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How to Compress Videos for YouTube

Updated on May 25, 2013

If you're looking for a way to save time uploading to YouTube or a good way to compress your video files, here's two different workflows, one for Sony Vegas and one for Adobe's Media Encoder (Premiere or After Effects).


What You Should Know Before Compressing

If you're not too familiar with compressing, there's a few important things you should know.

Compressing a file reduces the size and also reduces the quality. For the best archiving methods, you should keep a copy of your file in lossless format and one that is compressed. That way you have the original in full quality if you ever need to covert it or send a high quality file. You don't want to convert an already compressed file, as the compression will lost more information and lose quality more quickly.

Compressing actually reduces the color nuances of the video, the difference of light and any information and detail that can be removed. Depending if you use a two-pass or one pass compressor, the differences can vary between frames or can be applied to the video as a whole.

Different compression formats and codecs will compress files differently. The one that is most preferred is h.264 for sending files over the internet or to streaming websites.

What file container do you prefer?

See results

Containers vs. Codecs

Video files can be transmitted and saved in a number of formats. The container of file or file extension (.avi/.mov/.mp4) can be used with multiple codecs or compressors (h.264/Xvid/ProRes).

The codec that you use is more important than the specific container you use, but every website, festival and person has their own preference when it comes to favorite container and codec type.

Lossless Avi export settings for Sony Vegas.
Lossless Avi export settings for Sony Vegas. | Source

Sony Vegas Workflow

Rendering "Exporting" from Sony Vegas

I like to render a lossless copy of my video out of Vegas and then use another program to compress it to h.264. I find that the rendering capabilities of Vegas are slower than using another program, and I also like to keep a copy of my video file in a lossless state in case I ever need to re-compress it into a different format.

Since I'm working on a windows machine, I render my video as an AVI with the codec Huffy (which is a lossless codec). The file size does end up being giant, but before I upload it to YouTube, I'll compress it down.

As far as specific settings, it doesn't really matter. I like to keep my full resolution and export as a good quality audio file format (PCM 16-bit Uncompressed).

Easy h.264 Gui
Easy h.264 Gui | Source

Compressing the Uncompressed File to H.264

For this step, I have found a handy and very easy program called "Easy h.264" It was created by Tweevo and works like a charm. It is a freeware and you can download it from here.

As I said before, this program is super easy. All you need to do is click on the select button under video file, select your file. Then click on the select button under output, type in where you want to save your file and the name. Make sure the frame rate is correct and choose from any of the presets.

Then just hit Start Converting and you're all set!

Note: If you're using 1080p footage, you can select Extreme+720p and it'll output as a compressed 1080p file.

Uploading to YouTube

The final step is just to uplaod your compressed .mp4 you got from using Easy h.264. That's it!

Exporting for YouTube from Media Encoder
Exporting for YouTube from Media Encoder | Source

Premiere or After Effects (Media Encoder) Workflow

For your Adobe products, you'll be using the built in media encoder from Adobe.

First off, I usually will render out an uncompressed file so that I had a high quality file of my video in lossless format. After I have that, I'll render out a MPEG-4 (.mp4) for YouTube.

Rendering in Media Encoder

  1. After you've finished your video, from the drop down menu under "Format" select h.264. This will set you video to render with the h.264 codec into a .mp4 container.
  2. From the presets select the "YouTube Widescreen HD" or if you have a standard definition video file, select the SD version.
  3. This should set up your project, we just need to change a couple of audio settings. Under the Audio tab, change the Frequency to 48K and bitrate settings to 320.
  4. Check the preview of your video file to make sure the resolution is right and the frame rate is okay. After checking, hit render.

Upload to YouTube

After your video is done rendering you're ready to upload to YouTube!

YouTube Help Center

You can find YouTube's recommended Settings from YouTube's Help Center here.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Quality Test OneQuality Test TwoQuality Test Three
Quality Test One
Quality Test One | Source
Quality Test Two
Quality Test Two | Source
Quality Test Three
Quality Test Three | Source

Improving Render Quality

Rendering different kinds of video (such as animation vs. life action) will yield different results. If you're unhappy with your rendering and how it's turning out, try increasing the bit rate in your render settings.

Render Quality Tips

It's better to upload a larger file since YouTube will recompress with their own compressor when you upload.

Do a few different tests playing around with the bitrate and quality settings. Find the balance for your videos between size and upload time.

To read more about rendering tests, you can reference the sections in this article I wrote the talks about quality tests here: Improving Quality by Testing Render Settings


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    • noellenichols profile image

      Noelle 4 years ago from Denver

      @Ceres - I always enjoy knowing how things work. That way you know what's happening to your file and can determine what's more important to you - a lower file size or better quality. Thanks for the great comment!

    • noellenichols profile image

      Noelle 4 years ago from Denver

      @CyberShelley I'm glad you found it helpful!

    • noellenichols profile image

      Noelle 4 years ago from Denver

      @Arturo I'm glad you found this hub helpful. Knowing how to compress videos is such an important part of editing a video for YouTube.

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Once again, lots of good information! Voted up!!

    • Ceres Schwarz profile image

      Ceres Schwarz 4 years ago

      This is a very useful and helpful hub for all those wondering how to compress videos for YouTube. It's good that you gave an explanation on what compressing is and what it does to videos so people will know that they also reduce the video's quality aside from its size.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 4 years ago

      YouTube is such a powerful source of entertainment, learning and adding value to one's site - thank you for the great Hub. Up, interesting and useful

    • Arturo G. profile image

      Arturo G. 4 years ago

      Great Hub! I tried forever to find a good video on this subject and I couldn't find one when I was trying to edit a video I wanted to add on Youtube. Lot's of great tips.