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Optimizing for User Experience With Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

adaptive bitrate streaming

With live streaming having an ever-growing impact on today’s predominantly digital world, optimizing user experience is becoming more vital for broadcasters everywhere. Standing out from the crowd is becoming more challenging by the day, and viewers’ tolerance for long buffering times and low-quality streams is dwindling. Nowadays, more than 50% of consumers won’t tolerate a bad stream for longer than 90 seconds. That is why professionals worldwide are looking for ways to deal with the perennial problem of fluctuating bandwidth and internet connection speeds that impact their streams’ quality. Many have found their solution in adaptive bitrate streaming (ABS).

But what is this innovative streaming technology? How does it work? How does it compare to other currently used streaming tech? These are just some of the questions we’re going to address in this article. And don’t worry — we’re not going to get too technical on you so that you can get a good grasp of ABS even if you aren’t a tech-whizz!

Without further ado, let’s learn everything there is to know about adaptive bitrate streaming and how you can use it to improve your viewers’ user experience.

What Is Adaptive Bitrate Streaming?

Adaptive bitrate streaming or adaptive HLS streaming was created to provide the optimal viewer experience by efficiently delivering video for the best streaming quality possible. ABS accomplishes that by delivering content in multiple streams with different bitrates simultaneously. The end-user then accepts and plays the video in the most optimal quality renditions for their bandwidth and internet connection speed to ensure smooth, uninterrupted playback. 

an image illustrating how adaptive bitrate streaming works

In other words, ABR streaming is an excellent way for publishers to dynamically match their content’s quality to different devices, internet speeds, and bandwidths. This kind of flexibility provides users with an uninterrupted and smooth live streaming experience.

How Does Adaptive Bitrate Streaming Work

The intricacies behind adaptive bitrate streaming are complex, but we’ll try to present them in the most straightforward manner possible. The video delivery process consists of three primary stages:

1. Video Preparation

This stage entails preparing the content for ABR streaming. The first thing you’ll need to do is encode the video into several bitrates. Most online video platforms can do that themselves, but if they don’t support encoding and transcoding, you can always use a streaming software app or a hardware encoder. Either of these can handle the transcoding process for you. Each of the encoded files will be divided into several small, 2–10-second chunks before being sent to the player.

2. Startup

Before playback can begin, the player will have to download a manifest file that contains all the information on the available chunks and bitrates. This file serves as a guide containing all the data that makes up that particular video’s streaming profile (codecs, bitrate, resolutions, etc.). The player then selects the most suitable assets for the end-user’s device and starts playback. 

3. Dynamic Playback

Once the playback starts, the client usually begins by requesting lower bitrate segments before switching to higher bitrate ones once it ensures the viewer has sufficient bandwidth to ensure smooth playback. 

But what makes adaptive bitrate streaming stand out from other streaming technologies is that the player keeps adapting the stream’s bitrate as the network conditions change. That means that if you start viewing a stream in 720p and lose bandwidth later, the stream will automatically tune down the bitrate to 480p or lower to prevent buffering issues.

Each video player uses a different algorithm to decide when to make the above changes. The three most common selection algorithms are:

  • Throughput-Based Algorithms — These algorithms measure how quickly the player downloaded the previous video chunk to decide which bitrate to request next.
  • Buffer-Based Algorithms —  These algorithms monitor and manage buffer occupancy to ensure there is always enough content buffered and ready for playback. If the algorithm notices that the download speed becomes slower than video playback, it will compensate for the loss of speed by requesting lower bitrate chunks next.
  • Hybrid Algorithms — These algorithms take the best of both worlds and combine the elements of the above two. Hybrid algorithms monitor the download speed and buffer occupancy, which is why they’re likely the best choice of the three.

Now that we’ve covered the technical ins and outs of adaptive bitrate streaming, let’s take a quick look at how it compares to other popular stream delivery technologies.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming vs. Progressive Streaming

Progressive streaming simply entails streaming a single video file over the web. This type of streaming is one of the first popularized streaming methods, but it has significant flaws. Namely, progressive streaming is prone to buffering issues, which is why ABR streaming trumps it.

an image illustrating how progressive streaming works

The progressive streaming video delivery process begins by shrinking a video file to a particular size to fit different screens. However, unlike adaptive bitrate streaming, the video file will be the same on all devices and in all network conditions.

