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KnowHOW: Streaming in multiple formats and resolutions

KnowHOW: Streaming in multiple formats and resolutions

KnowHOW: Streaming in multiple formats and resolutions

Nate Anderson from Christian streaming solution specialist Living As One answers our questions

What are the most common formats and resolutions? 

Today, some common HD video resolutions include 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The first number indicates the number of vertical pixels in a video frame, while the letter (i or p) indicates whether the signal is interlaced or progressive. The choice of resolution is based on desired video quality as well as the amount of bandwidth available to transmit the data.

Nate Anderson
Nate Anderson

The process of interlacing breaks up a video frame into alternating fields; for instance, a 1080i signal is painted on the screen in two passes of 540 lines each. Originally designed as a way to transmit a high resolution at a lower bandwidth, interlaced video has an advantage of spatial resolution, but lacks in the ability to display smooth motion, or temporal resolution. It’s worth noting that modern computer monitors consistently display video as whole video frames, so interlaced video is deinterlaced before playback but will still lack the smoothness compared to a true progressive signal. Larger, Ultra HD resolutions such as 4K are becoming more popular, which are progressive only and benefit in both temporal and spatial resolution, but still require expensive infrastructure and high bandwidth.

What is bitrate and how does this have an impact?

Bitrate describes the amount of data (or bits) that a signal is encoded at, generally measured per second. For example, a video signal can be saved to a file at a rate such as 5Mb/s (megabits per second). The bitrate of a file will have an impact on its overall quality and can differ depending on the efficiency of the codec compression format. While a higher bitrate will usually lead to a higher quality file, it will also take up more space and require more bandwidth for streaming, both for the streaming site and the end viewer.

Newspring Church content streaming on an iPhone
Newspring Church content streaming on an iPhone

How can I get the best quality?

Overall video quality, while often subjective, differs depending on the output resolution of the gear or the recording bitrate/codec used. In regard to resolution, it is important to future-proof your video infrastructure by choosing gear that can output in as high resolution as possible. Even though there can be some quality advantage to scaling up resolution (especially when mixed with other high-resolution sources), the scaler will simply be stretching the pixels to the output frame size, which will not take advantage of the full resolution, leading to a blurry or smudgy image. When working with recorded/archive video data, it is best to originally save with a low-loss high-bitrate recording codec such as ProRes or use a high-efficiency codec in order to preserve as much of the original data (and quality) as possible.

How can I provide the best quality stream for viewers no matter their bandwidth?

Often, a stream will be encoded at multiple bitrates (referred to as Adaptive Bitrate Streaming), which provides multiple qualities for the viewer’s system to choose from depending on available bandwidth and network conditions. This prevents buffering for viewers by dynamically adjusting the overall quality (in bitrate and in frame size/resolution). ABS is critical in order to provide a smooth stream to viewers watching on a wide range of devices (such as mobile) as well as slower connections. This process can either take place at the streaming site, with multiple versions uploaded to the cloud, or through a service that provides cloud transcoding, or converting from one to multiple qualities in the cloud.

What is the difference between on-premises and cloud transcoding/scaling?

Most streaming software provides upscaling and downscaling, whether for the initial output resolution or for ABS. However, converting video into multiple bitrates in the cloud (cloud transcoding) is becoming more popular and provides many advantages over on-premises transcoding. By not sending multiple streams from the broadcast site, this can greatly reduce the cost and performance requirements of on-premises gear as well as conserves upload bandwidth.

This article was first published in the January-February 2020 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at or read on Issuu.

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