CBR vs VBR in adaptive streaming

An interesting debate arose recently about whether CBR or VBR should be used when encoding for adaptive streaming. The debate started with my comment that adaptive streaming should use CBR as it better allows the client to manage what bandwidth it is receiving, the issue being VBR that if the client is receiving what it thinks is a 3Mbps stream that due to scene complexity then spikes say up to 6Mbps to deal with the extra complexity this would cause the clients buffers to fill a lot slower than expected for the bitrate and then down shift.

There are a few factors at play here in that need to be considered, these are:

  1. Real world bandwidth in a consumer environment available to a device can vary quite a lot
  2. Video encoding can demand varying amounts of bits to represent an image at a constant quality
  3. Encoding at a constant bit rate may produce video overhead from “stuffing” bits that unneccesarily consume storage and bandwidth

In relation to item 1. if we take a normal home environment not only the providers upstream available bandwidth may vary due to congestion but other in home factors come in to play such as competition for limited bandwidth from multiple downloaded to variations in single strength over wifi.

In relation to item 2. the amount of bits to encode 2 seconds of black vs a high action CGI scene with a lot of colours or rippling water is significant.

This post is a work in progress but if anyone is interested leave me a note and I will follow up.

Note that the Apple encoding recommendations for HLS which are widely cited refer to a maximum VBR rate of 10% over the target rate.

References:
Android Java based adaptive streaming client
Adaptive Video Streaming over HTTP with Dynamic Resource Estimation

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