First things first, lets get this out of the way: There’s no easy answer to this question. Depending on the game you play, you may want to prioritize framerate over resolution. Depending on your upload speed, you may have to make a compromise somewhere. The general rule of thumb is that the lower bitrate you can achieve a good picture with, the larger your potential audience will be.
I have heard people who stream at 3500kb/s tell me “Well I’ve never heard any complaints”. The truth is, most people who enter a new channel and see buffering will just leave. They aren’t invested enough to complain. If you don’t care about reaching a broad audience and only stream to some friends with awesome internet, by all means stream at high settings (within Twitch’s limits).
The other factor you need to take into account when picking your settings is this: Twitch basically distributes streams across the network who have more viewers more efficiently. Viewers will have less buffering watching a streamer with 20 viewers than they will watching a streamer with 10 viewers. This means that if you’re a new streamer streaming at higher settings, your viewers with good internet may get buffering ANYWAY. Finally, many people with great internet speeds get throttled or sent down congested routes. I have Verizon’s 150mb/s download plan and I STILL get buffering on low viewer count streams and streams that push higher bitrates because Verizon refuses to negotiate with Twitch about how to reliably deliver their data.
Point is, you can get great quality at lower bitrates and resolutions. Unless you are partnered with Twitch and have transcoding options, there is very little reason to use high bit rate settings. Below I will list two settings I recommend and their pros and cons. Use these as a guideline/starting point and tweak them based on your preference, aspect ratio and upload speed. In general it is best for nonpartners to stay below 2500KB/s if you can.
- 720P Downscale @ 30FPS with 2400KB/s Bitrate
- This is a good general purpose setting. If you have CBR enabled (which in most cases you should) the actual bitrate will flutter up and down a bit. By setting to 2400kb/s it ensures the bitrate will not climb too high.
- This works for games that do not have a ton of motion such as games like Civilization or The Sims. It looks OK for some FPS games but is not ideal for twitchy shooters like CS:GO or COD.
- This will keep your in game text clear and readable.
- The downside to this setting is that it does not look smooth for fast paced games and it can be a bit too high of a bitrate for some viewers.
- 540P Downscale @ 60FPS with 2000KB/s Bitrate
- This is an awesome setting for fast paced games and is one of my personal favorite settings to use. Gameplay will look smooth, some text may look blurry but only in full screen players. Unless people are watching your streams full screen though, they aren’t watching at a high resolution anyway. If you right click a stream you are watching and choose “video playback stats” you’ll see that the resolution is much lower than what most people are broadcasting at.
- The 2000KB/s Bitrate ensures most viewers can watch your stream easily.
- The only downside I really see with this is exporting to YouTube. If you want high quality YouTube exports, this may not be the setting for you. I only export small clips and highlights, so this doesn’t affect me
- I like to use the “Bicubic Sharpener” filter. “Bilinear” is great for most CPUs and “Lanczos” is best used on powerful CPUs. Pick the one you think looks and runs best.
Those two settings should be great for most people with decent upload rates. You can try lower bitrates, but if you start to drop frames or the quality dips you’re going to want to bump the bitrate up a bit. There are many other settings that may work for you, but those are two that consistently give me good quality streams that offer the least amount of buffering. For the most part, I recommend staying away from 1080p (as do Twitch admins). I know, as a gamer it’s tough to think that anything lower than 1080p/60fps is good. However, when it comes to broadcasting and taking viewer’s connection speed into account this really is a case where “less is more”. Best of luck tinkering with your settings and let me know if you have any questions or feedback!