Bitrate is one of the least understood values in a streaming setup. There are so many articles and videos out there with conflicting information on what bitrate you should stream at. From my research, 90% of them tend to be flat-out wrong, at least when it comes to 1080p requirements. So that leaves the question:
What is the best streaming bitrate, and how does it change based on your resolution?
The quick answer is that it varies based on your internet connection. However, this answer teaches you exactly nothing about why this is the case, nor does it address what values to use. To answer this question properly, I need to go into depth on the subject, as there are many factors that affect bitrate needs.
Just so you are aware, this information still applies to every other streaming platform out there – the needs don’t change based on what platform you stream to.
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.
What Is the Maximum Bitrate Allowed on Twitch?
The maximum bitrate officially supported on Twitch is 6,320. 6,000 of that is devoted to video bandwidth, and 320 is devoted to audio. Audio bitrate is split in half between recording track and streaming track to allow the use of music that is only cleared for live broadcasts, such as Twitch’s Soundtrack.
However, the Twitch Ingest servers will accept streams with an absolute maximum of 8500 bitrate – any higher, and you’ll see “Error 2000” and a black screen. With that said, I recommend that you keep your bitrate settings within their official limit. I suggest this, rather than recommend streaming at the unofficially supported limit of 8500, because it makes it harder for people to watch you who lack the necessary download speed to keep up with the beefed-up rate.
This is especially true if you do not get access to transcoding.
What is the Maximum Bitrate Allowed on Other Platforms?
Just so you are aware – other streaming platforms have different limits. On YouTube, for example, the maximum bitrate is 51,000. That is, of course, assuming you have the upload speed (About 55 Mbps) to handle that kind of demand. You can learn more about the best streaming resolutions for YouTube in my other article, as they do differ from Twitch due to this very high bitrate limit.
Like Twitch, Glimesh has a maximum bitrate of 6,320. The difference with them is that they simply reject your stream connection if you attempt to stream beyond 6,320.
Trovo encourages users to stick to 10,000 or below, but I haven’t found any concrete information on a hard limit. So I’ll need to test the limit for myself – I’ll report when I find that hard limit.
Facebook Live is more restrictive – 4,000 Video bitrate and 128 for audio.
Picarto enforces a hard limit of 3,500 combined.
Twitter has a limit of 25,000 – I didn’t know they supported live streaming, but apparently, they do. Interesting… I’ll need to look more into this one.
What You Need To Know About Streaming Bitrate
When you live stream over the internet, you send your screen over to a server that directs the feed to other platform users. The two most impactful settings that affect the streaming bitrate needs are the video resolution you stream and the frames per second of that video source. Of course, other factors are at play, such as what encoder you are using and what the encoding settings are configured to. However, those remain the two most important values that can dramatically change how much bitrate a stream needs to create a crisp video feed.
This is the case because a video feed is made up of a series of rapidly changing pictures multiple times per second, giving an illusion of movement. Nothing is actually moving though, it is all a fancy trick, or as Hollywood coined it, “Movie Magic.”
In the case of 30 fps, this is thirty pictures or “frames” every single second that flash before your eyes.
Breaking it down further, each “frame” comprises tens of thousands or even millions of pixels that are various shades of red, green, and blue. The resolution refers to how many pixels are crammed into the frame, so 1280×720 has 921,600 pixels in it. Each red, green, and blue value for EACH pixel in EACH frame needs to be encoded, compressed, and sent over the internet using your bandwidth, or in this case, bitrate.
The higher the resolution, the more pixel data must be encoded in each frame in the same amount of time – 30 frames every second. Take 1920×1080, for example – That is 2,073,600 pixels per frame that need to be encoded, which is 2.25 times more pixels per frame than 720p.
At this point, it should start to make sense why higher resolutions, even just an increase of 360 pixels wide, cause a massive jump in the processing and encoding requirements of a live stream.
It isn’t linear; it’s exponential.
How Does the Encoder Handle the Frame Data?
In certain situations, the encoder has different shortcuts it can take to maintain a consistent frame output at the designated fps value you assign. These shortcuts are designed to improve the efficiency of the encoder, reducing the bitrate requirements for a high-resolution video feed to be encoded at a quality close to the original output from your video source.
