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AV1 Streaming is LIVE! First look at REVOLUTIONARY Quality

TL;DR

AV1 streaming has finally arrived, bringing higher quality video, lower bitrates, and higher resolutions and frame rates. You can now stream AV1 to YouTube live, with impressive results such as 4K60 at just 6 Mbps. AV1 is an open source and royalty-free video codec that offers high-quality streaming video with lower bandwidth requirements. Intel’s Arc GPUs, like the A750 and A380, provide affordable AV1 encoding capabilities along with top-quality H264 and HEVC encoding. The AV1 streaming is made possible through the new RTMP+ streaming protocol.

AV1 encoding with Arc GPUs allows for low bitrates while maintaining excellent video quality. Streaming in AV1 eliminates pixelation and blocking, providing a smoother and more enjoyable viewing experience. Viewers with slower internet connections can still enjoy high-quality streams, and streamers can save on bandwidth costs. AV1 also offers performance benefits and more encoding headroom, opening up new possibilities for recording and clipping streams.

The upcoming OBS 29.1 update will enable AV1 streaming for YouTube, and the recommended bitrates for 1440p60 and 4K60 gaming content range from 4-6 Mbps and 10-15 Mbps, respectively. YouTube currently transcodes AV1 streams to VP9, which still delivers smooth and clean-looking videos. The combination of AV1 and VP9 on YouTube offers the best of both worlds in terms of video quality and streaming efficiency.

AV1 streaming marks a significant milestone in the streaming industry, revolutionizing the way we stream and consume video content. It eliminates the limitations of traditional codecs, provides better quality at lower bitrates, and offers a more enjoyable streaming experience for both streamers and viewers.

AV1 Streaming is LIVE! First look at REVOLUTIONARY Quality

I’VE BEEN CONDUCTING THE HYPE TRAIN FOR FAR TOO LONG, BUT IT’S FINALLY REACHED THE STATION! SAY GOODBYE TO PIXELATED STREAMS, AS AV1 IS HERE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.

THIS is the future of streaming: Higher quality video. Lower bitrates, higher resolutions, and frame rates.

My first mentions of AV1 on this channel happened during my live news show in 2019, and while it’s been a LONG road, this has been a VERY quick roll-out.

To the point: You can now stream AV1 to YouTube live! And it’s mostly as amazing as it seems, with 4K60 looking pretty solid at just 6 megabits per second. Intel is sponsoring this video and got me early access with an early build of OBS 29.1 to test this for the past week and it’s honestly more impressive than even I expected.

How we got here

Two crucial pieces were needed to bring us to where we are today. First is, of course, AV1 – the open source and royalty-free video codec backed by a consortium of basically every major tech and streaming company designed to make high-quality streaming video possible through lower bandwidth and without the massive licensing costs of H265 and H266. The codec has been impressive in its bitrate efficiency at high resolutions for years now, but it’s taken a lot of time and tireless development to bring its performance – that’s the speed of encoding – to a place where it becomes realistic to use and be used realtime. And the realtime aspect especially hinged on us getting hardware that can encode and decode it. Multiple generations of hardware can decode AV1 at this point (including the Playstation 4 Pro, even!) and latest generation graphics can encode.

Secondly, we needed a streaming protocol capable of handling AV1 – which we’re just now getting in the form of RTMP Enhanced Spec. RTMP Enhanced Spec is the first revision to the RTMP standard in 10 years, allowing for a lot of cool stuff including support for AV1, HEVC, and VP9 video. YouTube just rolled out this new RTMP support, allowing you to stream AV1 for your live streams – videos encoding in AV1 have been supported for a couple years now.

Intel’s Arc GPUs are a great entry point for AV1 video, with the A750 and A380 offering AV1 encoding at a lower price point than any other GPU vendor. Plus, Arc has top quality H264 and HEVC encoding capabilities, too!

The A380 is perfect for your dedicated streaming rig, media server, or as a secondary encoding card in your gaming PC. It’s low cost, has low power draw, and a slim design.

The A750 and A770 are better choices for gaming and streaming in the same setup, where you don’t want to pay $800 to do it. They’re super attractive GPUs, keep getting massive driver updates like this recent one, and have options to get 16GB of VRAM, which is great for photo and video editing, too!

Recent QuickSync generations have already been kicking everyone’s butts in H264 and HEVC video quality and performance, but their new AV1 video is the focus today, where quality is also great and very high quality.

I’m testing with a VERY EARLY dev build of OBS 29.1 – the upcoming update which will enable RTMP+ and AV1 streaming for YouTube. Options may look a tiny bit different as the update gets finalized, but setup will remain basically the same.

Open settings and go to Stream. Choose RTMPS – YouTube. Then for your Output settings, change the encoder to Intel QuickSync AV1. Set your bitrate accordingly.

In my testing thus far, I think you can get away with 4-6mbps for 1440p60 gaming content, and 10-15mbps for 4K60 gaming content. These are incredibly low numbers, with 6mbps often being considered nowhere near enough for 1080p alone under the past regime.

Quality

There are a couple of details I’d like to share regarding the overall expectations for AV1 streaming. Based on feedback and my own testing, it appears that the sweet spot range for 1440p 60fps content is around four to eight megabits per second. This was observed while streaming games like Halo Infinite and Vampire Survivors to YouTube. Once the stream goes through YouTube’s transcoding process, there are diminishing returns beyond the eight megabits per second mark. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth using higher bitrates if you have the bandwidth for it.

When streaming to YouTube, you send AV1-encoded content, but YouTube currently delivers the streams in VP9 format. This means there is still transcoding and some quality degradation in the process. It’s important to note that these observations assume you’re streaming at resolutions higher than 1080p, as streaming at 1080p is not recommended.

The good news is that VP9 does an excellent job with live streams, aiming to minimize macro blocking and pixelization artifacts. The resulting image is smooth and clean, albeit with potential increased blurriness as you raise the bitrate. Viewers generally prefer a reduced sharpness stream over a blocky one. Considering this, my recommendation is to stream at a low bitrate of AV1 while maintaining source quality. This approach can yield clean results, although it’s worth mentioning that locally saved AV1 copies will always be cleaner than YouTube’s transcoded copies.

In summary, VP9 on YouTube, in combination with AV1 streaming, offers the best compromise between video quality and streaming efficiency. I’ve included links to the streams where I publicly tested AV1 encoding to YouTube, showcasing the watchable and impressive quality achieved even with low bitrates at 1440p and 4K resolutions. This performance surpasses many streams on other platforms that employ higher bitrates with H.264 encoding.

Moving Forward

There are secondary benefits to encoding such high quality at lower bitrates with AV1, too – such as having a performance boost or extra encoding headroom by being able to just record the same stream encoder for VODs instead of a second tier encoder running for higher quality. This opens up a lot more room for clips and other recording capabilities.

Streaming has been changed forever. Viewers don’t have to see blocking anymore, streamers can save on bandwidth, and those with slower internet connections can still stream in amazing quality. Data caps feel less restrictive, and you can save money on hard drives. Plus, we can all focus a little less on video quality optimization nerdiness and more on actually making better streams.

This is the moment I’ve been waiting for and hyping up for years, and I could not be more excited to get to share this first look with you. I’ll continue to have more coverage for… the foreseeable future as the Hype Train will keep on rolling, and I have a video coming very soon on Discord’s AV1 streaming update. There are links below to grab an Intel Arc graphics card for yourself, as well as to our Discord server where you can join and chat about encoding stuff. Remember to be kind, rewind.

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