The Ultimate Guide to YouTube Video Sizes

Written by
Ashley Hamer
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|
8
min read

One of the ways to increase how often your Youtube videos are viewed and shared is by ensuring that they’re set to the right resolution and format. Choppy, grainy, or otherwise hard-to-watch videos tend to drive away viewers, and without their attention, the YouTube algorithm may leave you behind. In some cases, the wrong format can even prevent you from uploading your video to your YouTube channel.

Understanding a bit more about video dimensions, resolutions, and formats can help you optimize the quality of your video content and grow your audience — and it’s not as complicated as you might think.

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What are the best video dimensions and resolutions for YouTube?

Pixels are the tiny blocks behind your screen that make up all the digital images you see, and the resolution refers to the size of these pixels. The larger the pixels, the fewer you can fit on screen, resulting in blocky, low-quality, or low-resolution, images. A higher resolution image has more pixel density, resulting in clearer, sharper video quality. The smaller the pixels, the more you can fit together to create a more detailed image.

The dimension of a video refers to how many pixels comprise an image length- and width-wise. For example, a low-quality image at 240 pixels (resolution) is usually 426 by 240 pixels (dimension). Changing the size of your dimensions can also alter how the resolution displays. For instance, increasing the dimensions spreads the pixels farther apart, reducing the quality of video playback. Uploading your video in the right dimension and resolution ensures that your video looks its best when watched.

Here are few common video dimensions and resolutions:

  • 426x240 pixels (240p). This dimension and resolution is the lowest accepted quality for YouTube uploads and works best for slower internet connections.
  • 640x360 pixels (360p). This is considered the basic resolution for video-viewing on smartphones, and is generally used for embedded videos on websites.
  • 854x480 pixels (480p). Standard definition, as it’s known, is the general playback resolution for YouTube videos streamed over cellular data. The most common aspect ratio for standard definition is 4:3.
  • 1280x720 pixels (720p). This is the minimum resolution required for high definition (HD) playback. A full 16:9 aspect ratio is recommended for videos at this resolution. 720p is the recommended resolution for watching HD videos on a slower internet connection.
  • 1920x1080 pixels (1080p). Full HD resolution occurs at 1080p, and is a top-tier resolution if you want to upload high quality videos for advanced playback devices.
  • 2560x1440 pixels (1440p). For an even more detailed viewing experience, you can upload videos in 1440p, also known as 2K.
  • 3840x2160 pixels (2160p). Ultra HD or 4K resolutions are the best resolution for large screens if you want a sharp, defined image.
  • 7680×4320 pixels (4320p). Also known as Full Ultra HD (FUHD), YouTube now accepts videos in 8K resolution, though there are very few benefits to uploading a video of this quality, mainly because most viewers don’t have the means to support this level of resolution on their devices.

What aspect ratio is best for YouTube?

The aspect ratio describes the relationship between the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the video frame. In other words, it determines the shape of the video playback screen. For instance, an image at 1080x1080 pixels has a 1:1 aspect ratio, meaning for every pixel long, it’s also one pixel wide, producing a square playback frame. This also makes the resolution 1080p.

The aspect ratio and the resolution are codependent — that is, when you change the aspect ratio, you also change the resolution, and vice versa. A video meant to be played in a 4:3 aspect ratio, for example, would appear stretched and distorted if converted to 16:9.

You can determine your video’s aspect ratio in camera, before you start recording, or change it in post-production. Here are the three most common aspect ratios:

  • 1:1. At this aspect ratio, your video frame appears as a perfect square. For mobile playback, the YouTube app adjusts your video frame to fit any aspect ratio. However, when viewed on desktop, YouTube adds black bars around a 1:1 video to fill in the rest of the open frame.
  • 4:3. The traditional TV display standard, a 4:3 aspect ratio means the video frame is 4 units of width for every 3 units of height. A 4:3 aspect ratio means you’ll have black bars filling the exposed space on desktop, though your mobile playback will adapt to fit.
  • 16:9. This is the recommended aspect ratio for YouTube. At 16:9, your videos are widescreen, and occupy the entire YouTube video frame on both desktop and mobile.

