Glossary

Difference Between Video Bitrate And Video Resolution

Have you ever wondered what makes a video look crisp, clear, and perfectly detailed on your screen?

Two of the main factors that determine video quality are video bitrate and video resolution. Though they sound similar, these two concepts are actually quite different.

In this post, we’ll explain in simple terms what bitrate and resolution are, how they work together to create high quality video, and why understanding the difference between them matters.

It doesn’t matter if you’re streaming movies, filming videos on your phone, or just want to learn more about digital video, this guide will help you a lot later on!

What is Video Bitrate?

In simple words, bitrate is the amount of data used per second to store or transmit video. It represents the density and quantity of data encoding the video file.

Bitrate is measured in bits per second (bps).

A higher bitrate value indicates more data is being used to represent the video per second. This greater density of data translates into improved video quality.

Why does more data equal better quality? Because with a higher bitrate…

  • More visual detail and clarity are preserved
  • Colors are encoded with greater accuracy
  • Complex textures & objects are less likely to become pixelated
  • There is less banding, noise and other compression artifacts

A high bitrate provides enough data to retain nuanced visual information, avoiding the loss of quality that comes from aggressive compression and data limitations. The result is video with sharper definition, smoother motion, and an overall more true-to-life representation.

However, with a higher bitrate, the storage size increases, and so does the CDN delivery costs and usage. Hence, any encoding engineer must keep an eye out on the implications of increasing or decreasing bitrates, because the impact of any bitrate change is huge and has a ripple effect on the system.

What is Video Resolution?

Resolution refers to the pixel dimensions of a video – the number of horizontal pixels by the number of vertical pixels.

For example, a video with a 1920×1080 resolution has 1920 pixels across, and 1080 pixels down. Together, these pixels make up the grid that forms the video’s images.

Some common video resolutions you may find popular are:

  • 720p – 1280 x 720
  • 1080p – 1920 x 1080
  • 2K – approximately 2000 pixels wide
  • 4K – 3840 x 2160

A higher resolution, like 4K or 1080p, means there is physically more pixel information contained in each frame of the video. This allows for more visual detail to be displayed.

However, resolution on its own is not enough – it sets the maximum potential crispness, but sufficient bitrate is still needed to fully take advantage of that pixel grid.

Think of resolution as the framework, and bitrate as the substance within that framework.

Video Bitrate vs Video Resolution Comparison Table

Quality ImpactPrimary driver of video quality – higher bitrate = better qualitySecondary factor, provides pixel framework but sufficient bitrate needed to utilize video resolution fully

Factor Bitrate Resolution
Definition The amount of data used per second to store or transmit video, measured in bits per second (bps) The number of horizontal and vertical pixels that make up the grid of a video frame
File Size Higher bitrate = larger file size Higher resolution = larger file size
Frame Rate Allows for caching more frames for smooth slow motion at high bitrates Doesn’t directly affect frame rate, but high resolution demands high bitrate for smooth playback
Visual Detail Preserves nuanced gradients, textures, and shadows; avoids lossy compression artifacts By itself, it doesn’t guarantee detailed visuals; it depends on bitrate filling the resolution pixel grid
Motion Enables fluid, seamless motion and action at higher bitrates At insufficient bitrates, details and motion can become choppy even at high resolution.
Streaming Bitrate can be adjusted dynamically to match connection speeds Resolution typically fixed based on source video
Playback Higher bitrates require more processing power and bandwidth Higher resolutions require better display capability, processing power, and sufficient bandwidth (bitrate i.e., to ensure that the video looks good).

Which is more important? Video Bitrate or Resolution?

Since bitrate determines how much visual data is stored in each second of video, it can be easy to think that resolution alone makes the difference in video quality.

But in reality, bitrate has a great impact on the visual quality as well. Some would even argue that the bitrate matters more than resolution and here is why –

  • Higher bitrate reduces compression artifacts – Insufficient bitrate leads to more lossy compression which introduces distortions. A higher bitrate preserves more data so minimal compression is required.
  • Bitrate impacts smooth motion – A higher bitrate enables caching more frames for fluid slow motion and action scenes. Lower bitrates drop frames causing choppiness.
  • Bitrate enhances clarity & detail – Extra bitrate information retains nuanced shadows, textures, gradients – regardless of resolution. Lower bitrate flattens and pixelates detail.
  • Resolution doesn’t scale down well – Higher resolution videos downscaled to lower resolutions can suffer quality loss. But higher source bitrates still shine through.

So for the best quality, bitrate should be prioritized over resolution. A great example is Blu-Ray discs – they use high bitrates which is why they look so amazing even on 1080p screens.

However, one cannot ignore bitrate or resolution and treat them independently. Both are critical parameters that determine the quality of the video, and the quality of the viewing experience for the end user.

After all, one cannot assume that only bitrate is important and hence deliver 360p content to UHD displays at 10 mbps. The experience will simply not be there!

Verdict: Bitrate + Resolution = Quality & User Experience

To summarize, bitrate and resolution work together to determine video quality.

Think of bitrate as the quality foundation – it controls clarity, smoothness, freedom from artifacts, and is more important overall.

Resolution forms the maximum structure – it sets the potential pixel clarity but proper bitrate is needed to achieve it.

For the best quality, use the highest bitrate your playback device can handle, at an appropriate resolution. Aim for resolution matched to your screen, but don’t be afraid to scale it down if needed to increase the bitrate.

Visionular focuses on the use of AI in video compression (for H.264/AVC, HEVC, and AV1) that enables our video codecs to deliver the highest possible compression efficiency at the best encoding speeds!

Our tech is used by the largest content providers globally to deliver the best user experience and to reduce their OPEX by 25 – 30% at least!

To learn more,