Monday, March 2, 2009

YouTube Update (March 2, 2009)

It seems YouTube has phased out the high quality link. Some people claim to know how to get it still, but it's becoming such a pain in the butt to find the loopholes, I don't think it's really worth it anymore. Don't panic though, they've increased the quality of the normal videos - so what used to be high quality is now the usual. Unlike the old "high quality videos," they haven't really increased the bitrate - but - they have really improved the technology used to deliver this video. Specifically, this is H.264 AVC up to 260kbps with 64k stereo AAC at 22050Hz. This means you get higher quality at the same connection speed. This is a great way to get the best quality for the most people. Remember, not everyone has FiOS caliber bandwidth.

For those of you who want the cold hard facts, here are the results of my tests. I took four videos with differing content, resized to five different resolutions, uploaded them, and recorded the results. I didn't notice a difference based on the bitrate of the uploaded video; the results seem to be based more on how your video looks, mainly in how fast it moves.

Plenty of motion
852x480 = 259k 480x270, 62k stereo
720x404 = 215k 320x180, 62k stereo
640x480 = 229k 480x360, 62k stereo
640x360 = 217k 320x180, 62k stereo
480x360 = 195k 320x240, 62k stereo

Color Bars (no motion)
852x480 = 25k 640x360, 62k stereo
720x404 = 21k 640x360, 64k stereo
640x480 = 31k 640x480, 62k stereo
640x360 = 27k 640x360, 62k stereo
480x360 = 25k 480x360, 62k stereo

Static, then motion
852x480 = 170k 640x360, 62k stereo
720x404 = 189k 480x270, 62k stereo
640x480 = 104k 640x480, 62k stereo
640x360 = 189k 480x270, 62k stereo
480x360 = 148k 320x240, 62k stereo

Motion, then static
852x480 = 256k 640x360, 63k stereo
720x404 = 233k 480x270, 63k stereo
640x480 = 210k 640x480, 63k stereo
640x360 = 215k 480x270, 63k stereo
480x360 = 177k 320x240, 63k stereo

The audio is the most consistent. The slight differences are probably just slight calculation differences; I'm pretty sure it was encoded as a stereo 64kbps VBR AAC with a 22050Hz sampling rate.

YouTube seems to take more notice of the first few seconds of the video; notice how a video with motion followed by a still image was given a higher bitrate than a video with a still image followed by motion.

It also seems the faster your video moves, the smaller resolution it is given. There is good reason for this. More pixels means more information. With the same settings (especially with the limitations of internet video), a fast moving video will look worse than a static one. Decreasing the amount of pixels reduces the load, avoiding problems like blocking. AVC can do some deblocking, but of course it's not perfect. However, the reduced size will take away the enhanced definition of a larger resolution. It's a compromise, but given the choice between huge ugly blocks, and a little less clarity, I'll take the latter. But 320x180 is pretty extreme, so I'd still try to go sparingly on the motion. If you have trouble using a tripod, you can always try for a job at MTV. Also notice how the video of a still image got the whole resolution of the player. This means if you were to upload a video with little motion in 640x360 (or 480x360 for 4:3), it would keep its native resolution, looking very sharp. So for screen capture, those are the sizes you should use - but don't let it move too much or you'll get one of those reduced resolutions. It's also interesting that a 640x480 video stayed 640x480. The player can't yet display that resolution, so perhaps it is a sign of things to come. (In the current HD player, 640x480 would be proper size for 4:3)

Though in most cases, these decisions are good on the part of YouTube, some of you will not like this. Like those of you with a very fast connection who don't care about people with slow connections. "Who cares about them?" you say. "I want the highest possible quality." At least take comfort in knowing the new normal quality videos are AVC. Remember the &fmt=18 versions? Essentially it's like that.

The other group that won't be happy about the improved normal quality versions is musicians. Yes, it's stereo. But if you worked hard on producing good music, 64k 22050Hz probably won't do it justice. In that case, I recommend going HD.

The settings for HD seem to be the same as before. The video bitrate requirement is around 1000kbps (not including audio). If you shot your video with a camera it shouldn't be an issue. If you have a screen capture video or just a still image, you still may need to purposely increase the bitrate. See my entry on Screen Capturing for YouTube on that. Resolution must be 1280x720, or larger (though odd sizes not in 16:9 can be a problem). The frame rate must be 23.976 or higher. If you do get the "watch in HD" link, the audio will end up being 128k stereo 44.1KHz AAC - after it's converted. I recommend uploading uncompressed, or losslessly compressed audio (not MP3 or lossy AAC) for the best possible sound. The normal quality version will be created as usual. Remember, HD is still not compatible with many viewers, because of slow connections and slow processors.


Sekeraj said...

i just managed to upload a video for "watch in HD" thanks to your previous tutorial. But i don't understand, is that it that's phased out now? thanks!

Derek said...

No; "watch in high quality" is phased out, "watch in HD" remains the same.

Anonymous said...

Yea I recently saw a video posted a day ago with the "high quality" option. Almost like that better, as it is more accessible. But you don't know how to get the high quality function anymore?

Derek said...

I'm leaning away from that because even if it's possible to get the link, it's very difficult to have a sure-fire way of doing it, and it can be maddening. I try to be happy they've upgraded to AVC - bitrate ain't everything. But do you have a link to a very recent high quality video?

Anonymous said...

See below. Maybe because it's a 4:3 aspect ratio? I agree though, trail and error could get a bit maddening if there isn't any hard fast rules. Seems like they would be wise to give the user three options, normal, high and HD when applicable.

Anonymous said...

And I forgot about this trick as well of adding "&fmt=18" to the end of the video's URL, which actually makes it high quality.

Thanks again for all the help and great posts.

Derek said...

Thanks for the link. It seems they've added back HQ capability to the player itself. Time to run more tests!

Alexander Rea said...

HQ is in fact still alive. I've been conducting tests all week. Yesterday YouTube phased out the blue text link for HD/HQ and incorporated into their player.

I've been experimenting with going from from Final Cut/Avid/Motion/After Effects and then either uploading 720x480 h264, mp4 or avc and also the same codecs at 640x480.

Visit and review some of our spots for AHA. You can see when they were uploaded and you can see the HQ. Also, review the GMA segement. I am currently converting some more right now. I am actually finding trouble getting it right with another video so I am curious if the content is being gauged as well. Frame rate, key frame or some other trick. I am getting a bit obsessed really.