What’s The Optimal Bitrate for Encoding YouTube Uploads?

Whats The Optimal Bitrate for Encoding YouTube Uploads?

Almost every day I upload an HD video to one of my YouTube channels, whether it be a vlog, Q&A video, a skit or something else. I really enjoy almost everything about YouTube: the community interaction, editing, the creative outlet it provides, even the weird looks I get when vlogging in public! But the thing I can't stand is that it often takes 2.5 to 3 hours to upload my content. If I export my video from iMovie using the default 720p HD (High-Definition) settings, it takes my approximately 10 minute vlog and creates a file around 750 MB. Since I already have the fastest upload speed that's available at my location (1 Mbps), the only way to decrease my upload time is to lessen the file size.

Encoding my videos to H.264/AAC is already a pretty high compression and is also arguably the current industry standard (unless you ask Google, apparently), but fortunately there's some flexibility within that compression to get an even smaller file size by adjusting the bitrate.

Very simplistically, "bitrate" is the amount of information each frame contains.Whats The Optimal Bitrate for Encoding YouTube Uploads? The higher the bitrate, the more information the video contains, which makes for higher video quality and thus a larger file size. The lower the bitrate, the less information each fame contains and the lower the quality producing a smaller file size. Bitrate is measured by the number of bits per second.

My Un-Scientific Quest for the Optimal Bitrate for YouTube:

Since most of my videos are uploaded to YouTube in 720p HD, I wanted to know the maximum bitrate they use to encode my video. If I give YouTube a file encoded at ~10 MbpsWhats The Optimal Bitrate for Encoding YouTube Uploads? and it re-encoded it to 2Mbps, then I knew I could reduce the bitrate when I encode my video and upload something smaller and likely still get the same result.

For my unscientific tests, I downloaded the MP4 of many 720p HD videos from YouTube across many different users and channels. I also downloaded their FLV counterparts, which were actually 854×480 high quality videos, not true 720p HD. Since I don't know if Google plays with their encoding settings from time to time, I only checked videos that were newer than one week. I used VLC to monitor the variable bitrate peaks and Mac's "Get Info" to check the video file property's total bitrate.

Here's what I found:

Maximum Playback Bitrates on YouTube

  • FLV HQ: 1.5 Mbit/s (variable bitrate with peaks of 3.0 Mbps)
  • MP4 720p: 4.0 Mbit/s (variable bitrate with peaks of 5.0 Mbps)
  • MP4 1080p: 8.0 Mbit/s (variable bitrate with peaks of 10.0 Mbps)

This tells me that encoding my videos at 10 Mbps for YouTube is definitely overkill. Since it's usually a good idea to encode with some overhead and give YouTube a higher quality video than it will produce.

My New YouTube Video Encoding Parameters

I started giving YouTube 720p H.264/AAC files with the video encoded at 5.0 Mbps and the audio encoded at 256 Kbps.

Whats The Optimal Bitrate for Encoding YouTube Uploads?

I'm exporting my videos with Quicktime and to save time, I've only been exporting with a single-pass encoding because I can't see a noticeable difference between single and dual-pass encoding. I'm using a Flip and a Canon HF100, fairly low-end cameras, so their image reproduction isn't high enough quality enough to show much of a difference. If I end up upgrading to a Canon 60D or 7D, the extra time dual-pass encoding takes will be worth it.

The Results?

With this I am able to encode files to approximately half the size I was previously getting from iMovie's defaults.  It seems that the files still result with the same quality on YouTube as my 10 Mbps videos did and now my uploads also only take half the time.  Although, I still wish I could boost my upload speed to something faster than 1 Mbps.

Here's an example of a video I uploaded last month using 5 mbps encoding:

What do you think? Is there an optimal bitrate that you've found (perhaps with a more "scientific" approach)?

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Posted in Youtube Marketing
About Our Contributing Author - Tim Schmoyer
Tim Schmoyer blogs at Life In Student Ministry where he often shares what he's learning about online video as a communication and engagement tool. You can see some of his videos on his YouTube Vlog Channel and his new YouTube Student Ministry Channel.

