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Quality of Service and You: Chasing the 1080p Unicorn

Last Updated: Apr 05, 2016 06:14AM PDT

Quality of Service

This article offers some tips to make the most of your viewing on Twitch.

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This article is intended for Twitch viewers who have issues when watching a high-bitrate stream, like 720p or 1080p. There are two major issues to consider when attempting to watch a high-bitrate stream: your computer's configuration and available processing resources and your Internet connection.

Inspecting your computer

Believe it or not, watching live and streaming HD or other high bitrate video is actually quite straining on your PC, even modern ones. Even though you might know your computer pretty well, keep these factors in mind:

  • How many programs are active and fighting for resources?
  • Do you have trouble playing Flash videos?
  • Do you have enough [good] RAM?

The Internet: How does your ISP serve your Twitch requests?

Here is a simple look at how a Twitch video request works for viewers. When you visit a Twitch channel, your player sends a request for the video through the Internet to one of Twitch's servers. Upon successful connection, that Twitch server starts to send video back through your ISP to your player. So why can this lead to issues? 

First, the path from your ISP to Twitch is mostly likely not direct (only ISPs who connect directly to Twitch have this luxury). When connecting to Twitch servers, ISPs commonly send data through many hops before hitting our server clusters. A 1080p video stream has a high bitrate, as may a 720p stream since not all broadcasters use the same bitrate. A high bitrate means more data, which means a greater chance the route provided by your ISP between Twitch and your home are unable to sustain the necessary speed to carry all data in sequence without delay. 

Twitch knows its users are top end Internet consumers who try to buy the best advertised connections available. Unfortunately, many ISPs are still working to deliver consistent, high-bitrate video streams. Netflix monitors the average sustainable bandwidth they can sustain to users during video playback and has published an ISP Speed Index. When reviewing the NetFlix report, note that almost all ISPs are below 2.35 Mbps on average. Thus, if a broadcaster is pushing a 720p/1080p stream with a bitrate above 2350 bits per second, many viewers may have trouble watching that stream quality. 

TLDR; If the broadcaster you are watching sends out a bitrate that is too high for the lowest point in your ISPs path to Twitch (1080p or not), you will see lag.

FYI: The main reason Twitch offers lower resolutions in its Partner program is to make sure viewers can find a display resolution that works for them. 

What you can do

Call your ISP. Work them to understand the route they are providing to this site. If they will do a traceroute, have them try and explain the results such as the number of hops and the response time - more than 100 ms is a big concern for live video. Explain to them why you purchased the high bandwidth package that you did: to play games and watch/stream videos over the Internet. Ask them to connect directly with Twitch. 

One truth and one myth

Truth: Live video data is the most resource intensive data that is served across the Internet. Unlike on-demand videos (VODs), live video must have a VERY short buffer in order to provide the most real-time feel for both viewing and chatting.

Myth: "My speedtest results lead me to believe I should be able to do anything across the Internet." A speedtest is a very basic test to prove that your ISP provides what they sold you. However, the results are not what you are guaranteed for all forms of data from all sites at all times of day. In many cases, the speedtest results are preconfigured. That is, your ISP provides an optimized, preset route to the speedtest endpoint to maximize results.