Choosing the best video format for YouTube
March 4, 2021

Choosing the best video format for YouTube

Google claims 65% of people watch YouTube videos to help them solve a problem. It should therefore come as no surprise that people watch more than 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day. 


The reason behind YouTube’s popularity is simple - it has something for everyone. From product reviews, beauty tutorials, health and wellness videos, to music, entertainment and so much more, not to mention millions of channels, YouTube is perhaps the biggest depository of videos, ever.


This also means it’s a great platform for businesses to sell their products and services. However, not every business does well on YouTube.  


What could be the reason?


While there are many, choosing the best video format is the one which can make or break you on YouTube. 


So what is the best video format for YouTube?

Since YouTube supports multiple video formats, picking the right one can be tricky. Also, the new requirements and updates make it even more confusing.

To help you out, we are also going to discuss the various video settings, sizes, FAQS, and much more. So, don’t forget to read this blog till the end. 



What is the best video format for YouTube and Why?

For reasons to be discussed later in the blog, there is no one best video format for YouTube videos. However, we recommend using .MP4 file type. Beyond that, it is also recommended to use the h.264 video codec.


The best part about .MP4 file types is that it’s simple, fairly high-quality, and is used universally. The added advantage is that the file sizes are much smaller.


There are a few more advantages as well.

What makes MP4 a better choice?

Here is a detailed look at what makes .MP4 files a good choice:


  • It supports the storage of multiple bits of data. 
  • High definition audio-video files can be compressed to smaller sizes, without deterioration of the data.
  • The output is of high quality and the use of the latest codec H264 also helps to generate high-resolution content.
  • They can be transmitted over narrow bandwidths. So they are compatible with low bandwidths.
  • These files are supported across multiple platforms beyond YouTube. So using and distributing is much easier.
  • MP4 files can contain subtitles, metadata, and images in both JPEG and PNG formats.
  • The support for metadata implies that the files can be integrated with 3D graphics. It can also include various other user interaction features.
  • The overall flexibility of data storage is more.
  • Corrupt MP4 files can be fixed by video repair software.



What Video Formats does YouTube support?

YouTube allows you to upload a variety of video file formats. However, not all of them are equally effective. 


In case you use the wrong video format, you’ll get an error message while uploading the video. If you don’t have a particular file, no need to worry. YouTube also supports plenty of other file formats.


Take a look.

What video formats are supported by YouTube?

Before uploading a video, make sure that you’re using one of the formats listed below.


  • MP4
  • AVI
  • WMV
  • MPEG PS
  • FLV
  • 3GPP
  • WebM
  • DNxHR
  • CineForm
  • ProRes
  • HEVC (h265)
  • MOV


A short look at the best YouTube formats

MP4 Format [Moving Pictures Expert Group 4]

Being one of the most popular file types, these files use the MPEG-4 compression format. The process retains the audio and video quality of the file. In other words, the compression is lossless while the file size stays on the smaller side. The MP4 format is highly compatible with mobile devices and multiple online platforms. That makes sharing and distribution easier. They can also run on the most popular media players and sound card drivers.


AVI [Audio Video Interleave]

This is one of the oldest video file formats and was created by Microsoft. The best part of this format is it uses less compression. So the quality of the video is preserved to a large extent. It’s also easy to encode AVI formats in different codecs. Moreover, they are supported by almost all web browsers.


MPEG4 

This is a particular format used to compress audio and visual digital data and was created by the Moving Picture Experts Group in 1998. Keep in mind that MPEG4 is not the same as MP4. The whole structure of MPEG4 is quite complex and it can be divided into a number of different parts. However, MPEG-4 video and audio encoding can also be packaged into other formats like AVI, MKV, etc.



FLV [Flash Video Format]

This is a format used for delivering Flash-based videos and is based on the H.263 (FLV1) video standard. The advantage is, it can contain high definition video files in small sizes and is highly flexible. They can be played by Adobe Flash Player, web browser plugins, and other third-party programs like VLC player, Media Player Classic, and RealPlayer. Then again, it’s not supported by Apple’s iOS devices.


WMV [Windows Media Video]

This was developed by Microsoft for Windows devices. The big advantage of the WMV format is that the file size remains very small. The downside is, the video quality is affected by the compression process. This makes it a great choice for attaching video files to any email. However, viewing and editing WMV files on non-Windows platforms can be difficult.


