Uploading 4K videos to YouTube – Things you should know

Uploading 4K videos to YouTube – Things you should know play video
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Written by: Dexxter Clark
In this article literally everthing you need to know about uploading video files to YouTube and the different resolutions like 1080p, 4K, 8K.

Overview of common resolutions

In aspect ratio 16:9:
Fancy name
DVD video
“Fake” HD
Full HD
7680 × 4320
8K UHD (Ultra HD)

Video resolutions and YouTube

Can you upload 4K or 8K to YouTube? (also in 60 fps)

YouTube supports uploading in all standard resolutions, including 1080p, 4K (2160p) and 8K (4320p).
Most common frame rates are 24,25, 30 and 60fps, but other frame rates are also accepted.

You don’t have to do anything extra, other than uploading a video file to YouTube.
YouTube will figure out all the necessary details; you don’t have the manage a setting or so.
When you upload a video in 4K, after the video is processed (happens automatically in the background), the video will be available in 4K.

What is the best resolution to upload to YouTube?

The short answer: 4k.
Although not every viewer can watch videos in 4k, it makes sure you have the highest quality possible available to your viewers.
If 4K is not an option 1080p, uploading 8K has little to no upsides (yet).

Should you upload in 4k to youtube?

You should upload in 4K to YouTube for the best image quality, even if you recorded in 1080p and upscaled to 4K (not a joke).

I’ve tested this and seen the results.
Recording, editing in 1080p, exporting in 4k and the playback is sharper on the 1080p setting on YouTube.

This is probably due to the vp09 encoder YouTube uses for 4K footage (even when watched on 1080p) instead of av01 for most videos uploaded in 1080p.
When you upload 4K (even if it is shot and edited in 1080p) it enforces the vp09 encoding.

Does 4K help with YouTube ranking?

I’ve not seen dramatic differences between the promotion of the videos uploaded in 4K versus 1080p.
In other words: even if it is, it is a super duper very extremely minor ranking factor.

You might be confused because all the top results in YouTube Search are 4K videos.
But let me ask you this: do these channels upload in 4K because they are big and have the funds to produce 4K, or did they get big because of the 4K files.
I think, it is the first.

Look at this from YouTube’s perspective:
YouTube’s business model is to sell ads, they do this by giving the best viewer experience possible (because only satisfied viewers click on ads).
If a 1080p video has a higher viewer satisfaction than a 4K video, why would they serve the 4K video to the viewer?
They wouldn’t.
The algorithm looks at human behavior and adjusts its promotion based on that.

Do viewers watch videos in 4K on YouTube?

Regretfully YouTube Analytics doesn’t give us conclusive answers.
But we can use our magic powers of deduction to get an idea.
We can see device types in Analytics:

On my DJ channel:
% of views
Mobile Phone
Game console

To get more clarity I did 2 polls on my DJ YouTube channel.

“what device you use MOST to watch YouTube” (270 votes)
Mobile phone
Desktop computer
Laptop computer
Other (Tv, beamer, etc...)

“at what resolution do you watch videos on YouTube” (170 votes)
Don’t know/ Don’t care
Other resolution

I can’t explain the huge discrepancy between the device stats in YouTube Analytics and the device poll.
Maybe a mobile phone is more the go-to device, but you don’t watch a lot of videos in consecutive order because the small screen is not convenient to watch (but viewers watch more consecutive videos on larger screens).

The only candidates for views in 4K are the TV, game console and computer.
Since laptops are hugely popular but very little have 4K screens, I would say that most will watch in 720p or 1080p on a laptop.

Since the YouTube app on phone defaults to 720p (not even full HD - because most screens aren’t capable of higher resolutions), it is pretty safe to say that mobile phone users don’t watch in 4K.

I’ve been uploading 4K to YouTube for a while now, but I’ve never seen a comment of someone noticing my 1080p to 4K upgrade.

Concluding: not a lot of people use 4K.

Is it worth it to invest in 4K for YouTube?

Short answer: no not for now, but maybe for the future.
There are some downsides to 4K:
  • Equipment that can handle 4K is quite expensive (cameras, computers, etc).
  • Also file sizes get bigger, so you need more storage capacity.
  • Transcoding and editing is slower (compared to 1080p)
  • not a lot of viewers watch videos in 4K.
Since I’ve seen no tangible yields at this moment, it is not worth it in my book to invest.

An exception would be if you are a brand that is highly dependent on looks (like fashion, photography, real estate).
4K might give you just that extra little bit of professionalism.

Nevertheless, if your old equipment is broken or you are already looking to buy new equipment, I would suggest investing in 4K.
4K after all is where we are going.
If you are prepared equipment-wise for 4K, you don’t have to replace equipment once the 4K moment has come.

How do I upload to YouTube in high quality (HD/4k/8k) 2023?

Uploading a high quality video file, works exactly the same as a regular non-high quality file.
You don’t have to set any settings or anything, everything works “automagically”.

