How To Encode Your Videos For YouTube’s New High Quality Option

You Tube

Now that YouTube has started offering higher quality videos, the old settings for encoding your videos should be tossed out the window. This tutorial will walk you through the steps required to encode your video for YouTube using the free SUPER Video Encoder . If you are using a professional software like Sorenson Squeeze or Apple Compressor, or even the inexpensive QuickTime Pro Player, many of the same settings will be available. Additionally, if your editing software supports H.264 (as either MP4 or MOV) encoding, you may be able to skip the reencoding process and export directly for upload to YouTube using the compression settings below. If you are unsure of the equivalent setting or would like me to include specific instructions for your application, please leave a note in the comments.

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UPDATE 12/6/2008

If you are producing HD (16:9) videos for YouTube, you should refer to my latest post on how to encode for YouTube HD format located at:

http://webvideotechniques.com/123/bigger-and-better-encoding-for-youtube-hd

UPDATE 5/30/09

The default QuickTime H.264 export only supports up to 2Mbps as it uses the Baseline profile.  You may want to use SUPER, Handbrake or a professional encoding software like Squeeze or Episode Pro to compress your video.

This guide recommends SUPER, but I now prefer and recommend the free and open source encoder Handbrake (http://handbrake.fr/) 

This tutorial assumes that you already have edited your video and have exported to the highest quality possible.

Here are some tips for exporting from your NLE software before encoding:

  • Export uncompressed video and audio as MOV or AVI
  • Make sure your video is progressive/deinterlaced
  • If your video is SD NTSC, then export as 640×480 (if you are using PAL you will need to crop first)
  • If your video is 16:9 widescreen but  less than 1280×720, export as 640×360 (If your video is 1280×720 or above, then refer to the HD guide at http://webvideotechniques.com/123/bigger-and-better-encoding-for-youtube-hd)
  • Use 44.1KHz Sample rate to avoid audio quality issues

The current high quality resolution on YouTube is 480×360 (4:3 SD) and 480×270 (16:9 Widescreen). During testing I found that uploading a 640×480 (4:3 SD) or 640×360 (16:9 Widescreen) produced a higher end data rate even though YouTube downsizes the resolution during encoding. Using the larger resolution (and data rate) source file also future-proofs your video if they decide to raise the quality level again in the future. That way you do not have to re-upload later if they change the size/quality. Now that they are allowing up to 1024MB (1GB) for uploads, there is plenty of room to go with the higher resolution version.

I downloaded a few of the new high quality videos and most have been approximately 400-500kbps Video and 120kbs for the audio, a nice bump up from the 250-350 combined data rates for the lower quality. One of the reasons that they look so good is due to the fact they are using the new H.264 codec in a MP4 wrapper for the video and AAC audio. The H.264 codec is the de facto standard for high quality video on the web today and the older Flash codecs Spark pro and On2 VP6 just can’t deliver the same quality level vs filesize at the same data rates.

Our goal is to upload the highest quality possible that will take full advantage of the current high quality video encoding as well as give us some headroom for future quality increases.

Enough with the details, just give me the encoding settings!

  1. Open SUPER and import your source video. Make sure you do not change any default settings except for the ones noted below.
  2. Set Output Container as: MP4
  3. Set Output Video Codec as: H.264/AVC
  4. Set Output Audio Codec as: AAC LC
  5. Under Video Scale Size, check the More box and enter 640 : 480 (4:3) or 640 : 360 (16:9 widescreen)
  6. Set Aspect to 4:3 for SD or 16:9 for HD/Widescreen
  7. Set Frames per Second to match the fps of your source video  (Note: As long as your Source is progressive, you can use virtually any frame rate 24, 25,30, etc.)
  8. For Bitrate kbps, choose 4080
  9. IMPORTANT: Depending on the amount of movement and color in your video, you may need to raise the bitrate. During testing using a clip with a lot of motion, 4080 provided the best end results. If the video you export has blocks or artifacts, then you may try raising the bitrate to 5000kbps.
  10. Make sure “Hi Quality” selected BUT NOT “Top Quality”
  11. Uncheck 48k Audio
  12. Select a Sample Rate of 44100
  13. Set the channels to 2
  14. For Bitrate kbps, select 256
  15. Click the encode button to encode your video

Below is a screenshot of the SUPER interface with all of the correct settings:

Here is the equivalent settings in Sorenson Squeeze 5:

With the video that I used for this tutorial, I found that if I uploaded a video that was less than 4080kbps, then the end bitrate after YouTube encoded it was lower and if I raised the bitrate to higher than 4080kbps, then the end bitrate was the same as it was when I used 4080kbps.

