YouTube brings AV1 beta livestreaming for improved video quality

Why it matters: As more hardware and software add support for encoding AV1, the video codec looks to succeed H.264 as the preferred standard. Another step in the transition approaches as YouTube prepares to support AV1 for livestreaming. A prominent YouTuber recently offered early impressions after accessing the latest OBS beta.

On Monday, streamer EposVox gave early details on how YouTube will soon allow AV1 encoding for livestreaming, enabling 4K 60fps streams. The rundown includes suggestions for good bitrates at each resolution and frame rate.

Since its 2018 introduction, the AV1 codec has steadily gained support due to its increased efficiency compared to H.264 or VP9 and its lack of licensing requirements. Most modern hardware can decode AV1, and last year’s new generation of graphics cards from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia support encoding to AV1.

The primary obstacle to AV1 adoption is acquiring software support from various popular services. Twitch isn’t there yet, HandBrake added support at the end of last year, Discord currently lets Nitro subscribers with RTX 40 series GPUs stream in AV1, and YouTube has allowed pre-recorded AV1 video for a while.

YouTube recently added RTMP+ (Enhanced RTMP) support, allowing AV1, VP9, and HEVC livestreaming. Furthermore, the upcoming OBS 29.1 allows AV1 livestreaming, and EpoxVox acquired a preview build.

The efficiency difference from AV1 is stark. Under H.264, a 1080p 60fps stream requires at least an 8Mbps bitrate for good image quality. EposVox said 8Mbps is AV1’s sweet spot for 1440p 60fps streams and that streamers could get away with as low as 4-6Mbps. He suggests just 4Mbps for 1080p 60fps and 10-15Mbps for 4K 60fps streams.

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Those numbers aren’t absolute. They’re just one streamer’s recommendation for balancing image quality with bandwidth usage. The right balance will probably depend on each game’s amount of speed and motion. Some users could go lower, as EposVox achieved a decent picture streaming Halo Infinite in 1440p 60fps at just 500Kbps.

When OBS 29.1 launches publicly, users can switch to AV1 by navigating to Settings > Stream and selecting “YouTube – RTMPS” from the dropdown menu. Then, head to Output > Encoder” and pick QuickSync AV1 from the dropdown list.

Unfortunately, OBS hasn’t defined a release date for the new build, but EposVox says it’s imminent. He plans to test Discord’s AV1 streaming capabilities in a future video.

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