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How to Make YouTube Videos Look Great

Updated on December 24, 2014

Why Do My Videos Look Terrible on YouTube?

The key for YouTube to display your video the best possible way, is to upload the best possible quality video that meets or exceeds their requirements. That is by encoding videos the right way. 

I'll show you a few ways on how to encode, compress or optimize your videos before uploading them to YouTube.

But first, let me tell you why your YouTube videos look awful.

Two Reasons Why

1. Poor Transcoding: In Normal Mode, YouTube converts anything you upload to Flash 7 video (250 kbps) which isn't so great by today's standards. However most installed browsers will play Flash 7.

2. Scaled Up Player: YouTube expands the video for viewing to 480x360 pixels in its website, thus degrading the actual video resolution of 320x240 pixels, namely the video looks softened and sometimes pixelated. It's the same effect when you view a DVD at full screen in your computer. You're not increasing the number of pixels, just spreading them out further.

They made a decision that most users would favor size over quality. They know what they're doing, they're overwhelmingly popular!

High-Quality YouTube Videos

So do you want your videos to look as good as these YouTube videos?

Read more, keep watching and then try my encoding recipes!

Optimizing Your Videos For YouTube

Important Facts on How to Encode Videos

1. Read How To Shoot and Edit Videos For The Web.

2. YouTube (newest) recommended settings are:

  • H.264, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 format
  • 640x480 (SD) or 1280x720 (HD) for 4:3 & 16:9 aspect ratios.
  • Frame rate should be the same as original video
  • Sampling rate: 44.1KHz for MP3/AAC audio

3. Your source video needs to be ideally high resolution. For instance: MOV or AVI file, NTSC 720x480, HDV 1080i, 720p or VGA 640x480.

4. It's very important that you keep an aspect ratio of 4:3 or 16:9, otherwise the quality of your video will be degraded. Flash 7 codec performs best when the frame width and height use multiple of 16. This is optimal for video playback.

5. If you want to fit the player perfectly, encode at these 16:9 resolutions:

1080p: 1920x1080

720p: 1280x720

480p: 854x480

360p: 640x360

240p: 426x240

6. You need to get a high quality video encoder. Keep in mind that most video editing programs such as Apple Final Cut Pro, iMovie, Adobe Premiere Pro, Windows Movie Maker or Sony Vegas, come with an encoding engine so you can export your videos directly from the timeline.

7. YouTube has updated its technology, and now you have the option of watching some videos at a higher quality or in HD 720p Mode. Read YouTube High Definition for more in-depth info.

8. In Hi-Res Mode, YouTube creates 2 new copies of your video:

  • 448x336 pixels, Flash 7 video @ 900Kbps. Audio @ 44.1KHz Mono.
  • 480x360 pixels, H.264 video @ 512Kbps. Audio @ 44.1KHz Stereo.

So now you're ready to watch the tutorials, try my recipe settings and you'll be on your way to optimize the quality of your videos for YouTube.

Compressing Videos for YouTube Tutorials

The following tutorials will give you an idea on how to compress videos for YouTube, but you need to understand that the key is to input the right settings.

Compressing Videos for YouTube Using Sorenson Squeeze - This is my favorite compression tool!

Very user friendly. You can encode your video to the most popular formats in the video industry (H.264, WMV, RM, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MOV, MP3, MP4, SWF, On2 VP6 and Spark FLV) with a variety of codec compression settings. Recommended for intermediate or expert users.

Squeeze is a little bit pricey, although it's worth every cent.

But you can always get a copy for a fraction of its regular price, $500, on eBay. Check it out!

Produce and Convert YouTube Videos


Video Converter Ultimate is an all-in-one DVD Video Converter, by providing you a one stop solution for family video/DVD conversion. You can convert both SD and HD videos to any video format for your portable media player or cell phone including iPod (Classic, Nano and Touch), iPhone, Apple TV, Zune, PSP, Pocket PC, Creative Zen, Archos, and 3GP mobile phones, etc.

Compressing Videos for YouTube Using Sony Vegas 2 - Tutorial

DVD to YouTube Converter

Looking for an easy tool to do the job?

iSofter DVD to YouTube Converter is fast and easy to use DVD to YouTube video converter software. It helps you convert home DV or DVD to YouTube supported video MPEG-4(DivX,XviD) with excellent image and sound quality.

The YouTube converter tool also supports convert VOB to MPEG-4(*.avi). It supports audio formats such as MP3, WMV, M4A.

Free Software for Compressing YouTube Videos - Tutorial

VirtualDub (Free)

Very powerful video capture/processing utility for Windows platforms. Easy to use interface, although compression codec settings are somewhat for knowledgeable compressionists. Recommended for expert users.

VirtualDub or VDub is a very sophisticated encoder for those who have experience with compressing tools. A straight forward approach using Xvid codec.

A Must Read

Real World Video Compression
Real World Video Compression

The book begins by describing the basic concepts of video compression, explains why you might choose a particular compression tool over another, and covers important workflow practices. A valuable learning tool for anyone learning to encode video, whether they are bloggers, DVD authors, video editors, or students.


Convert Your Home Movies Into YouTube Movies - Video Capture Your Analog Movies Into Your Computer

Convert your VHS, S-VHS, Hi8 and 8mm analog tapes to DV into your computer.

The Best Encoding Settings

Coming up next, I will explain to you few techniques, in detail, on how to encode high-quality videos for YouTube. If you follow them correctly, your videos will be greatly improved. Enjoy!