Here are some details from my tests:

640×360 @ 3000kbps, end result was 480×270 @ 439kbps
640×360 @ 4000kbps, end result was 480×270 @ 501kbps (Sweet spot)
640×360 @ 5000kbps, end result was 480×270 @ 501kbps

For audio, the bitrate capped out at 124kbps.

Here is the final video (High Quality version) on YouTube (http://youtube.com/watch?v=ePOV7CWpLSA&fmt=18)

(Special Thanks to My Digital Life for the tip on how to get the embed code to show the high quality version)

If you have any questions or tips for encoding high quality You Tube videos, please post in the comments. Also, if you used these settings to encode your video(s) for YouTube, post links to your videos.

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40 Comments

  1. Mokona
    Posted August 30, 2008 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    What should the settings be when I export from for instance AE og premiere?
    And what settings should I use if I’m exporting to vimeo (in SUPER)?

    Thanks.

  2. VideoPro
    Posted August 30, 2008 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    @Mokona – Is your project SD or HD? In AE or Premiere, you can probably get away with just exporting directly to the file you will upload to YouTube at 640×480 or 640×360 (16:9). I would recommend very similar settings as are in the tutorial. For example, when you export from AE, add your comp to the render queue and select QuickTime as your output format, then click on the settings button and choose the H.264 codec, set keyframe every to 30 frames, limit data rate to 3000kbps and slide the quality slider to best.

    For Vimeo, since they allow up to 1280×720…depending on the length of your video and the speed of the motion, you may need to up your data rate to 5000 – 7000kbps. If your video is only SD, then use the guidelines for YouTube. Here is a good link for Vimeo compression tips: http://www.vimeo.com/help/compression

  3. Mokona
    Posted August 31, 2008 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    For the 30 frames keyframe, that would be for every 25 frame for me since I live in Europe right (working with PAL @ 25 frame).

    Thanks for the response :)

  4. VideoPro
    Posted September 1, 2008 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    @Mokona – Yes, set your output file to 25fps and also set the “keyframe every” setting to 25 as well. This will ensure a keyframe will be created at least every 1 second, although you do not have to set this to be equal to your keyframe. You could set it at any number you wish. The lower number you enter, the higher the quality at the expense of larger filesize. Since the video will be reencoded by YouTube, there is no reason not to set this to your FPS rate or less. For very fast motion, you could even set to 10 or 15.

    Usually, when I am encoding a file to be displayed on the web (not to be reencoded like YouTube) I will start with setting the “keyframe every” to 2 times the FPS. For a 30fps video, I would set to 60 and then reduce as needed.

  5. MindJuiCeS
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I used all the settings as posted, and when I watch the video after its done encoding, the video quality looks way worse than the original, and the audio is out of sync. What am I doing wrong?

  6. VideoPro
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    @MindJuiCeS – Way worse than the original YouTube or Source video? What application did you use to encode? Please post details about your source video’s resolution, codec and data rate. You can use MediaInfo (http://mediainfo.sourceforge.net/en) on your Source file and the file you encoded and post the results here or send to my email (webvideotechniques@gmail.com)

  7. ExtremeVision
    Posted December 22, 2008 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Hi, i shot a video and edit in premiere cs3 my original footage is 16X9 widescreen 720X480 24p. I have been trying for months to get the best quality video in normail mode for youtube, and it’s just very bad, but i did get the hd part it works good, i just want it to look good at least in normal mode, please help?

  8. Posted January 2, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I’m trying to get as good audio quality for Youtube (using Flash CS3 and Samplitude vs8) as my original vinyl recording is, and Flash CS3 Bible says it’s better to use mp3 rather than wav, if I understood right. Is that really so? Is there any books or articles about it, step by step tutorials, as insomnia makes this all so slow.

  9. VideoPro
    Posted January 4, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    @Kyky, when encoding for YouTube, I would recommend AAC at 256kbps. If you do not have access to AAC codec, then MP3 will work. In your projects, you should use either WAV or uncompressed audio to preserve the quality for different output formats.

