02 Apr 2010

What is Bitrate?

Blog, Online Video 6 Comments

What is Bitrate and Why Should You Care?

Whether you’re a professional video producer, or editing video for the first time, understanding “Bitrate” is essential to producing top-quality video. Here’s everything you need to know about bitrate and YouTube.

Bitrate As Defined By The Layman
A “bit” is simply a piece of information processed by a computer. So, bitrate literally means the number of “bits” processed per interval of time. In the case of online video, bitrate is most commonly measured in kilobites per second or “kbps”.

Put a more technical way, bitrate is the amount of pixel information in each frame of video. so, the more bitrate you add, the more detailed and vibrant each frame of video will be.

It’s also directly related to file size, so the higher your bitrate, the larger your video file.

Marinate on that for a sec …

Bitrate’s Role In Exporting Video
Now, to determine where to put your bitrate setting when exporting, you need to consider how the end-user will be viewing your creation. If the video is going to be viewed online (outside YouTube and the like), then it’s important to take into account bandwidth speeds.

As a general rule of thumb:
• Cable downloads at 6,000-8,000 kilobites per second (kbps)
• DSL: 2,000-4,000 kbps
• Dial-up: 56-128 kbps

So, if you set your bitrate export settings to, say, 1,200 kbps, your video will play immediately on DSL and cable connections, but will buffer if being viewed via dial-up.

Fortunately, over 2/3 of the US has broadband, so you can exclude the dial-up connections when setting bitrate.

Exporting For YouTube
Even though you and I may have bandwidth speeds between 6,000-8,000 kbps, YouTube streams at 700-800 kbps (non-HD). That means no matter what the bitrate is of the file you upload, it gets compressed and sent out at 700-800 kbps!

So be prepared. Since you know your video will get compressed anyway, upload a file that’s really good quality (i.e. has a very high bitrate).

When I’m uploading a 1-3 minute video to YouTube, I’ll typically set my bitrate between 3,000 kbps – 6,000 kbps. That way it’s pretty good quality, and the file won’t be so large that it takes a lifetime to upload.

Make sense? Cool.

Don’t Forget: Junk In, Junk Out
Remember to consider the camera you’re shooting with. If you’re shooting with a canon pocket SD500 photo camera on video mode, there’s only so much you can do to improve the quality using bitrate. The camera’s CCD’s are too small to shoot anything of quality.

Adjusting bitrate is a lot like life: put junk in, get junk out.

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