Although the YouTube app adjusts the aspect ratio for video playback on mobile, your default thumbnail will contain a blurred, magnified background behind the actual video to fill the 16:9 frame.

Which video format is best for YouTube?

For a high-quality image and small video file size, YouTube recommends uploading your videos in MP4 format with a 16:9 aspect ratio, as well as H.264 video codec and AAC audio codec (types of compression software that transfer image and sound). However YouTube also accepts any of the following video formats:

  • MP4. The most recommended file format for YouTube, this extension represents video files in the MPEG-4 format.
  • MOV. The .mov extension refers to an Apple QuickTime video file format, compatible with both Mac and PC.
  • MPEG PS. While accepted as an online video format, MPEG PS is specifically for HD DVDs.
  • AVI. Invented by Microsoft in 1992, the Audio-Video Interleaved (AVI) format is used for audio and video storage and playback.
  • WMV. The Windows Media Video (.wmv) format provides good compression and small file sizes, making it a popular option for video streaming online.
  • FLV. Used by Adobe Flash Player, this extension has a small file size and is a good choice for online video streaming.
  • WEBM. Developed by Google, this open-source video format is intended for HTML5 streaming, allowing different devices like tablets, iPhones, computers, or smart TVs to play videos online.
  • HEVC. High-Efficiency Video Coding is a high-compression video format and one of the newer types of video formatting that more devices, including the iPhone, have adopted. It allows videos to maintain their quality with less bitrate.
  • 3GPP. 3GPP stands for “3rd Generation Partnership Project,” and the format was specifically created for multimedia recording, sharing, and playback on 3G cell phones.

Essential YouTube guidelines to consider

There are a few guidelines to consider before you take your video content to YouTube. To make publishing your media go as seamlessly as possible, here are a few things to know before uploading videos:

  • Watch your video length. YouTube only allows video uploads that are a maximum of 12 hours long. To prevent upload errors, make sure your video fits within the time limit.
  • Check the file size. The maximum file size for YouTube videos is 256GB. If your video exceeds this, you can use video editing software like Descript or a free online file compressor to make your video smaller — try changing the aspect ratio or reducing the resolution.
  • Use the right frame rate. YouTube supports frame rates, known as frames per second or FPS, between 24 and 60. For videos that require more movement or action, e.g. sports or gaming footage, a higher frame rate is recommended. 60 FPS usually means HD — at least 720p — and is much more effective at motion blur compared to lower frame rates.
  • Avoid violating the terms of service. YouTube may remove videos from its platform if they contain hate speech or vulgar or sensitive images, or infringe on copyrights. Check that your video doesn’t contain any content that could result in its removal.

YouTube video FAQs

  • What happens if I record a video with my phone? You can upload mobile videos through the YouTube app as long as they fall within the size and format limitations. If you record and upload your video vertically, YouTube plays it on mobile in its original aspect ratio. However, on your desktop, it plays in 9:16 and includes black bars on the edges.
  • Why does YouTube take so long to upload my video? The bigger the file, the longer it takes to upload. Your video may also be slower to upload if you have a poor internet connection or if too many other users are trying to upload at the same time.
  • Why does my video resolution look low-quality? Using a bad compressor or converting to the incorrect format can lower the quality of your video. If your video uploaded with no issues but it still doesn’t look right, check the streaming settings by clicking the settings icon on the YouTube player and selecting a better resolution, like 720p or 1080p.
  • How many MB does a video take? The MB (megabyte) size of a video varies depending on the file size and upload quality. But generally speaking, a one-minute video at 480p can take up about 24MB, while an HD video of the same length can take up about 88MB.
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Written by
Written by
Ashley Hamer

Managing Editor at Descript. Musician, podcaster, writer, science nerd.

Descript is a collaborative audio/video editor that works like a doc. It includes transcription, a screen recorder, publishing, and some mind-bendingly useful AI tools.
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Ashley Hamer

Managing Editor at Descript. Musician, podcaster, writer, science nerd.

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