Tim Schmoyer is the host of ReelSEO's Creator's Tip and the author of "30 Days to a Better YouTube Channel". You can see some of his personal videos on his Family Vlog Channel. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • http://twitter.com/BrandedChannels Richard vd Boogaard

    The bit rate you need depends to a great deal on how much motion you have in your footage. Motion = moving pixels which needs to be described within the available bandwidth. The more room there is for storage (i.e. a higher bitrate), the more fluid the motion will be.

    If you have more moving parts than available storage information, you'll get blocky results. A good example is a huge crowd all moving at the same time or rippling water.

    It would be great if YouTube would allow you to encode in such a way that their system merely checks if it meets their standards and, if it does, leave the file alone — i.e. no further transcoding. In fact, YouTube could help us by creating Pre-sets for popular NLE's such as Final Cut, Avid, Adobe CS5 and perhaps even iMovie.

    • http://timschmoyer.com/ Tim Schmoyer

      Right, but higher bitrates means larger files sizes, which means longer buffering times. When YouTube transcodes a video, they need to find that happy medium. My 720p 10/mbps video would perform terribly on slower connections if left unmodified. That's partly why YouTube transcodes videos to various bitrates and resolutions (240p, 360p, 480p, 720p, 1080p).

  • jamesconnell

    A couple of thoughts, first it is important to realize that ideally to create great quality video for the web, you must encode from an original file not a copy transcoded into a lossy codec like any of those intended for web delivery like, h264, MP4, IPv6, WMV etc. However, with youtube this is not possible. One must transcode to one of these type of formats in order to upload to youtube. They then re-encode. If quality is really important, then you want to feed youtube something that is a close as possible to the original. An h264 as a .mov or .mp4 gives you the best opportunity to do that. However, you still should encode at high bitrate to give youtube a "quasi" original file in terms of quality. Encoding at 5 Mbits on a 720p file is not going to give you the cleanest end result. You can test this theory by encoding a 4 Mbit 720p file from the original source and from a 5 Mbit intermediate file. Compare the two, the difference will be obvious. Then create an 8 or ten Mbit intermediate version to encode your 4 bit file from and compare.

    I agree that it is frustrating to wait for the upload times but, if you have pristine source footage and quality is critical you must allow the time. Otherwise, a lower bitrate like 5 Mbit for a 720p file is ok. Also, it is very important to make sure your frame rate is not above 30fps (29.97), A lot of 720p video is 60fps. If you leave your frame rate at 60fps when creating the file to upload to youtube you have lost have of your efficiency. In other words a 10 Mbit 60fps 720P files will yield the same quality as a 5 Mbit 30 fps 720p file on youtube. Youtube has a maximum frame rate of 30 fps.

    Secondly, I agree with Richard vd Boogaard it would be great if youtube allowed users to create files that meet their specifications and upload with out them getting transcoded. I doubt they will ever do this because the serve in many resolutions and in two file type formats. They will probably add more in the future. This makes is too much of a mess to have users creating 5 or more files for each upload.

    Here are two videos I shoot and uploaded in 1080p 24fps at 20 Mbits. Very good quality for Youtube.

    • http://timschmoyer.com/ Tim Schmoyer

      Great comment! Very helpful, and you are absolutely right — give YouTube the highest possible quality video in order to have the best results, especially if you're shooting with a DSLR or something similar. However, when I upload a 10 mbps and a 5 mbps version of the same video, YouTube is going to transcode them both to ~4 mbps anyway. As far as I can tell, there is no visible difference in the 10 mbps vs the 5 mbps when viewed on YouTube. So if time spent uploading is a big deal or someone is on a slow connection, might as well just upload a 5 mbps version.

      • loginerror

        I was testing this yesterday. Here are two videos rendered in 1280x720x30 with:
        5Mbps – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDwwvSMrSJY
        20Mbps – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4rB714WEog
        Both ended up as 100 MB files with bitrate around 3Mbps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/williamjcaulfield William Caulfield

    Archival quality in H.264 for me is 50Mbs at 1080p. That's assuming all key frames.

