Out of all the live streaming platforms out there, YouTube is by far the least restrictive when it comes to the streaming resolution options. This is made possible by the fact that it supports the highest maximum bitrate limit when compared to its competition.
With the limit raised to allow up to 4k 60 fps live streams, and guaranteed transcoding, YouTube is setting itself up to be a big player among the streaming platforms out there.
Table of Contents
What Is Bitrate?
In the context of streaming, Bitrate is quite simply the rate at which data is being sent to the encoder. It is equivalent to your internet bandwidth when converted to kilobits (kbps) per second.
- 1000 bitrate is 1000 kbps or 1 Mbps.
- Most speed testing tools out there will spit out your test results in megabits per second (Mbps).
To get a usable number from these speed tests to use as your bitrate encoder value, you’ll need to multiply your result by 1,000 to convert to kbps to see what you have available.
Taken directly from this article I wrote, as the description is the easiest to understand that I could come up with.
What Is the Maximum Bitrate Allowed on YouTube?
The maximum bitrate officially supported by YouTube is a staggering 51,000 kbps, which is enough bitrate to comfortably handle a 4k 60 fps stream without much issue. That is, of course, assuming you have the internet upload speed necessary to handle that kind of output.
You can learn more about bitrate if you want a deeper understanding of the underlying reason why the needs for bitrate scale up so rapidly every time you increase the resolution.
High Refresh Rate Streams – Not Supported (Yet) [Max 60 Fps]
Regarding high refresh rates mentioned in the following resolutions, like 90 fps or 120 fps, you can’t currently stream higher than 60 fps on YouTube. With that said, I’ve built out some tables here for your reference so that if this changes in the future, you’ll know what you need to stream at these higher framerates.
As YouTube has the least restrictions on streaming bitrate out of all the platforms, this refresh rate restriction strikes me as a bit odd. My guess is that they are simply going for maximum user compatibility, but I have no way of knowing for sure as to their reasoning on limiting the stream fps to a maximum of 60.
I digress, you came here for the supported resolutions list for YouTube, so I’ll distract you no further.
1: [480p] – The Best Low Internet Speed Streaming Resolution
|800 – 1,200||30|
|1,800 – 2,400||60|
|2,600 – 3,600||90|
|3,600 – 4,800||120|
Like with My Twitch streaming resolutions and bitrate guide, the lowest resolution on this list is 480p. The reason I am including this is that not every streamer has an impressively fast internet upload speed capable of streaming UHD, QHD, or even Full HD. As such, this resolution is still very much a viable option.
There are several drawbacks to streaming at this resolution, the big one being that text on screen is more or less illegible, but all of them are outweighed by just how little bandwidth is necessary for it.
- Low Internet Upload speed required
- Low impact on your viewers bandwidth
- Does not need a High end PC to run games
- It’s 480p – Expect trolls to mock you from time to time
- It can make reading small text in game nearly impossible if you rescale from a high resolution
- Not a lot of room for detailed Overlays
2: [720p] – The Defacto Standard Streaming Resolution
|1,800 – 2,600||30|
|4,200 – 5,000||60|
|6,600 – 7,400||90|
|8,400 – 10,000||120|
The next resolution on this list is the bog-standard of the streaming world, 720p. This is the happy medium that most streamers tend to utilize for its nice trade of quality and low bitrate needs. Not only that, but since many people who watch streamers tend to do so while not full screen so that they have access to the chat window, the loss in visual fidelity isn’t felt all that much by them, because, the shrunken video is closer to the 720p resolution.
This makes the 720p resolution a solid choice, even for those of you who are gaming at 4k. Of course, it isn’t without its drawbacks, specifically when it comes to small text on the screen. The detail is lost, especially when squishing down a 4k feed to 720p. Still, it is not nearly to the same degree that 480p has to contend with, and some of it can still be made out in many cases.
- Can be nice looking even when expanded full screen on a 1080p display
- Somewhat Low Upload speed required
- Minimal impact on your viewers bandwidth
- Does not need a high end PC to run games at this resolution
- Decent room for detailed overlay elements
- Still stretches pixels like 480p, though not nearly to the same degree
- Small text is usually legible if you are downscaling from 1080p
3: [1080p] – The Most Popular Resolution in the World (As of 2021)
|4,800 – 6,000||30|
|8,500 – 12,000||60|
|12,200 – 18,000||90|
|17,000 – 24,000||120|
1080p is easily the most popular screen resolution on the planet at the moment, which makes it the most accessible for people to watch to its full benefit. This popularity makes it a great candidate for streaming, and as such, it makes the list for the best streaming resolutions for YouTube.
As this resolution is the most common screen resolution on the planet as of 2021, that makes 1080p a strong candidate for live streaming at, provided that you have the necessary upload speed required to output a compression-artifact free stream. Believe it or not, if you try to output a higher resolution than what the supplied bitrate can handle, you’ll actually reduce the quality of the video to below that of a lower resolution.
