The bitrate settings for 1080p videos can vary depending on the intended upload destination.
Let’s look at YouTube first. Luckily, Google’s video platform giant makes it pretty easy on us with a detailed bitrate encoding chart.
At 1080p, you should export any video intended for upload onto YouTube at a bitrate of 8 Mbps. This is a sweet spot of good quality with very low file size.
If your 1080p video is at a higher frame rate like 60 frames per second (fps), bump up the bitrate to 12 Mbps. Since there are more actual frames shown for every second of footage (which achieves that buttery smooth slow motion), you have to allow more data written into the file to maintain the same quality as a video with a lower frame rate.
Those that are savvy with internet streaming speeds might notice that these bitrates are higher than what most users will be able to watch with an average internet connection. So why would YouTube ask for a file that is too heavy to deliver to most of its audience?
Herein lies the magic of YouTube and other modern video platforms such as Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, TikTok, Snapchat, and more.
These services all have powerful, built-in video compression algorithms that take whatever you upload and create many versions from your source file. They will then automatically deliver the best quality of those versions that match the user’s internet speed, resulting in less buffering and a more enjoyable content experience.
These high-tech services will often start the video at a lower quality version for the first second or two to provide instant playback before switching seamlessly to a higher quality version once the viewer’s connection has been established and is fast enough to receive more data. This is known as adaptive bitrate streaming.
So if YouTube is going to choose its own bitrate anyway, why does yours matter?
YouTube really helps us out and does most of the heavy lifting in calculating the best bitrate for a given internet connection, device, and viewer. As a content creator, it is your job to supply a good quality source file that can be compressed by the algorithms and still maintain its integrity.
For example, if you exported a 1080p video at 2 Mbps, all versions created by YouTube would suffer in quality because there is less initial data provided in the file to analyze and compress.
A common question up for debate is since YouTube and other platforms compress our videos anyway, why not just upload a massive, high-quality file?
You certainly can! The streaming giants even accept the aforementioned professional formats like ProRes and DNxHD, and these can be a good choice if you are hyper-focused on quality. Just be warned that upload and processing times will increase dramatically, and these files will take up way more digital real estate on both your hard drive and cloud accounts.
While most of today’s popular online platforms work with similar compression algorithms, not every video is destined for online use in this way. If you are hosting a video on your own website server or delivering a video to a client, it is best to ask for the specific settings they want.
When working with commercial clients or agencies, it is common practice to create and deliver both a ProRes (high-quality master file) and an MP4 (web-friendly file ready to upload).