Scalable video coding is a powerful solution for content delivery in many interactive multimedia services due to its adaptability to varying terminal and network constraints. In order to successfully exploit such adaptability, it is necessary to understand users' preference among various scalability options and consequently develop an optimal bit rate adaptation strategy. In this paper, we present a study of subjective quality assessment of scalable video coding, which investigates the influence of the combination of scalability options on perceived quality with the goal of providing guidelines for an adaptive strategy that selects the optimal combination for a given bandwidth constraint. In particular, the study is based on paired comparison of stimuli that is suitable for our goal due to its simplicity and easiness. We propose a new method, called Paired Evaluation via Analysis of Reliability (PEAR), which analyzes paired comparison results and produces not only quality scores but also intuitive measures of confidence of the scores for significance analysis. Results and analysis of extensive subjective tests for two different scalable video codecs and high definition contents are described, from which general consistent conclusions are drawn. The video and subjective data used in the paper are publicly available to the research community.