What is Bitrate? The Beginner’s Guide to Bitrate: What You Need to Know for Streaming

If you’re a business owner, influencer, sports broadcaster, or media company interested in live streaming, you may have heard of adaptive bitrate streaming. But what is adaptive bitrate streaming, and how does it affect your broadcast? In this article, we’ll go into detail about what adaptive bitrate streaming is, why it matters, how it works, and how to do it. Once we’re through, you’ll be a pro. Let’s dive in.

What is adaptive bitrate streaming?

Adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming is a method of delivering video and audio content over the internet in real time. It’s a technique that adapts to the end viewer’s setup to give them the best possible experience throughout the stream. In order to do this, the original content (the content you’re streaming) gets encoded into several versions at varying bitrates. To determine which file should get played on the user’s device, it sends a signal from the live stream to the player (i.e., the end viewer’s device). Based on the device’s response, the stream adapts the quality to the player’s current available bandwidth. This process continues throughout the stream. 

To explain with an example, think back to the last stream you watched. You probably started with a grainy video, it popped into higher quality, and may have had a period or two of grainier footage throughout the stream. Chances are, your internet got weaker for a brief period and the stream adapted to your internet so you didn’t lose the connection. It then readjusted back to the higher-quality video later on. This process ensures that viewers always have the best possible (closest to real time) experience, even if their internet connection is not consistently perfect. 

Unlike traditional streaming methods, which can often lead to buffering, choppy, and low-quality video, adaptive bitrate streaming provides a much smoother experience for viewers. We’ll get more into the details about how adaptive bitrate streaming really works in the next section. Because adaptive bitrate streaming doesn’t require as much bandwidth, it’s also more affordable for businesses to implement. So if you’re considering live streaming for your business, adaptive bitrate streaming is definitely the way to go.

How does adaptive bitrate streaming work? 

In order to understand how adaptive bitrate streaming works, it’s helpful to first understand how traditional streaming works. Traditional streaming works by sending a signal from the live stream to the player all at once. The problem with this is that if there is any interruption in the signal—whether it is because of a poor internet connection or network congestion—the entire stream can be affected. This often leads to buffering, choppiness, and low-quality video for viewers. 

Adaptive bitrate streaming, on the other hand, works by sending signals in small pieces (or “chunks”) from the live stream to the player. The player then reassembles these chunks into a cohesive video stream. If there is an interruption in any one of these chunks, another chunk can easily replace it without affecting the rest of the stream. This results in a much smoother experience for viewers, with fewer interruptions and better overall quality. As we mentioned in the last section, the stream can adapt up or down as the internet conditions change throughout the broadcast, ensuring the viewer never loses the stream.

At the beginning of the stream, the player usually requests chunks/segments from the lowest available bitrate version of the stream. If the player receives that version and finds that the network can handle a greater bitrate than it received through the downloaded segment, then it will request a higher bitrate chunk next. As the stream continues, if the player finds that the network throughput has worsened, it will request a lower bitrate chunk accordingly. An adaptive bitrate algorithm gets to decide which bitrate chunks to download based on the current state of the end viewer’s network.

Why is adaptive bitrate streaming better for businesses? 

There are many reasons businesses, influencers, and any other type of streamer should consider using adaptive bitrate streaming over traditional streaming methods. 

Here are just a few: 

  • Better viewer experience. It provides a better viewer experience overall thanks to fewer interruptions and better video quality 
  • Affordability. It’s more affordable because it doesn’t require as much bandwidth to accommodate the same number of viewers
  • Reliability. If one signal gets lost mid-stream, it can be quickly replaced without affecting the rest of the stream 
  • No difference in effort from the host/streamer. It’s easy to implement and scale as your business grows. As a streamer, you won’t notice a difference.

If you’re looking to live stream for your business, adaptive bitrate streaming is absolutely the way to go. It will provide your viewers with a much better experience and save you money in the long run. So let’s dive into how you can start adaptive bitrate streaming.

How can I start adaptive bitrate streaming?

When considering a hosting platform, you’ll be presented with a lot of options. You can use Livery, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, TikTok Live, Vimeo, and others. The good news is that all of these aforementioned platforms have adaptive bitrate streaming built in. So how do you pick the right one for your business? 

Here are the main criteria you should consider when choosing an adaptive bitrate streaming compatible platform:

Consider your main goal

There are several reasons you may consider streaming. Some of these include:

  • Better engagement with your audience
  • To share a new product or service launch
  • Making an announcement
  • To make sales
  • Connection and audience nurturing
  • To keep your audience entertained
  • To host a course or lesson
  • Etc.

Once you have your main goal/desired outcome in mind, here’s what you’ll want to consider next.

Check out features

For most businesses, social platforms are an engrained part of your marketing strategy. For that reason, they may have a few advantages over Vimeo, YouTube, and Twitch that include already having your target audience on the platform and a few interaction tools like reactions, chat, and poll stickers.

On the other hand, YouTube, Twitch, and Vimeo have better video and audio quality because these platforms were designed for video/streaming first. With that said, they have much more limited interaction tools which all but guarantees a passive viewership (instead of an engaged one).

All of these adaptive bitrate streaming options have a few downsides, that include:

  • Limited capacity for interaction. Chats are only entertaining for so long. To keep viewers engaged, you’ll want more interaction options.
  • No direct connection to your website. If you want to turn these viewers into shoppers, you’ll have to direct them out of the stream to shop on your website, making it unlikely that they return.
  • No ownership over your audience or data. At the end of the day, the platform owns your audience and data. They could lock you out of your account without explanation at any point. This is a risk of building your business on a third-party platform.
  • Advertising limits. Buried within the terms and conditions, most of these platforms limit how and what you sell. 

Though we may be a bit biased, Livery offers a superior experience on all fronts out of the box. With dozens of interactions (like trivia, guesstimations, live shopping, announcements, deep links, and more), direct website integration, complete ownership of your audience and data, and no advertising limits, you really can’t go wrong with Livery for business purposes.

That’s because we designed it with you in mind. 

Evaluate user friendliness

When considering features that fit your main goal, make sure you’re not adding complexity with each new feature. If it’s hard to use, you won’t use it – so make sure it’s simple and seamless to integrate into your business, app, website, and routine.

Closing thoughts

Adaptive bitrate streaming is a method of delivering video and audio content over the internet in real-time. It works by sending signals from the live stream to the player in small pieces (or “chunks”), which are then reassembled by the player into a cohesive video stream. This results in fewer interruptions and better overall quality for viewers.

There are many reasons why businesses should consider using adaptive bitrate streaming over traditional streaming methods, including its ability to provide a better viewer experience overall, its affordability, and its scalability. If you’re looking to live stream for your business, adaptive bitrate streaming is the best choice on all fronts.

To get started with adaptive bitrate streaming today, sign up for a free demo with Livery.