How Does YouTube Encode Video Uploads and What Codec Should You Use?

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If you’re working to build a popular video channel, you need to do everything you can to stand apart from the competition. It’s essential that your videos are smooth, professional, and look great on YouTube. One way to make sure everything looks great is to use the right codec to upload your videos. Keep in mind that YouTube has more than a billion users and reaches more people in the United States — just on mobile — than any television network. So you’re reaching a lot of potential viewers any time you upload a new video.

What is a Codec and Why Does it Matter?

According to MUO, a codec “is an encoding tool that processes video and stores it in a stream of bytes.” Video files are extremely large, which makes them unwieldy to upload and store. Codecs reduce the size of the rule and then expand it again when it is going to be viewed.

How do Codecs Affect Video Quality?

Codecs that aren’t suited for the type of video you’re uploading could cause unfortunate effects in the video itself that take away from what you’re trying to display. This happens when you use a codec that uses lossy compression. Lossy compression means that the video quality isn’t as high as the original — but it can still be suitable for your audience. The images can be more blurry, especially when there’s a lot of motion. There might be odd shapes or artifacts in the video. In general, it won’t look quite as good as the video you shot did. It will, however, usually upload and download more quickly because of the smaller file size.

Lossless compression is the other option — but it’s not viable for YouTube. The files are too large to store and share through the site. Don’t despair, though. No current widely-available method of streaming video at home supports truly lossless compression. While some codecs and containers come close, YouTube is still only able to stream them at a certain speed, which means that it isn’t practical to wait days for a video to upload when the output for the viewer will still look the same.

The trick is to make sure you use the best format available for your video that is compatible with what YouTube supports.

How Does Compression Work?

Compression essentially looks for places in video frames that matches places in other frames and then deletes those. That’s one reason why fast-moving videos often have blurry places or artifacts after compression is performed. This is one reason why compression methods and codecs are especially important for people who make very quick videos — like video game replays — to pay attention to.

YouTube Codecs

YouTube uses a specific set of codecs for their videos. Using the same ones may offer a benefit when it comes to your video quality. However, YouTube doesn’t include which codecs it uses in its tutorials — instead, some people have found out in other ways that what they upload isn’t always the same file that’s stored. For example, people often use a free video downloader such as Freemake to store copies of YouTube videos, you can get a copy if you go to their official website landing page — and they don’t automatically always download in the same file format that you uploaded them. That’s one clue that you might not be using the supported codec and container.

YouTubers have determined that YouTube uses the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC and VP9 formats. In most cases, H.264 is the best codec to use to encode your videos. VP0 is sometimes used for 4K videos. Certain other codecs may be used to encode videos from old, uncommon formats, too. But in general, it’s best to go with H.264.

How Does YouTube Encode My Videos?

YouTube encodes your videos so that every video on its site can play on every type of device that can access it. If your video is optimized for mobile, it might not look great on a desktop computer. Quality is an issue for YouTube and they go to great lengths to provide viewers with a cohesive experience.

YouTube transcodes all videos into video streams that can play quickly when someone clicks to watch. This doesn’t mean that all videos have the same quality, though. The quality depends on what quality your video is to begin with. It’s fine to go with a higher quality video with a file like ProRes or uncompressed HD video.

YouTube also changes each video you upload so that it can play in lower qualities in addition to the highest quality available. To save data or to make the video stream quicker, some people may choose to watch videos in lower quality than you upload. YouTube makes that possible with every video uploaded to the site.

A basic understanding of codecs can make it easier for you to deliver a great experience to every one of your viewers. Using the H.264 codec when you create your videos can create a better experience not only because it’s what YouTube uses but because you’ll know the entire time what the final product will look like. All you have to worry about then is creating engaging videos that your viewers will love, comment on, and give thumbs ups to.

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