    For YouTube, Google,Vevo, and etc., we go to 5000Kbs for standard def, 15Mbs for 720p and 25Mbs for 1080p.

    Of course, your problem is your upload speed. In your situation I wouldn't go below 10Mbs for the 720p. If I had to, I would use a 2 pass encode.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.c.gilbert.1 Andrew Carl Gilbert

      Hi yes. I have 26mbps avchd raw footage that is 1080p 60i(30fps). I encoded the raw .mts files as an adobe premiere 5.5 project as – Mpeg2 with 27mbps max 22mbps min and target of 26mbps. It plays amazing well on any computer that runs 1080p as well as blu-ray dvd players(Flash Drive). I upload this as a Mpeg2 to youtube and I find motion lag where I don't see it otherwise which especially sucks when I'm trying to speed up or slow down time etc. What is my best option for video footage of this form. The camera also does 32mbps 60p(59.94fps) as well so it is a great camera. I just want youtube to see what I see. Thank you for your time and help :D. Give me Suggestions.

  • http://www.brandlegal.co.uk/ Brand Legal

    There is a saying GIGO i.e garbage in garbage out. And it is possible to give YouTube footage shot at 60fps and encoded at 30fps, confusing and cant quite remember how it was done but it all seems quite good when trialled and got file size down to about 12 MB for a 1.5 minute clip even audio was relatively decent in terms of timing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000756905218 Hisham Taha

    thnx bro

  • anahouni

    The 5000 kbPs is being wasted for nothing; Viewer with the best Connection On Planet Earth , Will get Youtube @ Max 720P with 16:9 Video,–> 2400 KbPs @ 30Fps ; So Save time encoding & uploading by encoding at 2400 Max

  • anahouni

    Since Now There is 1080P on Youtube:Max 1080P with 16:9 Video,–> 5200 KbPs @ 30Fps

  • anahouni

    William Caulfield : WHere are uou getting these numbers from? 50Mbs at 1080p? how many people have this connection speed??

  • Max

    @anahouni

    hi there, the connection speed is not a variable on the video quality bitrate because in slow connection you may have to wait the cache have enough to play the video without drops.

    so, you can watch a 5000 KbPs video with a 56k connection but will hve to wait an hour to cache the vide heheh.

    thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626091044 Axel Buron

    Thanks for this, I'm gonna try using 5 right now.

  • mkozal

    http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/static.py?page=guide.cs&guide=1728585&topic=1728573

  • Joey van der Veer

    Thanks alot dude this helped me out alot as I was tweaking with the (huge amount of) settings and this gave me some grasp of what is overkill (10+mbps).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659693892 Martin Philbrick

    I also did lots of test uploads, I tried 1, 5 and 10 in 1080p and then took full screen shots to compare them. Even zoomed right in I couldn't see any difference between 1, 5 and 10. So I came to the same conclusion that 5 is the best!

    • Josh

      No offence but what was the point in doing the test? Your conclusion is ignoring your results. Obviously 1 Mbps is the best because it was the smallest size without any visual difference.

  • EricBooth

    Thanks for this. I've been doing it ALL WRONG. Holy cow. No more years waiting to upload. 

  • MikeDavis

    Actually you can get by with 2.5 still 720p

  • djroonie2000

    I use Freemake video conveter and select MP4  720P and it automaticaly sets the bitrate to 4600. When i upload to Youtube they come out as 720p HD and quite small files.

  • NickJames

    Hmm interesting that youtube puts 1080p at such a high bitrate. I shoot with a Canon 7D and over the years have also quested for the best bit rate for youtube..
     