PS: Please let me know how it went with your videos.

Steve Jobs Talks About H.264 Codec

1. Encoding H.264 Videos For YouTube

Tips For The Hardcore Compressionists

If you got to this stage in the article then you are probably pretty serious about getting the best settings and filters compressing videos for YouTube using QuickTime Pro or Sorenson Squeeze.

1. Use H.264 codec, the best MPEG4 codec in the market today.

2. Set Quality to Best and encoding to Multipass.

3. Set key frames to Automatic.

4. Set data rate to Automatic.

5. Uncheck Frame Reordering.

6. Set aspect ratio to 640x480 for NTSC or PAL, or 1280x720 for HD video.

7. Set frame rate same as original video.

8. Set audio compression AAC: 48 KHz, 128 kbps, Constant Bit Rate (CBR) 16 bits, stereo.

9. De-interlace your NTSC or PAL source videos, especially if it's high motion.

10. Apply filters to improve the look of your video: a bright/contrast filter and/or an image sharpening filter.

11. The section Prepare for Internet Streaming must be set to Fast Start.

Remember, all these compression settings are the best compromise between keeping the video smaller than 1GB and keeping as much information as possible from the original video file.

2. Encoding DivX Videos For YouTube

Tips for The Hardcore Compressionists

The best settings and filters compressing videos for YouTube using VirtualDub. Remember VirtualDub is a very sophisticated encoding tool.

1. Buy and install DivX Pro Codec.

2. Open VirtualDub and "Open video file" so it loads into the viewer.

3. From Video menu, choose Compression and it opens a new window. Select video compression: Divx 6.x codec (2 Logical CPUs) and click Configure.

4. Then it opens the Divx Codec Properties which has 3 tabs. Please use this DviX tutorial as reference.

5. On the Main Tab. Set Certification Profile to Unconstrained. Set Encoding Presets to 10. Set Rate Control mode to 1-pass quality-based, and Fixed quantizer to 4. This action will set the bit rate to about 10Mbps.

6. Leave Codec Tab the way it is.

7. On the Video Tab, Set Format In to the appropriate value, depending on your source and Format Out to Square Pixels. Check "No resize or format conversion". Leave everything else as default, since Filters will be used to resize, deinterlace, etc. Click OK twice to close the DivX settings.

8. Now we're ready to apply some filters. From VDub's Video Menu select Filters...Then apply deinterlace filter if your source is NTSC ot PAL video, resize filter to set aspect ratio to 640x480.

9. From VDub's Video Menu select Frame Rate...If your source is 29.97fps or 30fps, set "Frame rate conversion" to No Change. If not, click "Change to 30 frames per second". Leave everything else the same.

10. Install the MP3 codec for VirtualDub LAME MP3 encoder. Once the downloaded file is extracted, select, right click the LameACM.inf file and do Install.

11. From VDub's Audio Menu select "Full processing mode", then select "Compression...". The choose 44.1KHz 128kbs Stereo CBR.

12. Apply other Filters to improve the look of your video: a bright/contrast filter and/or an image sharpening filter.

13. From VDub's File Menu select "Save as AVI" and your source file will be processed.

Remember, all these compression settings are the best compromise between keeping the video smaller than 1GB and keeping as much information as possible from the original video file.

DivX Encoding Example

Watch YouTube Hi-Res version here.

Or watch YouTube Lo-Res version below.

For The Hardcore Video Compressionist

Video Coding for Mobile Communications: Efficiency, Complexity and Resilience (Signal Processing and its Applications)
Video Coding for Mobile Communications: Efficiency, Complexity and Resilience (Signal Processing and its Applications)

This book considers how to enable real-time, mobile video communications by raising coding efficiency, reducing computational complexity, and improving error resilience. The solutions are based on video source coding, and use a motion-based approach to address the problems.


FLV Encoding Example

I compressed the clip below using the techniques described in the previous section. I even added stereo sound, check it out!

By the way, if you are an expert compressionist you can check out the excellent VideoHelp forum to learn how you can improve the quality of your YouTube videos using advanced techniques.

Camtasia Studio Videos - TechSmith Codec into H.264 Codec for YouTube

If you want a better looking Camtasia video, you would need to re-encode it to H.264 or DivX before uploading to YouTube.

Can I Use Similar Settings For Other Video Sharing Sites?

Absolutely. The video compression settings shown above will improve your videos as well on Web 2.0 video sites such as: AOL Video,, Dailymotion, Flurl, Google Video, iFilm, Metacafe, MySpace, Revver, Stage6, Veoh, Vimeo, Yahoo Video, etc.

Thanks for your comments

What Do You Think of My YouTube Encoding Techniques? - Rate this lens, if you don't mind...

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    • profile image

      cageybee 10 years ago

      Good lens. Keep up the good work!

    • MeganCasey profile image

      MeganCasey 10 years ago

      splendid stuff. youtubers, if you stumbled across this lens, you're saving yourself hours of frustration!

    • profile image

      RobertRao 10 years ago

      I never knew about this trick all these while till I viewed this lens. Thank you

    • profile image

      DeWayne-FilmFreak 10 years ago

      This lens is OUTSTANDING! I plan on adding some short films to YouTube and this is fantastic! I do horror movie reviews at, so I realize the importance of having a great looking video! I will definitely implement your YouTube video tips!


      DeWayne H. Strickland

    • CoralMilburnCur profile image

      CoralMilburnCur 10 years ago

      Excellent lens! 5 stars and straight into the favourites! Well done.

      Best wishes


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