It’s the Bitrate That Matters with XSplit
Some of the staff here at the Syber Lab will argue back and forth until time ends about which streaming program is the best to use. There are several on the market currently, but the primary two programs utilized are XSplit by Split Media Labs and OBS (Open Broadcasting Software). There’s a lot of knowledge here about streaming, and most of it can be used for any stream software, although some specifics will stick to XSplit. Reminder: technology and software will change over time, so what’s read here may not be as relevant a few years from now. For now, let’s focus on bitrate.
To start, the most important aspect of any stream is always the bitrate. The bitrate is a number expressed in Kilobits per second (a Kilobit is one eighth of a Kilobyte). Without a bitrate, you have no stream. Without a constant bitrate, you have a near unviewable stream. Without a “high enough” bitrate, your stream looks like a garbled video transmission from Mars. Without a low enough bitrate, your viewers will just see constant buffering.
You might be able to see the problem with bitrate here. The key is to find a comfortable range to work in so your viewers can enjoy your stream with decent quality. Granted many of your viewers might have the fastest internet speeds, but that doesn’t mean that the stream servers you’re broadcasting to can handle your upstream. Generally Twitch servers are able to support at maximum 3500 Kbps. That certainly doesn’t mean you should stream that high, but it’s nice to know, right?
There’s an important factor that’s often overlooked, however. If you’re streaming, say, Hearthstone, the animations and graphical effects don’t have much motion to them. Low-motion games don’t require as high of a bitrate to look clean as do high-motion games, such as Overwatch. This means in order to get consistent stream quality, you’ll likely want to target your ideal bitrate tailored to when (and if) you play high-motion games.
It’s also important to remember your bitrate is not a constant. Bitrate will fluctuate because Internet speeds are never a “set in stone” kind of thing. However, viewers aren’t affected because streaming programs have bitrate fluctuation functionality. More on that another time.
The bitrate is obviously a necessary factor, but what else is overlooked is the hardware you’ll need to push that upstream rate. Your cable modem, router, and internet service are factors as well. One of our employees (and we won’t say who…) had top-tier internet service and his modem wasn’t able to support it, so he was shelling out money for less capable internet! Bitrate is important, but you’ll need the hardware to support it!
Thankfully, XSplit now has stream test capability to find the best server and recommend a strong bitrate with the proper game resolution to stream with. The technology has improved so that streaming is being whittled down to a “one-button-does-all” function.