When the video feed has many changing pixels, the encoder must re-encode those portions of the frames for each difference, resulting in a decrease in encoding efficiency. For example, games like Rocket League or Path of Exile have many changing pixels on the screen that are dramatically different in each frame. This results in the Encoder having to take the compression shortcut, and sample in pixel blocks, rather than individual pixels. This allows it to keep up with the incoming frame data but produces blocky or splotchy frames.
The second shortcut is taken when a collection of frames has very similar pixel values from one frame to the next. Those similar areas on frames are only encoded once, reducing the total number of pixels being processed per frame. Thus, the encoder can spend more time on the parts of the changing frames, resulting in a higher-quality set of frames overall.
This is why some types of content on Twitch can be streamed at 4k 60 fps or 1080p 120 fps with only 6000 bitrate allowed. There isn’t much going on in the frame data, so you can get away with it.
The following recommendations are based on high-action gameplay or scenarios with a consistent change of pixels on the video feed.
The Rule of 8
One thing I’d like to bring your attention to is the rule of 8. This means sticking to a resolution that is evenly divisible by 8. This is done to avoid the following issues that occur when you use a video feed that is not divisible by 8:
- Black lines in your frames at random points and intervals
- Frame drops (skipped frames)
- Decreased encoding efficiency
- And is more efficient to process for your computer, as each byte is made up of 8 bits
There was a time where I mistakenly recommended 900p to people before realizing the importance of the rule of 8. Stick to the traditional monitor resolutions, or do one of the others mentioned later in the article.
The Twitch Partner 8,000 Bitrate Myth
As mentioned above, the official bitrate cap is 6,320 for all users of the Twitch Live Streaming Platform. However, there are many sources out on the internet that claims that Twitch Partners have an extended bitrate cap of 8,500 as a perk, which is false. It may “work,” but it isn’t an officially supported thing, partner or not.
It would certainly be nice to have, as Twitch partners have access to guaranteed transcoding, which would allow them to stream at higher resolutions without the worry of preventing users with slow connections from being able to watch. Unfortunately, however, it is not to be, for now at least.
If you exceed 6320, you, or a select number of people trying to watch your stream may see the Twitch Error 2000, even if you are within that unofficial 8,500 bitrate limit. While not gaurenteed to occur, this can result in a bad experience for your audience.
You can easily handle any of these resolutions at the official limit anyways, so it isn’t that big of a deal to stick within the official limit. But I digress; exceed the official limit at your own risk. Please reference Twitch’s partnership program outline for a complete list of every Twitch Partner benefit if you’re curious.
Credit goes to Naaackers for the heads up regarding the clarification on the limit. Thank you, you’re awesome.
Note: The following resolutions will have a streaming bitrate range. The first number listed is suitable for low-action footage, while the second number is required for high-action footage.
1: For Streamers Who Lack High Upload Speed – [480p]
Starting off at the lowest resolution on this list, 480p seems like a far cry from modern screen resolutions available these days, but believe it or not, it is still fairly common in even the newest devices on the market. 852×480, which amounts to 408,960 total pixels, is typical for this resolution, though many smartphones vary the height value a fair amount.
The relatively speaking low pixel count makes this resolution a prime candidate for those of you who lack a sufficiently fast internet upload speed.
- Low streaming bitrate required to output a high quality, compression artifact free stream
- Low download speed needs for your audience
- Least impactful on metered connections
- Does not require a high-end PC to run games at this resolution
- Somewhat easy to encode when using the X264 Encoder
- Will stretch the pixels for users who use high resolution monitors and go full screen
- You will likely be trolled by some people for streaming at 480p sadly
- It can make reading text on a rescaled canvas incredibly difficult
- Doesn’t allow for detailed overlays
2: The Most Popular Streaming Resolution – [720p]
Next in line is the most popular resolution to stream on Twitch at the moment. 1280×720 or 921,600 pixels per frame is a significant increase from 480p. However, most people who watch streams on Twitch have more than enough download speed to decode your streams from their side and watch without issue.
That said, not everyone does, and that is where transcoding picks up the slack. Therefore, this resolution is a good candidate for qualifying for Transcoding, assuming you are either a Twitch Affiliate or partner.