As you can probably imagine, this solution is far from optimal. The stream quality will suffer significantly by having the same video file for all types of devices and bandwidth. Whether the problems are buffering lag, low-quality video, or pixelation issues due to inadequate video resolution, the outcome is the same — users will get frustrated quickly and begin leaving.

Adaptive bitrate streaming solves all of the above issues with its adaptability to different network conditions, bandwidth, and devices.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming vs. Multi-Bitrate Streaming

Multi-bitrate streaming entails making several versions of a video file in different bitrates and letting viewers pick their desired video quality manually. If the users don’t select a quality rendition, the player will automatically determine the most optimal one for their network connection quality and begin playback.

an image illustrating how multi-bitrate streaming works

With the above explanation in mind, it should be immediately apparent that this method is superior to progressive streaming in every way. But does it trump ABR streaming? No, and here’s why.

Although multi-bitrate streaming allows users to select their desired video quality manually, it is still susceptible to buffering issues. That is because it doesn’t take into account natural or unexpected fluctuations in viewers’ internet speeds, which leaves it vulnerable to lag. 

Adaptive bitrate streaming doesn’t have that problem since it will alter its bitrate to fit the changing network conditions, ensuring a smooth user experience.

Why Adaptive Bitrate Streaming Is the Best Choice

As you have probably realized by now, ABR streaming is undoubtedly the best stream delivery choice. Here’s a quick recap of why it is so:

  • Adaptive Bitrate Streaming Offers the Best User Experience — ABS is the least interruptive stream delivery method. ABR streaming eliminates buffering issues and tailors your content to various other devices, ensuring the best user satisfaction.
  • It Offers Faster Startup and Smoother Playback — Adaptive bitrate streaming begins playback quicker because it starts by processing lower quality renditions before upgrading to higher definition video, depending on your network’s capabilities.
  • ABR Streaming Is Optimized for Various Devices — More and more people are consuming videos and live streams from mobile devices and tablets. That is why the ability to cater to those audiences is essential for any professional broadcaster.
  • Improves Viewers’ Perceptions of Your Brand — Considering how rare it is to find smooth and lag-free video streams nowadays, people are sure to remember it. That will improve their perception of your brand as more professional and increase the likelihood of their returning in the future.

These factors are nothing to look down upon. Providing the best user experience to your viewers is one of the best ways brands can stand out in the vast sea of competition. Luckily, incorporating adaptive bitrate streaming into your brand’s efforts is not that challenging.

How to Get Started With Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

Anyone can utilize ABR streaming nowadays as it is slowly but surely turning into an industry standard. If you’re looking to get on board the ABS train, there are a few things to keep in mind, though:

1. Pick the Best Streaming Protocol

Streaming protocols enable the delivery of audio and video content over the internet. That is why choosing the best one for your needs is an essential first step, especially since not all live streaming protocols are made equal.

When it comes to ABR streaming, the optimal choice would have to be HLS, as it’s one of the most commonly used protocols nowadays. This protocol is excellent with ABS, it is highly scalable, and it has extensive DRM support.

An alternative to HLS would be RTMP, but this protocol would require a dedicated video encoder and is not ideal for ABS.

2. Use a Variety of Bitrates

Using various bitrates in your streaming profile will ensure you deliver the best user experience to the widest variety of devices. That is why having a wide range of different stream qualities available is an excellent idea. Here’s a quick cheat sheet of various bitrates and their compatible resolutions you should consider covering:

Bitrate (kbps)ResolutionBitrate (kbps)Resolution
235320×2401750720×480
375384×28823501280×720
560512×38430001920×720
750512×38243001920×1080
1050640×48058001920×1080

3. Choose the Right Video Player

The last thing left to do is find the appropriate video player that supports ABR streaming. The easiest solution is to find an HTML5 player like Brid.TV since these support adaptive bitrate streaming from the get-go. Another advantage of adaptive bitrate streaming players is that they are already accessible from any browser or device. When you couple that with the UX quality that ABS brings to the table, you will get many satisfied viewers quickly!

Getting Started With Adaptive Bitrate Streaming at Brid.TV

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get started with adaptive bitrate streaming, we at Brid.TV can help you. Our HTML5 video player and live streaming platform allow broadcasters to deliver smooth ABR streams while enjoying flexible encoding capabilities, a user-friendly video CMS, and plenty of player customization and branding capabilities, thanks to our white-label solution. Come learn more about our platform and how easy it is to get started!

Do you want to try out our platform and all of its features for free? Send us an email and start a free premium trial today!

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