When you stream you have to remember several key parameters that directly affect your stream visual quality, such as bitrate, resolution, and frames per second. You can read about them here. However, besides those obvious parameters, there's one more which is easy to overlook. It's how each platform does transcoding.
Transcoding at platforms is different from transcoding at Restream. It is a great tool that allows selecting lower stream quality and watching the stream consuming less data.
Most of the platforms, such as Picarto or Periscope don't do transcoding and have strict stream quality limitations to let most of the viewers to view the stream. Exceeding quality limitations will cause troubles with stream stability.
Other platforms such as Twitch do a hybrid approach having strict recommended stream parameters but also transcoding the stream to lower specifications. This allows every streamer to do a high-quality compression of the original feed and also enables lower stream quality for their viewers who have a bad connection to the platform.
Note: some streamers on such platforms will not have a quality selection option - this is a feature provided to partners or popular streamers. Other streamers are treated like the platform doesn't have transcoding for them.
The good part about those two approaches is that original quality feed will be as good as a streamer can get - with proper compression and image tweaks it's possible to get a higher-quality image with lower bitrate if specs are balanced properly.
The downside for those two approaches is that original quality feed will be different from streamer to streamer and there's no certain ways of knowing how much data will be consumed for viewing before a viewer starts watching the stream.
The third approach is full stream transcoding without preserving source stream, which is done by YouTube and most of Facebook streams. Such platforms allow only a limited set of resolutions with 16:9 aspect ratio, such as 144p, 240p, 360p, 480p, 720p, 1080p, 1440p, 2160p. The incoming stream will be converted to a certain standard making it fully predictable in terms of quality and bitrate for viewers. Original feed will be converted and replaced.
Note: all streams will have multiple quality selection options for platforms with full transcoding.
This approach is great because it allows streamers with weaker hardware to compensate for it by sending higher bitrates to target platforms, getting a higher quality image, which is then brought to an appropriate standard that any viewer can watch. This sometimes allows for higher quality than a streamer can get at platforms without full transcoding.
The downsides for such an approach is that transcoding of the original stream will always decrease its quality for a viewer in comparison to what the streamer sends. It also doesn't allow for parameters variety, since every stream will be brought to the highest quality below what streamer sends, so for instance, 900p stream will be converted to 720p stream and so on.
So, at some platforms stream will always look worse than at other, but this is not as bad since it will let viewers see the stream in quality optimized for such platforms.
Facebook took this approach further, and for users who are not participants of the Level Up program, streams can't go above 720p/30fps at all. This is a common concern for many streamers, but this is a limitation added by the platform itself, and Restream can't help with this.
If you want to learn more about streaming quality, check out our blog post SD vs HD for live streaming.
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