Video Production

Video Bitrate - All You Need to Know

Not sure what video bitrate settings to apply to your latest project? Dive into our info packed guide now, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know!

When it comes to video production it’s easy to get swamped by the large amount of technical information that exists out there, especially when that information changes based on what platform or software you are using. In this guide we’ll help you with everything you need to know about video bitrate – what it is, why it affects your videos and how to make sure your projects are bitrate optimised. So, whether you’re uploading on YouTube, posting on social media or livestreaming on Twitch, we’ve got you covered. 

What is video bitrate?

There is a good chance you’ve come across the term video bitrate if you’re in the world of video or content creation. Bitrate is a technical term that indicates how much data is written (and then read, on playback) per second (bit/s), which directly affects both the quality and size of a compressed video file.

Similarly, audio files will vary in quality and size depending on the chosen bitrate settings, which is important for overall sound quality, music, effects, and podcasts.

Generally, a higher bitrate results in larger file size and better overall quality (to a certain point). Conversely, a lower bitrate reduces the file size but also decreases quality.

The main challenge in determining the right bitrate settings for your project is finding the best compromise between file size and quality, while taking into consideration factors like video bitrate for streaming speeds and storage space.

NOTE: Video bitrates are often written as Mbps or Mb/s (megabits per second), while audio bitrates are written as Kbps or Kb/s (kilobits per second). Nerd out with bits and bytes here.

How important is bitrate for video quality?

Does bitrate affect video quality? You bet.

Think of a bit like a standard unit of information, or data. Increasing the amount of data that gets written into a video will help it to look or sound it’s very best. The more data that gets crammed into the file, unfortunately, the bigger and heavier it becomes.

Conversely, if the amount of information allowed into a video file is decreased, it probably won’t look as good. The benefit of choosing a lower bitrate is smaller overall file size, making it easier to store and share.

While increasing the bitrate will never hurt the quality of a video, there is always a threshold where adding more data won’t do anything but increase the file size. This is because the actual camera that recorded the footage had a maximum bitrate! It is important to be conscious of where your footage came from. Setting your bitrate higher than the source files won’t magically enhance the quality.

Does higher bitrate mean better quality?

If a higher bitrate means better quality, then why not always export or stream your videos with the maximum bitrate?

In most real-world applications, quality is not the only factor to consider. Constraints such as internet speeds, platform requirements, file size, and storage limits all play a part in determining the best bitrate for a specific video.

There are other situations too, where increasing the bitrate won’t boost the video quality. Display size, for example, plays a role in how much data needs to be included in the video file. Simply put, the bigger the display (or resolution of the video), the more data it needs to achieve a certain quality.

For example, a 4K file is four times the size of a standard 1080p file, so it definitely needs more data to fill up that large resolution.

Similarly, if you are exporting or streaming at a smaller size like 720p, you won’t need the same bitrate as if you were working with 4K footage.

TIP: If you just want the best quality and aren’t concerned with any other factor, consider exporting with high-quality codecs such as ProRes, DNxHD, or CineForm. These industry-standard compression formats yield the highest quality – and biggest file sizes – but are way overkill (and overweight!) for most web use-cases.

Which bitrate is best for video?

The bestbitrate for video is largely dependent on its final destination. Is this an upload to your YouTube channel? A social media cutdown for Instagram or TikTok? A final deliverable to a client? Or are you live streaming?

Additionally, consider how the footage was filmed. Was it a super expensive cinema camera from Arri or RED? Well, that’d be nice, but unless you are in the top tier of filmmakers or are editing for a studio or commercial agency, it is unlikely that you will start with such top-quality footage. Chances are, the footage came from a DSLR, camcorder, screen recording, or even modern smartphones.

Let’s break down the best bitrates for the most common scenarios.

What is the video bitrate for 1080p?

The bitrate settings for 1080p videos can vary depending on the intended upload destination.

Let’s look at YouTube first. Luckily, Google’s video platform giant makes it pretty easy on us with a detailed bitrate encoding chart.

At 1080p, you should export any video intended for upload onto YouTube at a bitrate of 8 Mbps. This is a sweet spot of good quality with very low file size.

If your 1080p video is at a higher frame rate like 60 frames per second (fps), bump up the bitrate to 12 Mbps. Since there are more actual frames shown for every second of footage (which achieves that buttery smooth slow motion), you have to allow more data written into the file to maintain the same quality as a video with a lower frame rate.

Those that are savvy with internet streaming speeds might notice that these bitrates are higher than what most users will be able to watch with an average internet connection. So why would YouTube ask for a file that is too heavy to deliver to most of its audience?

Herein lies the magic of YouTube and other modern video platforms such as Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, TikTok, Snapchat, and more.

These services all have powerful, built-in video compression algorithms that take whatever you upload and create many versions from your source file. They will then automatically deliver the best quality of those versions that match the user’s internet speed, resulting in less buffering and a more enjoyable content experience.

These high-tech services will often start the video at a lower quality version for the first second or two to provide instant playback before switching seamlessly to a higher quality version once the viewer’s connection has been established and is fast enough to receive more data. This is known as adaptive bitrate streaming.

So if YouTube is going to choose its own bitrate anyway, why does yours matter?