  10. Posted January 8, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi,
    I tried this technique using Window Moviemaker and the results were very impressive. However, watching the video on Youtube is a lot slower than normal due to the increased file size. Do you have any ideas how to improve quality without compromising the download speed?
    Thanks

  11. VideoPro
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    @Tim, the hiqh quality and HD YouTube versions have much higher filesizes than the old low quality versions. This will cause the video to take longer to download. The technique for encoding your videos is just to give YouTube a high quality source to work with. YouTube will still re-encode the file to the maximum allowed data rate. This is what makes the filesize greater.

    BTW – Please post a link to your video so we can check it out.

  12. SG
    Posted January 13, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Hi. I have edited my video in AVS Video Editor 4.

    My project includes JPG pictures (640×480) and MPG vidéo (640×480 at 30 Frames per second), transition and text etc…

    Then I directly processed the final file in MOV from AVS Video Editor using the compression settings you posted in the tutorial (640×480 4:3 H.264/AVC etc.). The results and the quality of the final video are very good on my computer.

    But when I upload the file in YouTube, the quality is very bad when I watch the movie.
    What am I doing wrong ?

    • VideoPro
      Posted January 15, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      SG, can you please post or email a link to the YouTube video? YouTube encodes many different quality levels. The default quality is not very good. You need to make sure in your preferences that you have it set to show the hiqh quality version.

  13. Paul
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Thanks for all the info on how to upload videos in HD. Question is, when you do upload a video, lets say HD video. What do you suppose the file size to be? above 200Mb?

    • VideoPro
      Posted February 4, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      Paul – The file size will depend on the dimensions, duration and data rate of the encoded video.

  14. Paul
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Oh and how long do you think uploading a 200MB+ file will take. I have a 1MB internet broadband speed.

    • VideoPro
      Posted February 4, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Paul – a 200MB file will take approximately 25-35 minutes to upload on a 1Mbps connection.

  15. Paul
    Posted February 5, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the fast reply. However, i cant seem to upload it. Here’s what i think the problem is. Im not good at encoding and all so please help me. I got a 9min 24mb .avi file which i used Super to convert into .mp4 but i HAD to use directshow decode which made it 200+MB instead. Is directshow the reason why i cant upload on youtube?

    • VideoPro
      Posted February 6, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      I would recommend that you try encoding your file with Handbrake using the settings provided. Direct show should not affect anything to do with YouTube.

  16. PinkPrincess531
    Posted February 17, 2009 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    hi, i have been trying to put my youtube video in high quality for a while now, and i found you luckily to help me do that. but i have a problem. i have done everything u said, but wen i go to upload the video on youtube, it was uploading for like 4 days and it was still going on the 5th so i stopped it. should this happen,. how long am i supposed to wait for it to upload normally? Plz help

  17. Posted February 18, 2009 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    Hey, I followed your instructions to the t on this page. Except I didn’t crop the video as suggested for PAL format videos.Wondering if you could maybe help me? The mp4 file I ended up with was 108mb. Youtube has downsized it to a 18mb flv file at high quality. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought the file size would remain about the same. But yeah my main concerns are those wavy lines that have appeared around the performers and objects in the videos.
    Here’s the video…..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaKQ4ZHU7CM

    Any help would be appreciated as I want to present my stuff as close to the original as possible. And the mp4 files look alot better. And without the lines threw the picture.

    Thanks in advance and kudos on the great site.

    • VideoPro
      Posted February 18, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Jizzy – Overrall, the quality of the YouTube hiqh quality version is really good. Those lines you see are interlacing. Web video must be deinterlaced to progressive frames BEFORE doing any encoding. You should consider cropping the video since it will cause your video to be slightly distorted. What software are you using for editing and encoding?

  18. Posted February 19, 2009 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    I’m using Adobe premiere 6 for the ripping of the video’s then I just followed your steps on here for the encoding using Super encoder. Any tips on deinterlacing to progressive frames and cropping would be really appreciated. I’m still pretty new to doing this HQ youtube stuff.

  19. Posted February 19, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Great tips.
    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get the “high quality” link show up on my videos as of late. Either, the output dimensions to achieve high quality w/ widescreen have been changed to something different, or the option has been removed entirely. BUT, if you add the “&fmt=18″ tag to the end of video links that SHOULD be high quality, you will be directed to a high quality version of your video. It’s currently annoying me. I wish there was a standard.