MOV

This is a special  MPEG 4 video container file format used in Apple's Quicktime program or QTFF. It was used for playing media files on Apple QuickTime Player in a MAC environment. The files are encoded by the MPEG-4 codec.


3GPP

The term 3GPP stands for 3rd Generation Partnership Project and it’s a part of the MPEG-4 family. It was developed to record and transfer multimedia files between 3G cell phones.


Why Does The YouTube Video File Format Matter?

What does a video format mean?


Basically, a video file format is a way in which video data is stored in the computer. A large volume of data is written in file format. This contains images, audio, and other forms of data that constitute a video signal. The data is compressed using various types of compression algorithms that reduce the size and pixel density.


If you check the anatomy of a video file, it can be broken up into these portions.


  • A codec is software that compresses the video so it can be encoded and decoded as needed. For example, H.264 is a common codec used in HD videos.


  • The next part is the container that contains the video, audio, and metadata. In most cases, users are familiar with it as the file extension name. These include .AVI, .MOV, .MP4, or .3GP file types. The metadata can provide detailed information on the video file.


We will talk more about them later.



Why does the best format for YouTube video matter for brands?


The truth is, there’s a lot of competition among the brands for delivering fresh content and staying relevant. The key is to deliver first-rate content. So while creating videos has become easier than ever, you need to use the best video format for YouTube at all times.


Selecting the best video format for YouTube therefore matters for a variety of reasons, making your video look the best on the platform being one of them. In addition, there are technical reasons.


Depending on the type of format, you can decide the amount of storage space that you need for the video footage. The file type also decides whether the footage can be handled effectively by video editing software. Also, all file formats may not be the best choice for certain platforms.


You must appreciate that,

Each file format has a different purpose

Even though video content has emerged as the undoubted king, no particular format has been accepted as the industry standard.


Why so?


Actually, the type of platforms and the devices that are used vary from one user to the other. Each format has slightly different properties which make them more useful for one category of users. So some formats are more useful in specific situations and every format can’t be played in all browsers or programs.


If we look deeper, there are three main factors that video quality and the final size depends on. 

  1. Firstly, the actual pixel dimensions of the finished product are the first thing that makes a video HD (High Definition) or SD (Standard Definition). The former usually contains 1,920 X 1,080 pixels and the latter 720 X 480 pixels.


  1. The next thing is the overall length of the video. Every time there is a change or edit on the video timeline, the file size changes. Lastly, the size depends on the video frame rate. In general, most of the video content that is created is captured at 30 frames per second (fps). If you capture video at 15 fps, the file size would be halved.


  1. The other factors are the number of keyframes, the audio sample rate, interlaced frames, and others. With multiple factors, no wonder that there are so many video file types around.




How using the best video formats for YouTube have a direct effect on your channels’ success

With so many options around, YouTube viewers are likely to get bored easily. To keep them hooked, your video needs to be both intellectually stimulating and visually attractive.  


One of the main elements that make your YouTube channel successful is the video quality. Let’s face it, with so much competition around, no one is going to waste their time on a poor quality video. 



High-quality content with a professional touch ensures your viewers. It helps you gain their trust which in turn makes them more confident about your business. A brand that delivers polished content with a professional touch definitely wins more trust.


YouTube focuses and promotes consumer-centric content which provides authentic information to consumers. Therefore, delivering meaningful content in the right format is extremely important.



Choosing The Correct YouTube Video Sizes

YouTube allows users to upload video content in various sizes. Before choosing between them, you need to know the exact pixel dimensions of each type, ranging from the smallest to the largest.


Here is a look.


  • 240p: 426x240 pixels
  • 360p: 640x360 pixels
  • 480p: 854x480 pixels
  • 720p: 1280x720 pixels
  • 1080p: 1920x1080 pixels
  • 1440p or 2K : 2560x1440 pixels
  • 2160p or 4K : 3840x2160 pixels


Once you decide on the video dimensions that you want to upload, you need to record them in the correct manner.


Apart from this, you also need to consider the video size, length, and aspect ratio. Note, the correct aspect ratio for best video formats for YouTube is 16:9. 


The 16:9 ratio is best for high-definition videos that are distortion-free. This format is also compatible with a wide range of LCD screen sizes, making them perfect for mobile and TV viewing. That’s why it’s a widely used choice for enhanced image quality.


