Everything you need to know about YouTube video formats

Microphone being filmed by an old fashioned camera, with footage appearing on a computer monitor

You can create YouTube videos using 13 different video file formats, from the most modern file types to some legacy formats that have existed for decades.

But you didn’t come here for a dissertation on YouTube’s generosity. You came here because you Googled “best quality video for YouTube,” or something like that. Don’t worry, we got you.

Even though you can upload your file in many common video formats, as a video editor, you must stay mindful of best practices. We’ll run you through the best video format for YouTube, as well as YouTube resolution sizes, frame rates, and aspect ratios. By the time you upload your next video to your YouTube channel, you’ll have the process down to a science.

Backspace. Copy and paste. Drag and drop. That’s how you edit audio and video in Descript.
Edit audio and video just like editing a doc.

What is the best video format for YouTube?

As a video content creator, you need to ensure that each video you share on YouTube has the highest possible quality. No matter what type of video you’ve created, when you upload you should use these specs, based on YouTube’s own recommendations.

  • File format. YouTube advises uploading video files in the MP4 format.
  • Codec. Your MP4 video files should have an H.264 file container and an AAC-LC audio codec.
  • Aspect ratio. When video creators talk about YouTube video dimensions or YouTube video size, they are describing the video’s aspect ratio. YouTube’s standard aspect ratio is 16:9. Even if you upload a file using a different ratio, YouTube automatically converts it to a 16:9 aspect ratio to optimize video quality on the platform.
  • Video resolution. Choosing your video resolution requires balancing file size with viewing experience. The higher the video resolution, the larger the files, and the longer it will take to upload them. For most creators, the sweet spot is a 1080p resolution, which is considered HD video. You can also aim for a higher resolution format like 2K or 4K, but this may be overkill. Many people watch YouTube videos on their phones, and on such small screens, the difference between 1080p and 4K is imperceptible. On the other end of the spectrum, 720p is the minimum resolution you should use on a YouTube video.
  • Frame rate. You’ll select your frame rate during the filming process; however, you can convert frame rates as needed during post-production. Traditional film is shot at 24 frames per second (fps); traditional video is faster, at 30 fps. Select a frame rate in the 24–30 fps range.

What video format is YouTube compatible with?

YouTube excels in its flexibility with online video formats. As you consider what format to upload to YouTube, know that if your computer can handle a particular video format, YouTube probably can as well. Here are the 13 video file formats YouTube officially supports.

  • MPEG4: The MPEG4 encoding algorithm dates back to 1998, but it’s still commonly used for video compression. You can easily export high-quality videos using the MPEG4 format, which YouTube has supported from its earliest years.
  • MP4: MP4 is a specific type of MPEG4 file: MPEG4, Part 14. It’s the recommended file format for YouTube videos, and it also works well on other video hosting platforms.
  • HEVC (H.265): This video codec is formally known as High-Efficiency Video Coding. Video editors use it to export extremely high-resolution videos, going all the way up to 8K. This is overkill by YouTube standards, but the platform can handle any H.265 video and downscale it as needed.
  • MOV: This file format corresponds with Apple’s QuickTime player. When you export a video from QuickTime, the program chooses .mov as the default file format. When you upload .mov files to YouTube, they will convert to MP4.
  • ProRes: In addition to MOV, Apple developed ProRes, mainly to help video editors manage large high-resolution video files that can eat up a lot of memory. YouTube downscales ProRes files, many of which house 2K, 4K, or 5K video, and spits them out as MP4s.
  • WMV: WMV stands for Windows Media Video. As the name suggests, this file type originates in Microsoft’s Windows operating system. In YouTube, WMV format videos convert to MP4 files.
  • AVI: Microsoft also developed AVI, which stands for Audio-Video Interleaved. You can upload AVI files to YouTube, where they will convert to MP4.
  • FLV: FLV stands for Flash Video, a legacy format developed by Adobe for Adobe Flash Player. Most of today’s web browsers block Flash videos because they can easily carry malicious code. Still, you can upload an FLV video to YouTube, which will immediately convert it to MP4.
  • MPEG PS: This file format, also called Program Stream, helps power DVDs. If you have MPEG PS files on your computer, you can upload them to YouTube for playback as MP4s.
  • DNxHR: DNxHR stands for Digital Nonlinear Extensible High Resolution, a high-resolution codec used on high-definition screens. YouTube accepts DNxHR uploads.
  • 3GPP: This legacy file format heavily compresses videos to allow them to transfer over 3G networks in a reasonable amount of time. YouTube will upscale these files to MP4, but the video quality may seem inadequate due to all the earlier compression.
  • CineForm: GoPro purchased the CineForm format in 2011, and today most creators use the file format to produce 3D videos. When the CineForm codec shows up in editing projects, it usually exists within a MOV or AVI file, so it’s perfectly compatible with YouTube.
  • WebM or HTML5: Google developed WebM to host videos using a VP8 or VP9 video codec and a Vorbis or Opus audio codec. These make for a small file size that helps them stream easily on social media. YouTube accepts WebM videos and plays them back as MP4s.

If you’re using some particularly niche file extensions, like AVCHD (built for Panasonic and Sony camcorders) or the open-source format MKV, you’ll have to convert it before you can upload to YouTube.

How to use Descript to convert a video to another format

Video creators can use the Descript platform to easily upload, convert, edit, and share videos. Descript exports all videos as MP4 files, which is the format YouTube recommends for all uploads. Here’s a step-by-step guide to converting video files to MP4 using Descript.

  1. Download the Descript app. Set up a Descript account, and then download and install the app.
  2. Create a new project. Open the app, and from the File menu, select “New Project.” You’ll see a project window on your screen.
  3. Import a video. To import a video, simply drag and drop a file into the project window. Descript will automatically upload it.
  4. Edit your video. Now it’s time to edit your video as you like. You can find Descript editing tutorials here.
  5. Start the export. We’re now ready to convert the video to a new format. From the File menu, select “Export” and then “Video.”
  6. Select parameters. A new window will invite you to set parameters for audio quality, video quality, and video dimensions. You can also choose whether or not to include metadata and markers.
  7. Hit the export button. Click “Export” and let Descript will export your file as an MP4.

4 tips to create a high-quality video for Youtube

YouTube makes it easy to upload high-quality videos. Still, you can use these tips to ensure the highest quality the platform allows.

  1. Use the right aspect ratio. YouTube converts its videos to a 16:9 aspect ratio. To ensure your YouTube video looks the way you intended it, use a 16:9 aspect ratio at all stages of your video editing process. If you’re uploading a full HD video (1080p), you’ll want an aspect ratio of 1920 x 1080.
  2. Use AAC audio. YouTube videos shouldn’t just look great, they should also sound great. Export your videos using an AAC-LC audio codec to ensure the best possible sound on YouTube.
  3. Film in a well-lit space. Your audio and video codecs and your file resolution won’t matter a bit if your video is too dark to see. Err on the side of shooting an overly bright video, since it’s easier for a video editor to darken footage than to lighten it. Try making a “lighting triangle” with three points: your camera, your subject, and your light source (like a bright window). This setup should provide a natural amount of shadows while still shining sufficient light on your subject’s face.
  4. Edit using Descript. Descript offers a bunch of video editing tools that you can pair with its industry-leading audio editing tools, to help you make the highest-quality YouTube videos. You can add titles and captions, create transitions, insert keyframe animation, and more, and all edits are non-destructive (meaning Descript preserves original files as you edit).

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