You have a checklist of considerations running through your head before every livestream: How’s your mic? Is your environment clean? Have you optimized your computer’s settings?
But perhaps the most volatile, unpredictable, and exasperating element of streaming is internet service. You’re held at the mercy of a tenuous connection from your faceless ISP, who could graciously grant a steady stream or a series of internet shortages. And if you’re new to streaming, you could also be new to maximizing your connection.
But it really doesn’t have to be so intimidating. Many streamers face their own challenges finding the right provider or choosing the correct internet equipment. We’ll nail down the basics for you so you have one less thing to worry about.
Selecting an internet provider isn’t as easy as it looks. Many providers make it difficult to check the availability in your area (without first submitting your email address and phone number, of course), and a majority of regions in the United States only have two providers offering 25 mbps or more.
Because of the low competition, providers have little incentive to improve customer service, streamline setup, or offer their advertised speeds. That means the responsibility to choose wisely falls on you, and there’s only so much you can do.
To start, find the servicers in your region. BroadbandNow allows you to search for providers by ZIP code without submitting your personal information. It also details what type of connection you could be getting with that provider.
Which types would be best for gaming? “Fiber services often offer the fastest simultaneous upload and download speeds,” Tyler Cooper of BroadbandNow explains, “but many cable providers can also meet the needs of most streamers.”
Most experts agree that you’ll want at least 25 mbps download speed. However, some experts even suggest that you should up the speed based on device usage, number of household members, and number of devices in the home. High Speed Experts and Allconnect both have guides on your speed needs based on your device activity, if you’d like to take a closer look.
Then you’ll need to take into account customer service, the actual versus advertised speed, contract lengths, and whether there are frequent service shortages. Read some reviews to get a feel for public opinion. High speeds and low prices can only get you so far if you have poor customer service and hidden fees to deal with.
You may already be researching your options for gigabit fiber internet, but Twitch streamer Shawna Howson (ShawnaForLunch) explains that this hasn’t been necessary in her own situation. “In my area, it's impossible to get fiber,” she says, “so I still have a pretty basic package. Making sure you have a decent upload speed is the most important thing.”
So that will be the pièce de résistance: your upload speed.
While your download speed controls all incoming activities, your upload speed affects everything outgoing, including your stream. This can be a lot lower than the download speed, and with most providers, it will be.
If you want to stream at 720p with 30 fps, aim for a minimum upload speed of 6 mbps. Your ideal speed will vary based on your desired quality and method of encoding, but for many beginning streamers, these settings are an ideal sweet spot between high quality and low latency.
However, it’s best to play it safe and have more mbps rather than less. “As a baseline, I'd recommend a minimum upload and download speed of 15 mbps for anyone looking to get into video game streaming,” Cooper suggests. “Nearly every national provider has plans that meet this threshold, but be sure to do some research into what is available in your area to get the best service possible.”
Twitch streamer PapaXilion shares his take with us on a minimum upload speed: “A real minimum is 2000kbps/2mbps . . . Anything below that will definitely impact your stream quality — you'll lose frames, or get really pixelated/blurry.”
While you can still fall prey to connection errors on your ISP’s end, there are some actions you can take to make sure you aren’t the reason your stream is lagging.
First, check to see if you’re getting your advertised speeds. Gustavo Carvalho from Copahost suggests using speedtest.net. “It has multiple locations and allows you to test your connection wherever you need,” Carvalho explains.
Next, test your ping rate. Your ping rate will determine your connection’s reaction time, and High Speed Experts will teach you how to check your ping. Even with a fast download and upload speed, your ping rate and latency could impact stream quality.
Use a wired connection. PapaXilion suggests that “if you are on wireless, or using really old network cables (or an old router), maybe it's time to invest in new hardware. Cables don't cost much and can make a difference, as can a new router.” Hardware drifts into obsoletion fairly quickly these days; it’s worth checking to see if your ethernet cable is an issue.
But if you can’t get a wired connection, don’t sweat it. “I use a wireless connection,” Howson tells us. “It's widely known that a wired connection is more reliable by far. Unfortunately, my streaming area makes it difficult to do this, so I work within my circumstances. I have had the occasional issue, but it's minimal enough for me to get by, and it rarely detracts from my work as a part-time streamer.” You might be more likely to run into hiccups without a wired connection, but that shouldn’t stop you from streaming.
If you do choose to go wireless, you can use QoS settings to prioritize your device. Or, you can try Howson’s method: “I do have a separate, prioritized access point to my network for my streaming device to put the stream first in the house, as multiple people use the internet,” Howson explains. This could be ideal for streamers living with housemates or family.
Another way you can prevent housemates from hogging the internet is by creating house rules. “Make agreements on what you can and can't do,” PapaXilion advises. “If someone starts uploading their latest YouTube video while you stream, it's gonna hurt.” We cover more on housemate agreements in our apartment internet guide.
But most importantly, even if you don’t have the fastest internet or the most expensive tools, don’t be discouraged. Many regions of the United States have limited options for internet packages with quality upload and download speeds. “I wouldn't discourage anyone from streaming if they have a bit less,” Howson says. “You may run into the occasional issue, but it shouldn't stop you from working with what you have.”
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