The maximum permissible video size allowed on YouTube is 128GB, while the maximum length for any video is marked at 12 hours. But since uploading and editing long videos could be cumbersome, therefore you’d find that YouTube videos are only a few minutes in length.



Recommended Upload Encoding Settings

Here are the recommended settings for the best video format in YouTube


Container Type- MP3


  • The use of  Edit Lists is not allowed. If used, the video processing can get affected.
  • The Moov atom or the movie atom should be at the front of the file for a smooth playback experience.


Video codec: H.264



  • Only a progressive scanning method is followed. No interlacing is allowed.
  • High Profile is to be used.
  • Use of 2 consecutive B frames for the best balance between compression efficiency and video quality.
  • Use of closed GOP is recommended. Set a GOP of half the frame rate.
  • CABAC (context-based adaptive binary arithmetic coding) for entropy coding.
  • A variable bitrate is to be used. There is no bitrate limit but the recommendations are mentioned below.
  • Chroma subsampling to be used is 4:2:0 for minimum loss of graphical quality.


Audio codec: AAC-LC



  • The following channels are to be used: Stereo or Stereo + 5.1
  • The sample rate should be 96khz or 48khz



Frame rate


Encode and upload the content in the same frame rate at which it was recorded.


The common frame rates include 24, 25, 30, 48, 50, 60 frames per second. Youtube also mentions that other frame rates are also acceptable. The choice will depend on the content type.


Also, any interlaced content should be deinterlaced before uploading/sharing. 



Resolution and aspect ratio


As already mentioned, the standard aspect ratio for YouTube on a computer is 16:9 for the best viewing experience. In case a video with another aspect ratio is uploaded the player will adapt its size. 


In addition, there are also recommendations about Bitrate and Color Space settings.



Technical guidelines for YouTube videos

Before you start working on your first video, here is a look at some of the common terms you will come across.


The difference between File Codecs & File Containers

The first thing to learn here is, all digital video files are compressed in some way to save space. Quite simply, you don’t need 30 to 50 gigabytes of space for storing every video in Blu-Ray format. At the same time, compression does result in some loss of video quality. That is why the trick is to find the best YouTube format that offers the right balance for the best viewing experience.


Codecs are protocols for performing the task of compressing and decompressing the data contained in a video file. They also determine how the data is interpreted and played. The file size, output quality, and delivery method are determined by the type of codec selected. For example, h.264 is one popular codec that is frequently used.



What about containers?


The reality is, as consumers, we are more concerned with the container than the codec. They contain the video codec and the audio codec, along with some data. In short, it is a specific format that takes care of the packaging, transport, and presentation of the video file. The container is represented by the extension name. For example, the MPEG4 container is generally represented by a .mp4 file type.


There are a wide variety of container/codec combinations depending on the user needs and the standards followed.


Aspect ratio

Technically, the aspect ratio is the proportion between the width and height of a video. This decides how wide the video will be. Some of the common aspect ratios you’ll come across are 6:9 or 9:16, 4:3, 1:1, and 2.4:1. If we consider the 16:9 ratio, it means the picture is 16 units wide by 9 units high.


Out of these, the 4:3 ratio was the standard of films and TVs for a long time. But today, the 16:9 format is the most common one, used for widescreen viewing on various web platforms. When flipped by 90 degrees, this turns into a 9:16 video. Most professional-grade and consumer-grade video capturing devices use the ratio by default.


Keep in mind, even if you change the screen resolution from 720p to 4k, the aspect ratio of 16:9 will remain the same.





Video Bitrate

The smallest unit of data in a computer is a bit. So bitrate is the rate at which bits are transmitted at any given moment.


Along with high resolution and frame rate, bitrate is another important factor that determines the overall video quality. When it comes to streaming, this is usually measured in seconds (Mbps) for video, and in kilobits per second (kbps) for audio.


Point to be noted - Megabits (Mbps) is the unit of bit rate and it is different from MBps. MBps is used to measure the file size.


With higher bitrates, the file size and the video quality will go up. However, if you use very high bitrates, it will be a waste of bandwidth. Also, there are bandwidth limits for each connection. Broadcasting at higher bitrates requires higher bandwidths.


Frame rate

Basically, the video frame rate is the number of frames captured per second. For example, for a 24fps video, 24 images will be shown in a second. Actually, 24 fps looks most natural to the human eye and is a common choice. 30fps is another popular choice for web and live TV programs.