The video file itself needs to contain the high resolution footage, otherwise it won’t work.
YouTube doesn’t upscale to a higher resolution, but it does downscale so viewers can select a lower resolution in their video player on the YouTube video watch page.
So YouTube doesn’t upscale an HD video to 4k, but a 4K file will be downscaled to HD.

The exact steps to upload a YouTube video, you can find in the YouTube video I made about uploading 1080p/4K to YouTube (opens YouTube in new tab).

Why is my 4K video 360p on YouTube?

YouTube processes a video first in SD (360p), then in HD (1080p), then in 4K (2160p).
This processing can take a while, so if this happens, be patient.

Because of this I would recommend not to publish your video right after you’ve uploaded the video.
The processing of the videos in higher resolutions is not done yet and viewers see the low resolution version (360p) of your video.

Personally, I never run into this low-res-problem, because I always schedule video uploads so my subscribers know when to expect a new upload.
I schedule videos often days, sometimes weeks ahead, by that time the videos have been processed long before release.

Why is my YouTube video stuck on processing?

It isn’t. It may seem stuck, because it can take a long time on a small channel.
I uploaded over 500 videos to YouTube already and have never had one of my uploads stuck at in the processing phase.
So be patient!

How long is the 4k/1080p video processing time on YouTube?

If it is rush hour on YouTube’s servers this can take a while.
20-30 minutes is quite normal for a medium size channel, but it can take sometimes up to 48 hours for small channels.
The advantage of having multiple different sizes YouTube channels is, is that I can see the dramatic differences between the processing times.

How to speed up video processing on YouTube?

There is nothing you can do to speed this up.
You just have to wait.
Remember, processing can take up to 48 hours.

Some say that keeping your browser open helps, but from a software engineering perspective, that is highly unlikely, because processing on the server is much safer, easier and more reliable.
(This is where my degree in software engineering pays its dividends).

When I look at the processor load on my Windows computer, I can’t see evidence for client-side processing either.
Idle processor usage is 2% for Firefox, uploading a file is around 20%, processing a file around 12%.
In comparison, when I click on the “content” page, it ramps up to 30-50% for a short amount of time.
The reason why usage is higher than idle, is because of all the Javascript YouTube uses to show you the user interface with the upload and processing progress.

Video processing is entirely done on the servers of YouTube.
It isn’t done in order of upload (as you might expect).
I sometimes upload 5 videos at once and often video number 2 and 3 for example finish processing sooner than the others.
I couldn’t find any connection with video length.

Best export settings for YouTube in video editing software

YouTube export settings Davinci Resolve (Windows)

Don’t use the “YouTube” preset, use “custom” with the following settings:
H.265 *
Nvidia **
3840x2160 Ultra HD ***
Frame rate
24, 25 or 30 FPS ****
Automatic, Best
Encoding profile

Check: Frame reordering
Rate Control
VBR High Quality
16 frames

Uncheck: Disable adaptive I-Frame scene cuts

Check: Enable adaptive B-Frame
AQ Strength

Uncheck: Enable non-reference P-Frame

Uncheck: Enable weighted prediction

* The free version of Resolve on Windows doesn’t support h.265 encoding due to licensing issues.
Despite YouTube’s official upload recommendations being h.264 encoding, I’ve seen much cleaner/sharper results with h.265 encoding.
YouTube does transcode (convert) your video behind the scenes your upload to yield better playback support.

** You need an Nvidia graphics card to take most advantage of GPU rendering

*** Export on 4K, even if the video is shot and edited in 1080p, for the reasons mentioned earlier in this article.

**** take the same framerate as the timeline. 60 FPS might give an unnatural feel to the video (“too smooth”).

YouTube export settings Final Cut Pro X

  • Use the Master file settings: File -> Share -> Master File
  • Encoder: ProRes 422*
  • Resolution: [editing resolution]
  • Color space: Rec 709
* Despite YouTube’s official upload recommendations being 264x encoding, I’ve seen much cleaner/sharper results with ProRes 422 encoding.
The file (compared to x264) is huge, but the quality difference is so big, that I’ve stored all my YouTube files in ProRes 422 when I was still in the Apple camp.

Regretfully the x264 encoding in Final Cut Pro X is terrible and results in blurry YouTube videos.
On top of that, regretfully, you can’t change anything in bitrate etc. to improve quality.
If you want h.264, or even better h.265, you need to use a 3rd party tool called Handbrake.

Tip: don’t use the upload to YouTube function, as you might have noticed, it will crash Final Cut Pro X once it rendered out the file.

When you are serious about YouTube and want to take it to the next level, take a look at my video training program: Viral Strategy.
The program takes you step-by-step through the process of getting views, subscribers and going viral.

For new creators I included a module that guides you step-by-step through the process of starting, creating and setting up a YouTube channel.

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photo author dexxter clark
Dexxter Clark
YouTube consultant
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