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What is Video Bitrate: The Ultimate Guide?

What is Video Bitrate: The Ultimate Guide?

Videos have emerged as the undisputed king of the digital world. They captivate audiences across the globe with their power to convey stories, emotions, and ideas. Whether you love watching or making videos, you must have heard of “video bitrate” before. However, what is bitrate in the video, and why is it essential? Keep reading this article to learn each and everything about video bitrate.

What is Video Bitrate?

We begin by answering the question of what is video bitrate. Video bitrate is an essential idea in digital video technology. It basically means the amount of data used or sent per second in a video file. Specifically, it shows the number of binary digits conveyed during video playback or streaming. This data is generally measured in bits per second (bps), and a higher bitrate means more data is transmitted, resulting in better video quality.

Bitrate is essential in deciding the video’s quality and how well it can be sent over networks, platforms, and devices. Moreover, it helps balance video quality with file size, ensuring people worldwide can enjoy a smooth and pleasant viewing experience. When you watch a video online or stream it, the video’s bitrate affects its visual quality and performance on different devices and internet connections.

Higher bitrates offer clearer and more detailed images, especially in scenes with lots of action or complex visuals. Conversely, lower bitrates reduce file size, making it easier and faster to send the video over the internet. However, this can lead to lower video quality, with pixelation or blurriness, especially in high-definition videos.

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What is Video Resolution?

Video resolution is really important for video quality. It determines how clear and detailed the video looks. Resolution is all about the number of pixels that make up the video’s picture, both horizontally and vertically. When the resolution is higher, there are more pixels, and the visuals become sharper and lifelike.

We often express video resolution as “width x height” pixels. For example, Full HD or 1080p video has a resolution of 1920×1080. That means it has 1920 pixels in width and 1080 pixels in height, giving a total of about 2.1 million pixels. Different video resolutions are used for various purposes and devices. Some common video resolutions are the following:

  • SD (Standard Definition): SD videos have a resolution of 720×480 (NTSC) or 720×576 (PAL). SD quality used to be the standard for TV, but higher resolutions are more common now.
  • HD (High Definition): HD videos have better clarity and visual quality. Common HD resolutions include 1280×720 (720p) and 1920×1080 (1080p). The “p” stands for progressive scan, which means smoother motion.
  • 4K Ultra HD: Also known as UHD or 4K, this resolution is becoming popular. It has four times more pixels than 1080p, usually around 3840×2160. Moreover, it looks impressive on big screens.
  • 8K Ultra HD: An emerging resolution with about 7680×4320 pixels. It promises incredibly sharp visuals, especially on huge displays.

A Full Guide to Video Bitrates

Video bitrate is very important in making and sharing videos. It affects how good the video looks and how big the file is. Picking the correct bitrate is crucial to find a balance between good video quality and using data efficiently. When the bitrate is higher, like video bitrate for 1080p, the video quality improves because more data is transmitted, making the video clearer and more detailed.

On the other hand, lower bitrates compress the video and might cause a loss of quality, especially during fast and busy scenes. Streaming video bitrate is typically measured in bits per second (bps) or a higher unit like kilobits per second (Kbps) or megabits per second (Mbps).

1. Constant Bitrate (CBR) vs. Variable Bitrate (VBR)

In video encoding, two common methods are used to control bitrate: Constant Bitrate (CBR) and Variable Bitrate (VBR). With CBR, the bitrate remains constant throughout the video, making the file size predictable. However, it may sacrifice overall quality during complex scenes as it can’t allocate extra data to handle the increased complexity.

In contrast, VBR dynamically adjusts the streaming video bitrate, allocating more data to intricate scenes requiring higher quality and less data to simpler ones. This adaptive approach results in a higher-quality output. It is especially important during complex scenes, but it also means that the file size can vary depending on the content being encoded.

As a result, when choosing between CBR and VBR, video encoders need to consider a trade-off. They can select predictability in file size (CBR) and achieve the best possible quality (VBR) in their specific use cases.

2. Factors Affecting Video Bitrate

There are many factors that affect the video bitrate for streaming. Summarized below are some of these factors:

  • Resolution: It refers to the number of pixels that make up the video frame. Higher-resolution videos, such as 4K or 8K, have more pixels. That means there is more visual information to encode. Higher-resolution videos require a higher bitrate to maintain good quality and avoid pixelation.
  • Frame Rate: This term refers to the number of individual frames displayed per second in a video. Videos with higher frame rates, such as 60 frames per second (fps) or even higher, provide smoother and more lifelike motion. However, this also means there is more motion information to encode, which requires a higher bitrate to ensure clarity and smoothness during playback.
  • Content Complexity: The complexity of video content greatly influences the required bitrate. Secondly, videos with simple scenes, like a static shot of a person talking, can be compressed more efficiently as there’s less variation from frame to frame. In contrast, videos with fast-paced action, quick camera movements, or detailed animations require a higher bitrate to capture all the intricacies and maintain quality.
  • Compression: Compression is a crucial aspect of video encoding, as it determines how much the file size can be reduced without compromising quality. Video codecs apply compression techniques to eliminate redundant or less critical data from the video stream. Furthermore, high-efficiency compression allows for lower bitrates while preserving visual quality.
  • Streaming Platform and Bandwidth: Different streaming platforms have their bitrate limitations, which content creators must adhere to for their videos to be compatible with the platform’s streaming infrastructure. Additionally, the viewer’s internet bandwidth is a significant factor in video bitrate for streaming.

