The Importance of Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

With modern expectations of instant and buffer-free viewing, it is extremely important to ensure adaptive bitrate streaming is used to offer the best possible experience for viewers. Adaptive Bitrate Streaming is intuitive and works by allowing the video player to constantly assess the viewers internet connectivity and adjusting image quality to ensure a continuous video stream. Alternative types of streaming often result in ‘buffering’ of a video, where the video will pause itself as it loads the next chapter of content.


CNBC reported that during 2017 in the United States 54% of 18-29 year olds used streaming services more often that watched traditional TV channels and even then, 48% of traditional TV watchers prefer to view their content on an on-demand platform. The shift to online streaming services is mainly driven by the benefits of flexible viewing, but what good is that extra value without consistent video playback? There are several issues that contribute to a buffering video, the main one being lack of network connectivity. Poor internet connection hinders the download rate required for video playback but adaptive bitrate streaming can offer an intuitive and instant solution to this problem without disrupting the viewer’s stream.


Why we need adaptive bitrate streaming

Cloud video technology and connected devices are developing so fast that often the infrastructure is not yet in place to fully support all consumer demands. Aside from just the physical construction of networks required, high internet traffic can also slow down your network’s ability to stream video content online. Short term hardware fixes for this issue are costly and are often over complicated for users, and installing suitable connections such a Fibre internet take a long time due to current demand.


How adaptive bitrate streaming works and what the alternatives are

Another common streaming type that sets alongside adaptive bitrate streaming is progressive streaming. Progressive streaming is where a single video can be streamed across multiple platforms, with only its appearance altered. It may have been produced initially to fit a specific screen size but is able to be distorted to fit various screen sizes. Progressive streaming often causes more pixelation of the video and is more prone to buffering when exposed to poor internet connection. The video will most likely have to continuously stop and start to load the next section of the video.


An adaptive bitrate stream is different, instead of pausing simply when the download hasn’t completed, it can reassess internet speeds intuitively to provide a greater or lesser quality image to ensure the internet can download at a rate which doesn’t require any buffering. While this process compromises image quality slightly, consumers prefer the trade off of image quality to ensure their viewing experience is uninterrupted.


What bitrate means

The term bitrate is derived from the literal process where ‘bits’ of content are downloaded. Often video files streamed through an adaptive video process are broken into ‘segments’ which are approximately 4 seconds long. An adaptive video player can alter the file size of each segment to piece together seamless viewing even with fluctuating quality of internet connection. This is an intuitive process which requires no input from the users, and is completely build into the video player itself. Where possible the video player will always opt for the highest quality option that the connection allows.

Good viewing experiences are still expected by viewers, even when an unsatisfactory network connection is present. Adaptive bitrate streaming has proven to be the best solution to compensate for this demand and one that provides a significant competitive advantage over those not utilising it.