    I've discovered that with h264, one can actually drop the bitrate considerably. Here are my findings:
     
    1: Always use a variable bitrate, simpler videos with plain backgrounds wont waste unnecessary bit rate
    2: encode to mp4 container, and drop your key frames to a high number (i use every 300th frame) this prevents youtube from creating too many thumbnails for your video, allowing it to stream bit quicker
    3: upload your highest resolution copy, you tube will down convert anyway
    4: always keep the framerate the same as the original file
    5: always make sure the aspect ratio when you set frame size is right, so that you don't get unnecessary black bars. keep the 'constrain proportions' box checked.. or use a calculator.
     
    1080p – 1.5 mbps target bitrate (max 3) is not too bad, especially for plain, still video's. If occasional blocky artifacts concern you, or your video contains lots of action, you can push the target to 2.5mbps, I dont feel you need to go higher, but if you have good upload speeds, or your video looks fantastic and is worth a wait to load, push it a bit higher, 5mbps is overkill though and will make the video stream a lot slower. 
     
    720p – 1.5mbps generally, push it to 2mbps if it has action.. generally the same answer as above
     
    480p – there is NO reason to go higher than 1mbps VBR ever
     
    360p – 0.7 mbps will look good and artifacts will be comparable to the 720p (half the frame size, half the bitrate) if youre encoding at this quality it's fair to assume your video quality probably isnt that great anyway, and viewers wont be expecting anything fantastic, If that is the case, go ahead and crush that bit rate.. 0.5 mbps is probably still fine, 0.4 even.. and will stream FAST for viewers :D
     
    for the sound side, generally speaking mp3, 128kbps stereo is the way to go. If you didn't mix stereo in your edit,  64 kbps mono will produce the same quality and shave a meg or two off the file size. If its instructional and with no epic SFX and music, 64kbps mono or 96kbps stereo is FINE. but hey, if u are a stickler for quality go 196kbps stereo, it will only cost a MB or so more anyway. sound is small.
     
    ps:
    apple tv, itunes and iphones like m4v files. These are basically mp4′s renamed to m4v. To guarantee compatibility, set your mp4 conversion for 'ipod' streamability, that way you can just rename the file and it will be great for itunes without having to export another copy.
     
    DONT FORGET: mp4′s are metadata friendly, so go ahead and embed keywords, author credit, copywrites and websites and episode numbering etc into your file.. they will show up on itunes and possibly in google searches. You can even embed a picture.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.c.gilbert.1 Andrew Carl Gilbert

      Does the Flash video encoder that youtube uses to create it's mp4′s prefer a frame rate of 30fps instead of 29.97 is that what I'm doing wrong cause it looks good as an mpeg maybe it's a frame rate conversion to 30fps that's messing me up?

  • EricBooth

    Thanks for this. I've been doing it ALL WRONG. Holy cow. No more years waiting to upload. 

  • MikeDavis

    Actually you can get by with 2.5 still 720p

  • djroonie2000

    I use Freemake video conveter and select MP4  720P and it automaticaly sets the bitrate to 4600. When i upload to Youtube they come out as 720p HD and quite small files.

  • NickJames

    Hmm interesting that youtube puts 1080p at such a high bitrate. I shoot with a Canon 7D and over the years have also quested for the best bit rate for youtube..
     
    I've discovered that with h264, one can actually drop the bitrate considerably. Here are my findings:
     
    1: Always use a variable bitrate, simpler videos with plain backgrounds wont waste unnecessary bit rate
    2: encode to mp4 container, and drop your key frames to a high number (i use every 300th frame) this prevents youtube from creating too many thumbnails for your video, allowing it to stream bit quicker
    3: upload your highest resolution copy, you tube will down convert anyway
    4: always keep the framerate the same as the original file
    5: always make sure the aspect ratio when you set frame size is right, so that you don't get unnecessary black bars. keep the 'constrain proportions' box checked.. or use a calculator.
     
    1080p – 1.5 mbps target bitrate (max 3) is not too bad, especially for plain, still video's. If occasional blocky artifacts concern you, or your video contains lots of action, you can push the target to 2.5mbps, I dont feel you need to go higher, but if you have good upload speeds, or your video looks fantastic and is worth a wait to load, push it a bit higher, 5mbps is overkill though and will make the video stream a lot slower. 
     