3. Recommended Bitrates for Common Resolutions

Here are some general guidelines for recommended bitrates at common resolutions:

  • SD (720×480): 1 – 2 Mbps for web streaming, 2 – 5 Mbps for DVD-quality playback.
  • HD (1280×720 – 1920×1080): 2 – 8 Mbps for web streaming, 5 – 10 Mbps for high-quality playback.
  • 4K UHD (3840×2160): 15 – 30 Mbps for web streaming, 30 – 60 Mbps for high-quality playback.

4. Bitrate Optimization Techniques

To strike the right balance between video quality and file size, content creators can employ various optimization techniques. Here are some additional methods to optimize the video bitrate for streaming:

4.1. Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABR)

Implementing ABR involves encoding the video at multiple bitrates and creating different versions of the same video. When a viewer starts watching, the streaming platform automatically detects the viewer’s internet speed and device capabilities. It then selects the most suitable version of the video. Thus, adjusting the bitrate on the fly ensures a smooth playback experience.

4.2. Two-Pass Encoding

Two-pass encoding is a process that involves analyzing the video content in two phases before compression. In the first phase, the encoder gathers information about the video’s complexity and motion characteristics. In the second phase, it uses this information to allocate bitrate more efficiently across different video parts. This method can lead to better quality and smaller file sizes than single-pass encoding.

4.3. Codec Selection

Choosing the right video codec is crucial in achieving the desired balance between compression efficiency and video quality. In addition, these advanced codecs can deliver the same video quality at lower bitrates, leading to reduced file sizes while maintaining high visual fidelity.

4.4. Constant Rate Factor (CRF) Encoding

CRF encoding is a technique used in some codecs (e.g., x264 for H.264 or libvpx for VP9). It controls the quality of the output video while letting the encoder adjust the bitrate dynamically. In CRF mode, the content creator sets a desired quality level on a scale instead of specifying a fixed bitrate. The encoder then automatically adjusts the bitrate to maintain that quality level throughout the video.

Why is Video Bitrate Important?

Video bitrate is a pivotal element in the world of digital video. It holds immense significance for both content creators and consumers. Its importance stems from its direct impact on video quality, file size, and viewing experience. Here are the key reasons why streaming video bitrate is crucial:

1. Video Quality and Viewing Experience

The video bitrate for streaming directly affects the visual quality of a video. Higher bitrates result in more data being transmitted, leading to sharper images, smoother motion, and vibrant colors. Conversely, lower bitrates can cause compression artifacts, pixelation, and blurriness, significantly degrading the viewing experience. Content creators can ensure their audience enjoys high-quality, engaging content by selecting an optimal bitrate.

2. Bandwidth Efficiency

As video content is frequently streamed over the internet, bandwidth efficiency is paramount. High bitrates can strain internet connections and lead to buffering issues, particularly for viewers with slower internet speeds. By using adaptive bitrate streaming and optimizing bitrates, content providers can deliver smoother playback and accommodate users with varying connection capabilities.

3. File Size and Storage Requirements

Streaming video bitrate directly influences the size of video files. Higher bitrates produce larger files, which can be challenging to store, distribute, or share. Besides, choosing an appropriate bitrate is vital for platforms with file size limitations, such as social media or cloud storage services.

4. Video Distribution and Streaming

Video bitrate for streaming plays a key role in efficiently distributing and streaming content. Streaming platforms, especially those with limited bandwidth or varying viewer internet speeds, may require adaptive bitrate streaming to adjust video quality on the fly. This ensures a seamless viewing experience, even under fluctuating network conditions.

5. Compatibility and Platform Requirements

Different platforms, devices, and content delivery networks have varying bitrate requirements and limitations. In other words, adhering to these guidelines ensures that videos are compatible. Moreover, they can be properly displayed across different platforms and devices without any quality effect.

6. Video Editing and Post-Production

For video editors and post-production professionals, understanding bitrate is essential. Working with higher bitrates during editing preserves visual information, ensuring better results during color grading, special effects, and other post-production tasks. Using excessively low bitrates during editing can result in a permanent loss of quality.


In simple terms, streaming video bitrate is crucial for determining the quality and accessibility of video content. It affects the resolution of the video and also impacts how efficiently it streams and the size of the file. If you want to optimize the video bitrate, consider using the ZEGOCLOUD Video SDK, a reliable solution.

This tool offers various features, adaptive streaming options, and efficient video encoding. It helps content creators provide their audience with a smooth and immersive viewing experience. Moreover, this video SDK provides ultra-low latency to have high-quality video groups and conferencing calls.

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