It is for this reason that I can only recommend using 1080p at 60 fps at a bitrate of 12,000. This means that the minimum internet upload speed you should have available to you should be around 18 Mbps – to account for some leeway in internet speed lulls and anyone within your household using the internet.
- Moderate upload speed required
- Widespread adoption of displays that support this resolution
- Plenty of room for detailed overlay elements
- Small Text is usually pristine and easily legible, unless you are rescaling output from 4k.
- Can be demanding on your viewers bandwidth, especially those on metered connections.
- Because transcoding is gaurenteed, the viewer can lower their resolution to something they can afford
- Requires a fairly decent upload speed, those in certain areas won’t have access to what it needs.
4: [1440p] – A Step up From 1080p in Visual Fidelity
|6,800 – 9,000||30|
|12,000 – 18,000||60|
|18,800 – 27,000||90|
|24,000 – 36,000||120|
I am a user of a 1440p 144 Hz display, and I can clearly see a visual boost over my two side monitors that run at 1080p 60 Hz. As for streaming, the bitrate requirements start to jump up pretty fast, and that makes it a tougher resolution to output for people. It is 3,686,400 pixels per frame, meaning it is nearly double in size to 1080p.
This boost in pixel quantity means that it will devour a huge amount of upload speed to avoid dealing with compression artifacts. This fact makes this option a challenging prospect to use as a streaming resolution. With that said, if you do have the necessary upload speed to handle it, I don’t see any reason to not stream at 1440p – guaranteed transcoding means that you’ll be able to compensate your viewers who can’t watch your stream at the full resolution while providing those that can the option to do so.
- Very high fidelity for viewers
- Small text is easily visible when viewing it even from 4k
- The image will look sharper and more crisp
5: [4K] – YouTube’s Advantage
|13,000 – 34,000||30|
|20,000 – 51,000||60|
4k Is Youtube’s big advantage over the other live streaming resolution options out there. It is currently the only platform that allows you to output a 4k stream to an audience. However, this is technically very challenging to accomplish, requiring an excessively fast upload speed to accomplish.
However, if you do happen to have at least 60 Mbps upload, then 4k 60 fps live streaming is a possibility for you.
There are some additional drawbacks though, specifically for users of 1080p webcams – if you have a scene where your webcam is full screen, then you’ll notice that it will be a little bit blurry. This is because the 1080p webcam is being stretched across a 4k canvas, meaning each pixel needs to become four pixels on the screen. This results in the video feed becoming blurry. It’s not a dealbreaker, and you probably don’t need to worry too much about it, but it is worth mentioning since 4k webcams tend to be somewhat expensive, and often perform poorly.
- Its UHD.
- Super sharp and crisp image (If dialed in)
- 1080p webcams will look a little blurry in full scren
- Requires Fiber optics internet to use (Or at least very fast broadband upload speed)
- Even at 51,000 bitrate, you may see compression artifacts.
- Can cause the stream to be choppy for users on Wifi or a shoddy connection.
Here Are Some Popular Choices for Streamer Gear
Hey, thanks for reading the article! So I’ve compiled this small resource for you guys in case you may be on the lookout for some handy or helpful things to add to your streaming setup. Some of you may be new to streaming and may not know about this stuff, so I wanted to bring this stuff to your attention.
There are a large number of cool products designed to make the lives of streamers and content creators easier or to improve the quality of their setup. Before I do list them though, I strongly recommend that you do your research and check reviews from multiple sources, even beyond those I’ve included here. It is never bad to get a second, third, or even fourth opinion before you make an investment.
Microphones: One of the most popular microphones for live streaming is the Elgato Wave 3 or Wave 1. This microphone is great for streamers because it gives you a ton of control over your audio chain, mimicking some of the features of the venerable GoXLR virtually without all the wires and complexity.
Here are some reviews that you can reference so you can decide whether or not you’d like to get one for yourself:
Audio Interfaces: For those of you who’d like to not be limited to a single microphone option, then you’re in luck because Elgato now makes the Wave XLR Audio Interface. This device allows you to use any XLR microphone, including the ever-popular, but gain hungry SM7B without a cloud lifter, and retain the features of the Wave microphones mentioned above.
Here are some reviews of this audio interface:
Green Screens: A green screen is a common tool used by content creators to give them unparalleled control over their backgrounds for content. Many opt to use a green screen to remove their background entirely and overlay themselves onto the gameplay itself. As for What green screen I recommend, you’ll have to read my article about green screens, because it explains it better than what I can fit here.
Lights: Lighting is super important if you care about the quality of your camera feed from your webcam or any camera for that matter. For one, those of you who rely on your monitor for your main source of light will have inconsistent lighting that changes based on what your screen is displaying. The best part is that almost any light will do, as any light is better than no light.
With that said, there are better lights that are designed for production purposes that have better color accuracy, are brighter, and have more control. You can check out some of them in my top 5 lights article. Also, having a dim light in your background on a camera scene will look better.