    • VideoPro
      Posted February 21, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Are you certain that it is not showing you the hiqh quality by default?

  20. max
    Posted February 24, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Can you make a tutorial or something on how to get good quality for SD on youtube?
    Its because,i have seen some videos with an impressive quality,i have even upload a video that in SD have a great image quality as you can see- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL8qgTuFvjs
    But i was only able to make this once time,with this video.
    I have used super,the container was AVI,and the codec was ms-mpeg4v2,res was 1280×720 and instead of 16:9 i used 4:3.
    But like i said,this have only worked one time.

    • VideoPro
      Posted March 2, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      Max – The technique you used in that video is one that I have been meaning to recommend. Basically, you have just inserted your SD video into a HD canvas. This is a good way to create some sharp videos at the high and HD quality.

      My guide on encoding for YouTube high quality should have the basics, you just need to make sure that your project is set to 1280×720 and you bring in your SD footage and make sure it does not change the frame size.

  21. Posted March 20, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Very informative site, however none of the comments have mentioned using Final Cut Express 4. I have some HD band footage we shot in Abbey Road Studio which I’ve been put in charge of. Still not sure the right export combination for youtube in 4:3 or 16:9, I’m new to this Mac and FCE4. I’ve tried QT format/H.264/30fps/KF-24/data rate-auto/HD 1280×720 16:9/de-interlaced, and getting horrible Utube results. Is this Bcuz I’m not using your recommended 640×360 scale? Much thanks buddy!

    • VideoPro
      Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      @Sir Bob – Since your footage is HD, you should use the 720p encoding settings. It is important that you follow them as closely as possible for best results. In your comment, you say “data rate – auto”; you need to explicitly set the data rate to at least 4000Kbps (or higher)

  22. Robert
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Ok I am having some weird youtube issues, I am hoping that maybe you may have some answers.

    Here is the file I uploaded to youtube – http://www.robagd.com/cars/video/HemiC-tape1.wmv

    This was produced with Windows Movie Maker

    I got this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alZ7YslorXU

    Now I used SUPER to take a 225mb AVI of the same clip ( Used the project to resave the same clip ) to make a 28mb file that I uploaded as a test.

    Here is that results – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSZ64GzvAAU

    What is confuling the hell out of me is the MiniDV I am using is 16:9 I am working in Windows Movie Maker in 16:9 I saved it in the widescreen format as you can see.

    I am just baffled at why the youtube will force a file to 4:3 vs the native 16:9

    -Robert

    • VideoPro
      Posted April 22, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      720×480 widescreen is still 4:3 with black bars on the top and bottom of the video, not 16:9, so YouTube treats it as a 4:3 file. For best results, you should crop off the top and bottom black bars and either upload a 480×270 or 640×360 (only to be future proof for possible future format options)

  23. Robert
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh sorry the MiniDV is SD 720×480

    -R

  24. Robert
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Ok, something weird is going on. After doing the text video and saving that profile, every movie I try to encode ends in an error.

    I have tried everything but it all end in a rather generic error.

    :/

    -Robert

    • VideoPro
      Posted April 22, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      You might want to try exporting to uncompressed AVI before encoding. Also, I have found that Handbrake is easier to work with and has more features. For best results, you should upload MP4 H.264 with AAC audio.

  25. Robert
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I did save as AVI, but posting a nulti gb file for someone to take a look it is a bit impractial. Intresting if I install Super and do my encoding tothe MP4 set up if I close it and reopen it, it will not ever complete a encode unless I re install it.

    • VideoPro
      Posted April 27, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm.. you might want to try Handbrake. I have been having good results with it.

  26. paul
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Much debate going on here,
    heres a SD PAL

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEmo4i8c68o

    • VideoPro
      Posted June 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      @Paul – Quality looks fantastic.. good work!

  27. Sebastian
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    Hi, great site. I have problem with the video I am trying to output is giving some undesirable results My original file is .avi I tried encoding h.264 with mp4 and acc audio and what I end up with the playback is, audio out of sync with the video i have used adobe premiere cs3 AME I have used avs video converter. I have googled the hell out of this problem and find many with the same problem but no solutions are offered. Please help I am at the end of my wits and a client breathing down my neck. Thanks.

  28. Sebastian
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    BTW orginal file is hd 1280×720

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