Livestreaming has seen consistent growth over the past few years, exploding in popularity particularly among young viewers. For those interested in putting up their own content, one of the key limiting factors is internet speed. To provide a high-quality experience to viewers and ensure that everything looks good, high upload speeds are a necessity.
The question “What should my internet speed be to stream games?” comes up most often. In truth, however, it is not the best metric to ask. What really matters for stream quality is bitrate, and that’s affected by upload speeds. Let’s explore why and what upload speeds are necessary for your preferred quality.
Understanding Download/Upload Speeds
To begin, it is important to note the differences between upload and download speeds. Your internet speed as advertised is for download speeds – numbers like 50 Mbps or 250 Mbps are download speeds. Downloads are important for watching videos, playing online games, and generally browsing the internet. The vast majority of what most people do online – that is, consuming content – involves download speeds.
By livestreaming games, you are switching to the other side and creating content. To do that, you need good upload speeds. These are much smaller than download speeds – between 3 Mbps and 10 Mbps is common. Uploading can be thought of as adding to the internet while downloading is viewing and taking in the internet.
Download speeds only matter for streaming games to make sure that your connection to your game is stable. In practice, it has absolutely no effect on the quality of your livestream and can effectively be ignored. If you are looking at upgrading your internet speeds or switching providers, do some research into upload speeds and choose the best for your budget.
What Upload Speed to Shoot For
Finding the right upload speed to aim for is tricky. In truth, there is no straightforward answer to this question, besides “more is always better”. You should aim to stream the games you want (those affect what speed you need too!) at a quality you think is acceptable. That’s basically the only rule.
You should test your upload speeds before streaming anyway, even if you think you know the number. Often, the rates that providers advertise are warped or under optimal conditions that are hard to achieve. You can use any number of speed tests online; even simply Googling “speed test” brings you to Google’s own version. Note the number and see what bitrate that will generally let you stream at.
Why Bitrate Is What Actually Matters
Bitrate is the metric that affects the quality of your stream. Although it is tied heavily to your upload speed, they are slightly different and need to be considered separately.
To properly stream games, you need to hit certain bitrates. The action happening on screen, quickness of the game, and encoder all affect what bitrate is necessary. As things get more intense, a higher bitrate is needed to keep things clear. Have you ever joined a stream that said it was in HD, but everything looked muddled and unclear? A low bitrate was likely to blame.
Bitrate is the amount of data you send out to whatever server you use while streaming. Servers are based on whatever platform you choose to stream on, like Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook Gaming. To put it simply, the higher the bitrate, the faster your upload speed needs to be. It is measured in kilobits per second, or kbps.
Streaming In High Quality
As you might expect, higher quality streams require high bitrates. Although there is variation here, Twitch and YouTube have provided general guidelines. They are roughly the same across all platforms:
|Quality||Bitrate||Estimated Upload Speed|
|720p 30fps||2,500 – 4,000 kbps||3 – 5 Mbps|
|720p 60fps||3,500 – 5,000 kbps||4.5 – 6.5 Mbps|
|1080p 30fps||4,500 – 6,000 kbps||5.5 – 7.5 Mbps|
|1080p 60fps||6,000 – 9,000 kbps||7.5 – 11 Mbps|
Remember that these are general guidelines. If you use an ineffective encoder, stream rapid and intense games, or have other things running on your computer, these numbers can quickly rise. If you stream on a platform that supports higher-quality streams than 1080p 60fps, your upload speeds will need to increase dramatically.
Improving Your Upload Speed and Bitrate
There are a few different ways to improve your bitrate before coughing up more money to your internet provider. In fact, these are good steps to take anyway, even if your speeds are fast enough to stream in 1080p 60fps. Having a large buffer on top of what is necessary will help your streams stay consistently in consistently good quality.
- Use A Wired Connection – The chances of you hitting the necessary upload speeds on a wireless connection are almost impossible. Still, even if you are during tests, it is best to switch to an ethernet cable. It is more stable and always faster.
- Stop Other Internet Uses – While streaming, it is best if you are the only one using the internet. Remember that the upload speeds you need to hit are available internet; other people downloading or uploading on the network will slow you down.
- Adjust Your Encoder – Encoding settings are a different beast entirely, but some are far more efficient than others. The better they are at encoding, the less strain on bandwidth, the better your stream. Look up guides for your system; in a pinch, Twitch recommends using NVIDIA NVENC or x264.
- Update Your Drivers – There’s a chance your computer is running an outdated internet driver, or your graphics card driver is slowing down your whole system. Do a check and ensure everything is set for the best quality.
If you are still not getting bitrates high enough to stream at the quality you want, then it is time to upgrade. Talk to your ISP about upgrading your upload speed specifically for the best results. Before you start paying extra, however, make sure that you actually need it; every major streaming tool includes ways to test streams. Doing a few tests for bandwidth, bitrate, and dropped frames will let you know how far off the mark you are.
The internet speed you need to stream games online changes dramatically based on several factors; what you really care about is bitrate. Streaming in high-quality, 60fps will take a pretty hefty upload speed. Luckily, if you are just getting started, most internet plans have good enough upload top stream in 720p at 30fps at least.
You should also consider what types of games you play most consistently. The more effects happening on screen, the higher the bitrate must be to keep clarity. The same goes for extra effects on alerts or overlays. If your internet speeds are struggling, reduce those first.’
If you need to improve your internet, focus on improving your upload speeds first. This is what will affect your streaming and you can see dramatic improvements with only a small bump.
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