Bigger and Better: Encoding for YouTube 720p HD

When I wrote my first YouTube post 4 months ago entitled “How to Encode Your Videos for YouTube’s New High Quality Option” , I would never have thought YouTube would make the move to HD resolution so quickly.  They went from a maximum resolution of 480×270 directly to 1280×720!  I’m sure this change has caught many off guard and everyone is now scrambling to get their videos converted to HD to take advantage of the awesome new quality settings being offered.  Many users that are new to HD or encoding for YouTube are probably wondering where to begin.   This guide will attempt to explain the new changes in detail and show you how to encode your videos for YouTube HD.

YouTube HD Specs

I downloaded a few YouTube HD videos (Using the Firefox extension DownloadHelper) and used MediaInfo to peek under the hood to find out all the juicy technical details.  I have seen many sites speculate on the data rates and resolution of the new format but few are reporting accurate information.


  • 1280×720 at 29.97 progressive (other framereates like 24, 25, 30 should work as well)
  • H.264 codec in MP4 wrapper
  • Variable bit rate averaging 2mpbs


  • AAC
  • 44.1 kHz Stereo
  • Variable bit rate from averaging 100kbps – 256kbps

So yes, for everyone wondering, YouTube is really in HD.  Next I will show you how to encode your files…

Recommended Settings for Your Videos

If you haven’t read my previous post, please do so now.  This new guide will give you the settings to use, but will not go into the same level as detail as the previous guide.  Most of the basics about preparing your videos are the same and there is no need to repeat it here.  These instructions are only for 16:9 HD resolution videos.  If your videos are 4:3 Standard definition, the settings in the first guide still apply.  I do not recommend upscaling 480i/p videos to 720p.

Depending on the encoding software you use, certain settings may not be available.  If you are unsure of what to do, please post your question in the comments of this thread.   If you would like me to encode your file(s) or give you custom settings for your workflow, please contact me at

Now open your favorite encoding software, import your source file and enter the following settings.


  • 1280×720
  • 29.97 FPS Progressive (Note: use whatever frame rate your source file is set to.  As long as it is progressive it should be ok.)
  • H.264 codec in MP4 wrapper (I recommend the Main Concept encoder if you have access to it, otherwise x264 will be fine)
  • Set your data rate from 4000kbps to 8000kbps (Higher data rates in the source video will give the YouTube encoder more data to work with)
  • Enable 2 pass VBR encoding if it is available


  • AAC  (Use MP3 if AAC is not available)
  • 44.1kHz Stereo
  • 256kbps data rate

I have tested these settings using SUPER, Handbrake, Sorenson Squeeze and encoding directly from Sony Vegas.  I set all of the settings as close as possible and was able to get acceptable results from all of them (although there was some slight issues with each application which I will discuss in a later post).  My source file was a AVCHD 18mbps 1920×1080 30p file which I converted to a JPG 99% QuickTime video prior to encoding since AVCHD was not supported across the encoders.

These settings should produce a 10 minute file well under the 1GB upload limit.  The file I encoded was 43 seconds and the encoded filesize was anywhere from 39 – 43MB depending on which software I used.

I have attempted to embed the HD version of the video below.  If it does not show you the HD version,  go to the following URL and make sure you click the “Watch in HD” link at the bottom right under the video player.

Were you able to obtain great results with this guide?  Have a question about encoding or other video topic?  Please be sure to post your feedback in the comments.

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  1. virgo
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Hi, i am trying to compress an movie file on a mac from 1.5 Gbs to 200 mbs, can this be done. I have tried compresser, quicktime and premiere pro, but they all are either to big ot go to small and the quality get real bad.any more options?

    • VideoPro
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Can you tell me more about your video? Resolution, current codec, length etc. Also, what is your target resolution? With the right settings, you should be able to use the free handbrake to encode and get it lower than 200mbps.

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