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What Is Bitrate & Why It Matters for Recording | Ultimate Guide

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What Is Bitrate & Why It Matters for Recording | Ultimate Guide

When recording and encoding your audio and video files, the bitrate will affect the quality of what you upload and how your audience can watch it. 

New to bitrate? We'll explain how bitrate works, why it matters, and how it's measured. 

You’ll learn the best bitrate to produce high-quality content that your viewers can enjoy without having to deal with pesky buffering.

What Is Bitrate?

Bitrate is the number of bits (amount of data) processed over a given amount of time. 

Many people don't realize it, but there's a lot of technical work going on behind the scenes when you click a video to watch on a streaming platform like Facebook, YouTube, or Vimeo. 

During the recording process, your video or audio equipment is constantly converting the sounds and images into data that your digital devices can play. 

Audio Bitrate Versus Video Bitrate

Audio bitrate and video bitrate are essentially the same things, just with different file types. The higher the video bitrate you use, the higher the quality video you'll get. The same goes for audio bitrate and audio quality. 

Additionally, the same factors affect both when it comes to encoding: no matter if you're compressing audio or video, selecting the right bitrate is essential to produce a high-quality and easily shareable output file with your audience. 

What is Audio Bitrate Affected By? 

Sample rate and bit depth both impact audio bitrate:

Sample rate is the number of times per second your recording equipment is turning the sound into data that can be stored and shared online. 

Bit depth is the number of bits in each sample, which determines its complexity. The standard sampling rate for the majority of digital audio is 44.1kHz (also the sampling rate for audio CDs). 

What is Video Bitrate Affected By?

Frame rate and video resolutions both impact video bitrate:

Frame rate is comparable to sample rate in that it's a measure of how many frames of video your video recording equipment converts into data per second. 

Related article: Understanding and Choosing The Right Frame Rates for You

Video resolution is like bit depth in that it is the number of pixels contained in a video frame. This will determine how clear and realistic the video appears, and the complexity of the video data. 

Bitrate And Encoding

If you have experience creating audio or video content, you already know the importance of encoding when it comes to sound quality, video quality, and file size. Bitrate is involved with all three of these things! 

Encoding is the process of using a piece of hardware or a software program known as a codec to prepare an audio or video file so it can be easily distributed online. Using a codec, you can change your audio or video file type as well as the size of the file through compression (the process of making a large file smaller). 

When using a codec to compress your video or audio files, you'll have the ability to select the bitrate for the file you're compressing. The higher the bitrate, the better the image quality (for video). Higher bitrate also produces better audio quality. But, keep in mind that your file size will increase at a higher bitrate.

Choosing the right bitrate for your video or audio file is a constant balancing act. If the bitrate is too low, you'll have a lower resolution and lose quality. Go too high and your file size increases, which makes it harder for people to stream your content. 

When in doubt check the recommended bitrates for a given streaming platform. Most services have information regarding bitrate listed on their "Help" or FAQ pages. 

Variable Bitrate vs. Constant Bitrate

During the encoding process, you can select whether your file is encoded using constant bit rate (CBR) or variable bitrate (VBR). Both of these bitrate output types have advantages and disadvantages when creating content: 

Variable bitrate means that data compresses based on its complexity while encoding the file. This type of bitrate is measured by taking the average bitrate of your entire video or audio file: less complex parts of your file will have a lower bitrate than complex ones. 

Using variable bitrate, you'll generally get a higher bitrate than with constant bitrate, which makes it better suited for storing videos on a video-on-demand service than for live streaming. 

Constant bitrate varies from VBR in that data is output at the same rate for the entire video file, no matter any change in data complexity. This type of bitrate is the most commonly used because of its usefulness for live streaming. Setting a constant bitrate transmission rate makes it easier for content to stream quickly on many different devices. 

If you create content to stream online, CBR will be the best choice when encoding your audio or video files. This type of bitrate output is considered the industry standard for online streaming. Plus, it is compatible with many different media players and streaming platforms.

Why Does Bitrate Matter?

Though viewers may not think about bitrate, it's something that should always be on your mind when producing content. For the best bitrate means a balance between quality without increasing the file size to a point that users can’t easily stream the content. 

We’ll explain how bitrate affects audio and video quality as well as file size so you can make the best decision when trying to figure out what is a good bitrate for your content. 

Bitrate And Video/Audio Quality

When handling video files, a higher bitrate will allow for a higher frame rate. The more frames per second (fps) can be processed, resulting in superior quality. For audio files, a higher bitrate means clearer and more detailed sound because a higher sample rate and better bit depth will produce better quality.

Bitrate and File Size

While a high bitrate is good for quality, higher bitrates also mean larger video and audio files. This can become a problem when your audience tries to view or download your content. 

If your bitrate is too high, some viewers might experience issues with an internet connection or a device that can't handle the file size. This can result in a poor viewing experience, which can cause you to lose viewers and subscribers. 

How is Video Bitrate Measured?

