinkedIn group.

    author avatar

    Harmonie Duhamel

    Harmonie is a Senior digital marketer with over 6 years in the Tech Industry. She has a strong marketing and sales background and loves to work in multilingual environments.

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