Video Production

What is the best video format for YouTube?

What’s the best video file format for YouTube? Learn the ins and outs of bitrate, YouTube aspect ratio and more with this guide

What’s the deal with all these different video formats? Can’t online video platforms get together and decide on a standard format we can all use? Unfortunately not. 

It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all codec. For example: ProRes works great for Apple users doing final outputs, but PCs don’t like it and it’s a bandwidth intensive format. H.264 is great for streaming and Blu-Ray, but is terrible if you’re doing anything for Cinematic or large format delivery. Complicating this is the fact that every delivery platform, whether it’s Youtube, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime or Vimeo, have their own native way their systems deliver optimum content.

What is the best video format for YouTube?
“Nobody likes to have their videos taking ages to process. But sometimes it renders better results.”
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Why Should You Care?

“Can’t I just upload whatever format my phone outputs, and have Youtube just deal with it?”

Yes. And No. 

Like most of the multimedia content portals, Youtube understands that most people aren’t video editors by trade. Because of this they’ve instituted automated “re-render” protocols in case a user uploads a video in a “non-optimized” format. In fact, Youtube has instituted some ground-breaking protocols around overall audio loudness in order to combat the “loudness wars”. For example, Youtube takes into account the overall loudness of your program material and adjusts it up or down to be the same loudness as the rest of the content. Unfortunately it also makes sure Youtube ads are always louder than your content!

At Cinema Sound we show you how to get around that issue so your content is as loud as those ads and can successfully compete in the loudness wars. Using Accusonus compressors and dialog plugins is a part of this trick.

And while it’s true that Youtube, generally, will adjust anything to be Youtube spec, you may not like the results of their automated system. The system is biased to stream as little data as needed so can often mess with your videos in a bad way.

What video formats does YouTube accept?

What is the best video format for YouTube?

The Youtube Support page (from Google) states that you can upload video in any number of standard formats including .MOV, .MPEG4, .MP4, .AVI, ProRes etc. 

The Youtube Support page with the exact, YouTube recommended specifications here.

But what does that all actually mean? The good news is that most of these settings are a part of any preset you might choose when it comes time to export your video. Many video editors even have a preset for Youtube delivery. However, for reasons explained below, you probably don’t want to use these presets.

The parameters you’ll want to pay attention to are: Container, Audio Codec, Video Codec, Frame Rate and Bitrate. It’s also worth mentioning that if you upload a video in anything other than 16:9 aspect ratio you’ll get some form of black bars outlining the missing picture. YouTube will place these whether you like it or not. 

Let’s go through each of these key parameters.

What Video Container Should You Use for YouTube?

The Container is the video filetype. You can export in any kind of codec, bitrate or frame rate, but the file type is critical to what Youtube can process. I’d suggest .MP4 or .MOV. If you use .MOV, Youtube will immediately know it needs to conform your content to its standards.

What Video Codec Should You Use for YouTube?

The Video Codec is the compression format that the visual elements of your content will be munched into in order to stream correctly to viewers. The less the compression, the greater the data footprint, and the more stuttering or pixelated images there will be. Conversely, the more compression, the lower quality the overall image will be. Youtube’s H.264 recommendation is the perfect codec to choose, since it has a beautiful balance of video quality and bandwidth efficiency.

What Frame Rate Should You Use for YouTube?

The Frame Rate should really be as slow as possible. 24 frames per second is good enough for cinematic delivery, and should be the rate at which you export your video. If you know why you want to have 60 fps, then go ahead and use that setting, but just because video games use 60 fps, it’s not going to enhance the quality, or the connection your audience has with your content. In fact, it usually hurts it.

What Bitrate Should You Use for YouTube?

The bitrate is what will make-or-break the quality of your content when streaming. Bitrate refers to how much data is being streamed per second. A 10Mbs rating (10 million bits per second, or roughly 1.25 megabytes per second) is a good place to start. It’s completely possible to have the best Container, and the least compressed Video Codec with the highest frame rate, but have a small bitrate and for the video to be unwatchable. Youtube says that for a 24fps, 1080p video, 8Mbs is the YouTube recommended setting. Youtube will re-render your footage if you deviate from this. And while that may sound bad, consider this:

What is the best video format for YouTube?

My suggestion is that if you’re doing fixed interviews, uploading your content at 8 Mbs is fine. But if you have a lot of moving cameras, hand-held shots or quick cutting/dissolves, this is never going to work. In such a case, you can do two things:

1) Render your content at 25+ Mbs and make YouTube figure out all the parts of your content that require higher bandwidth (dissolves/fast motion).

2) Render your own 8 Mbs versions and alter your dissolves and color or edits so that it looks as good as it can.

Personally, I always do “A”. Why? Because Youtube’s algorithms for down-rezzing highly complex footage are far better than most video editors. And while it’s not perfect, I’m usually nominally more happy with Youtube’s results. 

If there’s concerns, it also helps if you upload in a codec which has little compression like ProRes. This way Youtube has maximum latitude to do whatever number crunching it needs to. This kind of setting takes a while to upload and process, but I find this makes for better results than trying to solve these issues on your own and having to re-render footage time and again.

What is the best video format for YouTube?

What Audio Codec Should You Use for YouTube?

The Audio Codec is the area where you’re going to deviate strongly from what they recommend. If you can upload in AIF/WAV uncompressed formats (and you can in .MOV), this is favorable. Even if you upload your audio in Youtube’s recommended AAC 320kbs format, they will recompress your audio. Recompression of already compressed audio is always a terrible idea. There will be a graininess and shrillness to the sound. We don’t want that. 

Moreover, Youtube’s audio compression is excellent. Upload your audio in uncompressed 48kHz/24bit formats always. No. It’s not what they request, but you’ll be happier with the results, especially if you’re doing the kinds of tips and tricks we teach in the Cinema Sound education. Don’t skimp on the audio bandwidth, especially if you’re uploading ambisonic or multi-channel audio. 

December 03, 2020
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