The frame rate determines the smoothness of the display. It also changes in the case of slow-motion or motion-blur effects. For example, higher frame rates like 60fps or 120fps are used for playing back video in slow motion.


When it comes to frame rates, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The choice of frame rate will depend on the type of video you are trying to create. Remember, a higher frame rate does not mean the best quality video format for YouTube.



Audio codec

Just like a video codec, an audio codec is a piece of software that is used to compress digital audio data. While uncompressed audio files offer the best quality, their large size makes them unsuitable for live streaming. 


The codec reduces the file size while preserving as much quality as possible. In addition, it also decodes the encoded audio file while playing back. The bandwidth requirement for transmitting an audio file is also reduced by the codec.


Some of the popular audio codec formats are MP3, AAC, WAV, and WMA. At present, AAC is the best format for YouTube and many other platforms that offer good audio quality.



FAQs

How do I create a thumbnail for my YouTube Video?


The thumbnails are clickable snapshots that open up for viewers when they search for a video. To create thumbnails for your videos take the following steps.


  1. Once you have uploaded a new video, you will see a Custom thumbnail option on the Basic info tab. Or else, you can sign in to YouTube Studio and select a video from the list of uploaded videos. Under the thumbnail, click on the Custom thumbnail option.
  2. Select an image that is closely linked to the content of your video. YouTube allows you to pick any picture from your computer as a thumbnail.
  3. Finally, select Save to finalize the thumbnail.


How do I convert a video to mp4 format?

For converting a video into any format, you need to use a video file converter. There are quite a few video converters available, including a few free ones. Note, downloading and converting videos that are not in the public domain from YouTube is an act of copyright infringement. You need to have the permission of the copyright holder before doing that.

What Happens If I Upload a Youtube Video That's Not 16:9?


In case a video with a wrong aspect ratio is uploaded, it will end up displaying black bars on both  sides. In other words, the video is centered in the middle of the screen, resulting in a poor viewing experience.


Why is my uploaded video blurry?


Immediately after you have uploaded a video, it can appear blurry. This happens as YouTube takes some time to process the HD version in the background. So you just need to wait.


What’s the Difference Between Public and Unlisted videos?

The public setting is the default for all videos uploaded on YouTube. If you are not particular about the privacy of a video then this setting can be used to allow everyone to see your videos. Private videos are the ones that can be seen by only those viewers whom you invite; they can’t be shared. They don’t appear in video recommendations either.


Now, unlisted videos come in between private and public videos. They do not appear in search results or subscriber feeds. But those with the link can view and share the video. Many users use this setting to collect feedback about a video before going public.



Can I duplicate a YouTube video post?


It’s best not to do that. YouTube has mentioned that posting duplicate content “is against the YouTube Partner Program policies.” It puts stress on original and relevant content that adds value to the viewers. YouTube has also removed some channels that were flagged for posting duplicate content.


Why Is It Taking Youtube so Long to Process My Video?


The processing time for any video depends on the following factors:


  • Video format
  • Video length
  • Frame rate
  • Resolution


Videos of higher resolution like 4K or 1080p and those with a higher frame rate like 60-fps take a longer processing time.


How do I delete an uploaded video?


To permanently delete a video, log in to your YouTube account and visit the My Videos section. Right next to the video you want to delete, there will be a More option. You can select Delete from there.


Choosing the best video format for YouTube - Best Practices

To summarize, here are a few points to keep in mind before uploading.


  • If you’re looking for a single “best” video format, there isn’t any. 


  • While picking the highest quality video format for YouTube or any other platform is necessary, it’s best not to overstress on quality. Keep in mind that high-quality videos are hard to download, convert and share. You need to think about what is best for the viewers and then choose a format.


  • According to marketing experts, 1080p video is the best choice for the right professional look. At the same time, this size can be easily downloaded without consuming much of the precious data. While 2K or 4k content looks attractive, they tend to take more space.


  • For casual users who are concerned about storage space, 720p is also a good option for watching on LCD screens. YouTube suggests uploading videos that are "as close to the original, high-quality source format as possible."


  • For the best results, you need to optimize your video SEO after uploading. But that’s another story altogether.

 

Now you have all the details about posting the highest quality video format for YouTube. So, take your business to the next level by using the best video format for YouTube.








Other Items to Learn