Tips for Better Youtube Quality

A while back I posted an article to my old blog called '6 Tips for High Quality Youtube Videos.' Well that site doesn't exist anymore and Youtube is quite a bit different now so its probably time I update that article.

When posting to Youtube the first thing to remember is that it will make your video look worse. No matter what. Youtube is compressing your video and compression makes things worse. Period. However, if you follow some simple rules, you can minimize this worsening, or 'Youtubeification', to the point where it is not noticable. Read on.

1. Shoot the highest resolution and the lowest compression possible

There are about a million different video cameras on the market. There about 500,000 different video formats that they shoot in. Ok, I exaggerate, but your choices in shooting formats are immense. Some of these formats are better than others. To achieve the best results on youtube, choose the highest resolution and the lowest compression possible. For resolution, you should pick an HD camera (1920x1080 or 1280x720 pixels) over an SD camera (720x480 or 720x576 pixels). As far as compression goes, you want a camera that has the biggest file size possible once it gets onto your computer. Also, if you can see compression artifacts in your original video, these artifacts will get worse on Youtube. Ok, so you probably already own a camera and maybe its not perfect for Youtube. What else can you do to get better quality?

2. Use a Tripod!

That's Right! Using a tripod makes your video look more professional and it helps minimize the compression problems associated with Youtube. Why is this? Video compression is based on motion -- the more motion in the frame, the more work the compression has to do. When you shoot hand held, every frame is a little bit different which makes a compression algorithms go crazy. When you use a tripod, the image only changes when something in the frame moves which is a relatively small change. Or it changes when you pan or tilt, but these changes are smooth and predictable enough to be easy on compression.

3. Have plenty of light

Compression is based on detail. If things are dark it will be harder to achieve nice compression. This can be as simple as opening the blinds, turing on a lamp or going outside. In general, bright is better than dark for compression.

The following has changed due to Youtube's introduction of widescreen video. A new post is coming soon.

4. The secret ingredients to encoding for Youtube: at least 6000kbps h.264, 640x480 (640x360 for widescreen), Multipass encode, deinterlace.

No matter what you use to encode your video, these magical settings should insure a clean version to post to youtube. I personally use Quicktime Pro. So I will go over these particular settings here:



The Quicktime Pro Export Menu

Selecting the h.264 codec and setting


  • h.264 is the most modern codec available and is able to compress video in the best looking way possible.
  • At a data rate of at least 6000kbps the compression should be virtually invisible for a frame size of 640x480.
  • The frame size of 640x480 or 640x360(for wide screen) are chosen because this is the native frame size that Youtube displays
  • A Multipass encode checks each frame at least twice to ensure that it is encoded the best.
  • If you shoot on an interlaced format, you must deinterlace because computers are a progressive format. If you don't, you will see the so called 'mice-teeth' effect.
  • If you shoot on a widescreen format(16x9) then choose the output size of 640x360 (under custom in QTPro size menu)
  • One more tip: Try to get as close to the 1 gigabyte files size limit as possible by increasing the data rate. Don't go over board though. A 10 second clip won't ever be that big

There. Now you know the best settings to get the best out of Youtube. As a public service I have posted below two examples. One with the right way of doing things and one with the exact opposite. Enjoy!

This clip was shot with a Sony Z1U. It is a clip from my upcoming documentary "Legacy of the Great Aletsch"

This clip was shot with a janky $99 DV-DA1 VP crap camera. It is a clip of my cats shot a few hours ago.