    720p – 1.5mbps generally, push it to 2mbps if it has action.. generally the same answer as above
     
    480p – there is NO reason to go higher than 1mbps VBR ever
     
    360p – 0.7 mbps will look good and artifacts will be comparable to the 720p (half the frame size, half the bitrate) if youre encoding at this quality it's fair to assume your video quality probably isnt that great anyway, and viewers wont be expecting anything fantastic, If that is the case, go ahead and crush that bit rate.. 0.5 mbps is probably still fine, 0.4 even.. and will stream FAST for viewers :D
     
    for the sound side, generally speaking mp3, 128kbps stereo is the way to go. If you didn't mix stereo in your edit,  64 kbps mono will produce the same quality and shave a meg or two off the file size. If its instructional and with no epic SFX and music, 64kbps mono or 96kbps stereo is FINE. but hey, if u are a stickler for quality go 196kbps stereo, it will only cost a MB or so more anyway. sound is small.
     
    ps:
    apple tv, itunes and iphones like m4v files. These are basically mp4′s renamed to m4v. To guarantee compatibility, set your mp4 conversion for 'ipod' streamability, that way you can just rename the file and it will be great for itunes without having to export another copy.
     
    DONT FORGET: mp4′s are metadata friendly, so go ahead and embed keywords, author credit, copywrites and websites and episode numbering etc into your file.. they will show up on itunes and possibly in google searches. You can even embed a picture.

    • octium8

       @NickJames 
      Hey Nick
       
      Wow! What a great comment!
      I learned alot from it as well as from the article herein itslef.
       
      ANd here comes the question.
      This may be a tiny bit off topic but, how do you upload to iTune?
      Haven't found a way to create an account/channel on there.
      Any suggestions would be highly appreciated
       
      Thank you

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.c.gilbert.1 Andrew Carl Gilbert

      You encode videos to 2.5 mbps or less that are 1080p 30fps. Doesn't that make them not look good ? Currently all my 1080p 29.97 drop frame footage is ending up choppy at 26mbps and it's still choppy when it hits youtube converting it to 5-6mbps what gives. Should I be encoding with h.264 and lowering all the stupid max and min and target outputs by hand to a max of 7 maybe min of 4 target of 6?. What am I a camel?. I am already seeing it not look as amazing with a max of 16 :<. But anyways please tell me how to get the smoothest avchd footage encoding with premiere or whatever you use. Please and thank you :D.

    • AceStar

      All your recommended bitrates are *very* low. They are understandable if your bandwidth is severely limited, but seriously, you can't see a difference about 1mbps for 480p? In anyone's book that is a seriously low bitrate, as is 1500mbps for 1080p. That's for dire low-bandwidth situations only, surely.

      My take (all for h.264):

      1080p: Good ~8000kbps, Very good ~15000kbps, Archival 50000-90000kbps
      720p: Good ~5000kbps, Very good ~11000kbps, Archival 35000-90000kbps
      480p: Good ~2400kbps, Very good ~5000kbps, Archival 25000-45000kbps

      YouTube needs to be pretty conservative with bandwidth for obvious reasons, so its bitrates are on the lower end of my above scale (around "Good" or even slightly lower).

      Of course it highly depends on content. Hollywood movie may look better at half the bitrate than sporting coverage. Using a constant quality mode rather than constant bitrate mode is often a good idea (though not so much in streaming applications).

  • octium8

    Hello
     
    EXCELLENT post.
     
    I noticed in some of the comments that some people in here are using DSLR's to record their videos.
    My question addresses this aspect. Can you record more then 5 minute (at highest quality) on a DSLR?
    What if I want to record a lecture? Can I do that with a DSLR?
     
    Thank you

    • http://twitter.com/December_Sun Ines Perković

      A Nikon D800 records 20 minutes at highest quality before it stops. Then, you can record again for another 20 minutes and so on, depending on your memory card.

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