- A higher chance to get transcoding over the higher options for Twitch Affiliates
- The defacto standard of Twitch
- Able to maintain high quality within the bitrate limits imposed by Twitch
- Doesn’t require a super-fast internet upload speed to achieve
- Will stretch pixels when expanded to full screen on high-resolution displays
- UI elements in a game can be difficult to read if it has small text
- Still requires the use of Rescaled output if your main content is of a higher resolution
- A bit harder to encode using X264, using more processing resources
3: High-Action Footage Streaming Resolution – [864p]
This resolution is a significant hop up from 720p, and it comes with some surprising benefits. 1536×864 or 1,327,104 pixels per frame makes the most out of the 6,000 maximum bitrate for high-action gameplay or footage.
It will look nearly compression-artifact-free at the bitrate I recommended above and improve the visibility of small UI elements on stream, specifically text, compared to footage that has been rescaled to 720p.
Just be aware that those on a slower connection will struggle to watch your stream until you gain access to transcoding. If you care about maintaining maximum user visibility of your content, I recommend sticking to 720p.
- A Higher resolution than what is standard on Twitch
- Suitable for footage with excessive changes in each frame
- Easier to read small UI & text elements from games over 720p
- Requires that you stream near the limit of Twitch’s imposed bitrate limits
- Requires a fairly fast internet upload speed
- Your audience on slower connections may experience stuttering and buffer freezes.
- Harder to encode on slower processors when using X264
4: A Streaming Resolution For Low-Action Footage – [936p]
The last resolution option is intended more for Twitch Partners who want to squeeze every little bit of resolution that they can get out of the limited bitrate. 1664×936, or 1,557,504 pixels per frame, is below the precipice where 6,000 bitrate is sufficient to handle minimal compression artifacts.
I recommend this resolution only to partners precisely because they have access to guaranteed transcoding. Even so, in particular, very high-action games or footage with many changing pixels, you would be better off choosing one of the lower resolutions recommended above.
- Gets the most out of the maximum bitrate allowed on Twitch
- Minimal compression artifacts when compared to 1080p at the same bitrate.
- Minimal stretching when being set to full screen on a 1080p display
- Some compression artifacts will be present in very high action footage at 60 fps
- Not native 1080p, so some stretching will still occur, though noticably less than the other resolutions on this list.
- Even harder on your CPU to encode than 864p
Don’t See 936p as an Option?
In order to use 936p as a streaming resolution, you need to manually type it into the resolution field. You can do this in OBS by:
- Click on Options
- Select the Video Tab
- Under Output (scaled) Resolution, click into the field
- Press Ctrl + A
- Type in 1664×936
- Click Apply
Once finished, you should see something like this:
The Twitch Bitrate Limit: Why You Shouldn’t Stream at 1080p
Honestly, unless you are streaming at 1080p 30 fps, there is no way to stream without ruining the video feed with excessive compression artifacts. This is because 1080p 60 fps needs around 12,000 bitrate, double Twitch’s bitrate limit of 6,000, to maintain a minimal number of compression artifacts.
After all, each frame has 2,073,600 pixels, and when multiplied by 30 or 60 every second, it overwhelms the encoder’s ability to keep up at the limited data rate. There simply isn’t enough time to send each frame at only 6 Mbps.
I understand that this flies in the face of even Twitch’s own recommended bitrate settings, though they have modified their list to mention that 1080p should only be used for low-action footage. It isn’t really made clear what constitutes low-action footage, though. Some examples of low-action footage include:
- Art streams
- Just Chatting
- 24/7 fixed camera streams
- And any sort of stream with minimal movement on screen
I will say this, their mention of 900p in that list is a poor choice – nobody should stream at 900p because of the rule of 8.
|Resolution & Frames Per second||Bitrate (Higher = Better)|
|1440p30||9,000 – 13,000 kbps|
|1440p60||12,000 – 18,000 kbps|
|4k30 / 1080p144||15,000 – 34,000 kbps|
|4k60 / 1440p144||25,000 – 53,000 kbps|
For those of you who are streaming on other platforms that do not impose a bitrate limit, this table may come in handy for you. This is a list of bitrates that work well at common, high-end resolutions. This is assuming, of course, that you have fiber optics to your house or a very fast internet upload speed to handle the demands of the encoder.
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, well, you’ll have to read my article about green screens, because it does a better job of explaining it 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.