YouTube really helps us out and does most of the heavy lifting in calculating the best bitrate for a given internet connection, device, and viewer. As a content creator, it is your job to supply a good quality source file that can be compressed by the algorithms and still maintain its integrity.

For example, if you exported a 1080p video at 2 Mbps, all versions created by YouTube would suffer in quality because there is less initial data provided in the file to analyze and compress.

A common question up for debate is since YouTube and other platforms compress our videos anyway, why not just upload a massive, high-quality file?

You certainly can! The streaming giants even accept the aforementioned professional formats like ProRes and DNxHD, and these can be a good choice if you are hyper-focused on quality. Just be warned that upload and processing times will increase dramatically, and these files will take up way more digital real estate on both your hard drive and cloud accounts.

While most of today's popular online platforms work with similar compression algorithms, not every video is destined for online use in this way. If you are hosting a video on your own website server or delivering a video to a client, it is best to ask for the specific settings they want.

When working with commercial clients or agencies, it is common practice to create and deliver both a ProRes (high-quality master file) and an MP4 (web-friendly file ready to upload).

What is a good video bitrate for 720p?

If you are working with a 720p video, which is smaller than 1080p, YouTube suggests a bitrate of 5 Mbps. Remember, you can always choose a higher setting if your exported video doesn’t look right to you.

Is a higher bitrate better for streaming?

Streaming video live from your computer follows the same overall concepts when it comes to choosing a bitrate, but doesn’t come with the safety net of the big platform algorithms.

This is because everything is happening live! A video and audio stream is uploaded from your device to an intermediary platform such as the Amazon-owned streaming giant, Twitch. This stream is passed on to viewers who tap into your feed.

While Twitch affiliates and YouTube Live will both still encode your stream in multiple formats and bitrates to provide an excellent viewing experience, there are now other limiting factors to consider that didn’t bear the same importance when exporting and uploading a normal video.

For example, Twitch has been known to limit the potential audience of channels who regularly stream in bitrates that are too far past 6 Kbps, as people on lower connections won’t be able to see them on their feed or view the video without lag.

In general, it is not necessary to stream at a super high bitrate – if your content is good, and the quality isn’t off putting, your audience will be more than happy to watch.

Does Bitrate affect CPU?

Normally, once a video is finished and ready to export, it is a good time to sit back and grab a cup of coffee while your computer gets to work crunching the file.

With a live stream, however, that downtime to export a file isn’t acceptable. This means your computer, specifically the CPU chip, has to work constantly to process and encode the media. Additionally, your internet bandwidth must be capable of constantly uploading the stream.

The higher the bitrate, the harder your CPU has to work to keep up. If you’re playing a game and streaming at the same time, your CPU works double-duty which could cause disruptions in gameplay. Therefore, it’s best to experiment with different bitrate settings to find a good choice for your particular hardware.

If you have a dedicated graphics card, or GPU, like an NVIDIA card, this will help take the load off of the CPU by handling much of the gameplay processing and encoding. This handy page from Twitch is a great reference to get started with streaming settings for your particular setup.

Does higher bitrate affect FPS?

Higher frame rates and bigger resolutions need more bitrate to keep up with quality, just like working with regular video files.

A very high-quality stream is generally 1080p at 60 fps. This resolution and high frame rate require a higher bitrate and more encoding power. With ever-improving technology, chances are your new gaming laptop, desktop station, and internet connection is fully prepared for such a task.

However, If you see performance issues with these settings, try lowering either your resolution or frame rate until your stream and gameplay are uninterrupted.

As Twitch reminds us, “it's always better to have a stable stream than to push for a higher video quality that might cause you to drop frames or test the limits of your internet connection.”

TIP: Don’t forget about audio bitrates! Luckily, audio files are much smaller than their video counterpart, but they are still important to configure. 128 Kbps is a good target for high-quality audio intended for streaming.

How do I calculate video bitrate?

There are a lot of things to consider when calculating video bitrate for your project. Camera quality, video destination, internet speeds, storage space, and computer specs all play a part in the decision-making process.

There are also differences in types of bitrate encoding, mainly Variable Bitrate (VBR) and Constant Bitrate (CBR). VBR allows you to select a target and max bitrate, which optimizes quality and file size but takes more processing power. CBR provides a more easily decoded file which is usually a better choice for any type of live streaming situation.

Fortunately, industry-leading video applications and streaming platforms have done their best to help simplify the process for content creators that want to focus more on their craft and less on technical jargon.

Professional editing programs like Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X come stocked with presets to get you started, as do free favorites like iMovie and DaVinci Resolve, and encoding tools such as Handbrake and VLC. In the export windows, select the standard h264 codec and look for presets that match the video’s destination like YouTube, Vimeo, etc.

Similarly, the popular streaming service Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) has an export tab that correlates well with the Twitch guidelines.

Now that you have a handle on video bitrates, make sure your audio quality is just as good! Learn more on the Accusonus blog, grab free sound effects, or see tips for pro audio recording at home. You could also consider adding a recording or streaming voice changer, like our aptly named... Voice Changer! From enhancing scenes and scenarios for YouTube, to adjusting your voice live while broadcasting on sites like Twitch or Facebook, it'll work alongside your bitrate efforts. Add characters, environments or effects to your content, and keep increasing that production value.

March 15, 2021
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