The number of bits processed per second will determine the bitrate of your video file.  Below is a table of common bitrate measurement abbreviations and what they mean: 

Table of video bitrate abbreviation measurements and the number of bits per second in each measurement.

What Limits Video Bitrate?

Bitrate will be limited by the bandwidth involved when storing and streaming video files. Bandwidth is the highest rate at which data can be transferred and can be separated into two main types: 

Data bandwidth refers to the general amount of information that can be transferred per second. 

Network bandwidth is more specific and concerned specifically with the amount of data transferred over a wired or wireless internet connection. 

Both types of bandwidth are critical to consider when looking at what is bitrate and how it's limited by bandwidth. We recommend paying special attention to network bandwidth as this involves how your followers will view your content. Not everyone has access to internet connections with higher bandwidths, so if you want to make your content more accessible to a wider audience, use a bitrate compatible with many different connection types.  

What Bitrate Should I Use?

There's no clear right or wrong answer for what is a good video bitrate for your content, it's more about knowing the best bitrate for your needs. The best quality won't always mean the best viewing experience, and many factors come into play when researching what is a good bitrate for your content. 

Factors That Determine Ideal Bitrate

When researching what is a good bitrate for your content, consider the following factors:

What Is a Good Video Bitrate for Streaming?

One great thing about streaming platforms like YouTube is that they use systems that make your content shareable with people who have all different types of internet connections. 

YouTube and other streaming services use algorithms that can convert your video files into different file sizes with different bitrates. This way viewers with many different device types and connection speeds can easily view your content. 

Video Bitrate Is Affected by Display Size and Resolution

If you've ever clicked the "Settings'' icon on a YouTube video, you've seen that you can change the video quality and stream a video in 1080p, 720p, 480p, 360p, 240p, or 144p. 

The "p" stands for pixels and the number of pixels being broadcast per second will be affected by your video's bitrate. The higher the resolution, the higher the pixels being broadcast per second and therefore the higher the bitrate. 

Bitrate And Storage Space

The bitrate you use for your videos will have a direct impact on the size of the file (the higher the bitrate, the larger the file). If you have a limited amount of storage space through the podcast hosting platform you use, you may want to sacrifice quality and use a lower bitrate to store more files. 

Some Video Formats Also Specify Bitrate

Some file formats have an optimum bitrate to perform at their best. Below, we've compiled some of the standard bitrates for video and audio formats. 

Bitrate For Video

When it comes to video files, you'll most likely be using an MP4 file. These are the standard video bitrates for the different resolutions your MP4 upload will be displayed on: 

Standard bitrate resolutions for MP4 video recordings

Bitrate For Audio

The industry standard for creating audio CDs is to use a bitrate of 1,411 kbps. Though not as many people use this format, certain audiences still rely on CDs as their primary way of experiencing audio. 

WAV files are the digital equivalent of audio CD files in that they also have a bitrate of 1,411 kbps. MP3 files have a much lower bitrate of 320 kbps, which made them popular in the earlier days of the internet when connection speeds were slower. MP3s are still used widely in audio streaming because of their smaller file sizes.

Related article: WAV vs MP3: What's the Difference & Which Is Better for Podcasters

There is also a difference in bitrate between mono and stereo audio types: the standard bitrate for mono recordings is 128 kbps while the standard for stereo recordings is 384 kbps. 

How To Check Bit Rate

If you want to find the bitrate of your video files, follow the steps below to locate the bitrate for a file on a Windows or Mac system. 

How to Check Bitrate on a PC

Step 1: Right-click on the video file

Step 2: Choose "Properties"

Step 3: Select the "Details" tab

Step 4: Look under the "Video" section and find "Total bitrate" to see your video's bitrate. 

How to Check Bitrate on a Mac

Step 1: Open the video file in QuickTime

Step 2: Press Command+I 

Step 3: Locate "Data Rate" in the list of properties to find the bitrate for your video

FAQS

Take a look at the frequently asked questions below if you still have more questions about bitrate and video quality. 

What is a good bitrate for 1080p?

A good bitrate for 1080p ranges from 10Mbps to 15Mbps. 10Mbps is good with a standard frame rate, while 15Mbps is better for a higher frame rate.

Does higher bitrate mean better quality?

Generally, a higher bitrate means better quality, but it doesn’t always mean a better viewing experience. Even if your video has the best quality, their overall viewing experience may be poor because their system can’t handle higher bitrates. 

Does Bitrate affect quality?

Yes, bitrate does have a direct effect on quality. However, other factors like display size and resolution matter when looking at the video quality. 

Is higher or lower bitrate better?

There is no clear answer as to whether higher or lower bitrate is better. The best bitrate will vary depending on your needs when it comes to storage and streaming. 

What bitrate is 1080p 30fps?

For this resolution and frame rate, your bitrate should range between 3,500-5,000 kbps. 

Does Bitrate affect CPU?

Your CPU is affected by bitrate when you live stream video or audio. The higher the bitrate of the audio or video you’re streaming, the harder your system will have to work to process it. 

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