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Bit Rates and Live Streaming: What is the connection? How to choose?

Posted by Ryan Campbell on Dec 22, 2015 6:35:37 PM

Take a look at bitrates and how they affect playback during a live or on-demand broadcast.

What is a bit rate? 

The bit rate is the number of bits that pass through a network or processed per second. 

A bit is the simplest unit of measurement when it comes to a computer. A bit can hold two values: a 0 or 1.

In terms of bit rate, you may typically see the unit of measurement represented as:

kilo kbit/s = 1,000 bit/s = 1 Kbps
Mega Mbit/s = 1,000 kbit/s = 1 Mbps
Giga Gbit/s = 1,000 Mbit/s = 1 Gbps

For a point of reference (from Google):

  • The music you download on iTunes 256 kbps
  • Most radio station use 128 kbps
  • A 1080p video at a standard frame rate (24-30) ideally above 5 Mbps

... ok, but how does that affect live streaming?

Laptop Work-10.jpgWhen you record, your computer is compressing the stream, and then sending it over the network. The bit rate tells a broadcaster how many bits are in one unit of playback (seconds) after the audio or video files are compressed. As you can imagine, the more bits you have, the more data can be represented per second. In regard to streaming, it means higher quality.

For a live stream, the compression of the video is a very computer-intensive process. Also, pushing the live stream to a platform like StreamSpot requires a stable internet connection. So, the better CPU(s) and the internet you have, the better live stream you can produce.

A 160 Kbps audio file will give better quality and will sound clearer than the same file that's encoded at 128 Kbps. Video will obviously require more information per second than the audio file, but the same rule applies. A video at 2500 Kbps will give a much better viewing experience than another at 1200 Kbps.


When deciding which bit rate to choose, it's important to consider your viewership. A stream that's too high of a bit rate could provide an unpleasant viewing experience if the viewer does not have fast, reliable Internet. On the contrary, viewers who have great Internet will receive a movie-like streaming experience.

If the stream is pushed out at a lower bit rate, it will provide a more consistent, stable stream for a larger number of users. However, viewers with better Internet connections will suffer because they will receive a low quality stream.

Balancing these trade-offs to somewhere in the middle is most optimal. 

The ideal solution to this problem is to push a multi-bit rate stream.


Multi-bit rate streams are handy, because you as a broadcaster can push streams to many bit rates to a streaming provider like StreamSpot. Our StreamSpot players will serve up the best bit rate the viewer can receive. So, viewers with consistent Internet connections will get the higher bit rates, and vice versa.

The viewing experience is optimized for all viewers.

At StreamSpot, we provide many customers with a powerful encoder that’s pre-configured for an amazing streaming experience. We have put together recommended bit rates with the StreamSpot Encoder. These vary based on a lot of a factors, but here are some guidelines we like to follow:

Choose a bit rate of 2500 Kbps with a minimum 3.5Mbps upload speed

Choose a bit rate of 1200 Kbps with a minimum 1.8Mbps upload speed

Choose a bit rate of  800 Kbps with a minimum 1.2Mbps upload speed

If you don’t have a StreamSpot encoder or have a different configuration, contact us at We can help you find a bit rate that makes the most sense for your viewers.

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Topics: Live Streaming Overview, streaming basics