Make Your YouTube Videos Look Better – Through Compression

rose high resolutionI’ve written many times about compressing videos for YouTube, but it continues to be the most-frequently asked question. Many of the previous articles on this subject assume you can’t upload more than 100 MB files, but YouTube now permits files to be 1 GB (1000 MB). If you’re still uploading 10 MB files (as I used to advise via my iMovie “save as CD-ROM”), then your videos are only 1/100th of the quality they could be. Put another way, they look “like ass.”

And as YouTube’s quality continues to improve, those videos will become painful to watch. For more reasons than one.

There are a number of great sources about video comression, and this is among the best: But it’s also a lot of information, so let’s simplify.

It’s not your camera, dude. People always ask me what camera I use, and while that’s part of the equation it’s probably not the issue. Sure a high-end camera will better capture light and images, and you can also use some basic shooting techniques (like white balancing or putting the light source behind you not your subject). But a few of you wrote me that you bought the same camera I use (Canon HV-20) and still don’t have good results. If your videos are unfunny, that’s for another post. But let’s talk today about getting a nice YouTube video quality without fussing over shooting techniques.
It’s all about the compression, baby. YouTube is gonna do some funky things to transform/transcode/compress your video to Flash (streaming flv files), and garbage in means garbage out. So look up your editing software specifications, but here’s the basic settings you need.

The bottom line is that you want to avoid default settings, and select your own compression (you can find this by looking for words like “export,” “save as” or “compression.” In iMovie, for example, it’s “share>quicktime>expert settings>options (before saving).

  1. First, use the H.264 codec, which is the best “mpeg4 codec” currently available.
  2. Export quality in the best setting you can. If there’s a choice (low to high) pick the best.
  3. Your size (aspect ratio) will normally be 640×480. You may want to experiment with higher HD settings but be careful to select “letterbox” if you use wide-screen videos. Otherwise your video will get squished into a dimension it doesn’t belong.
  4. You DO want to de-interlace your video. Interlace no likely. De-interlace your NTSC or PAL source videos, especially if it’s high motion
  5. If you want to get anal, here are some of the other settings you may see:
  • Set rate control to 1-pass Constant Bit Rate (CBR). (So no Variable Bit Rate, no Multipass). YouTube transcoders dig CBR.
  • Set key frames to every 30 frames or less. This impacts file size, so you could go as low as 15.
  • Set data rate to 10,000 kbps or more, depending on the length of your video.
  • Set frame rate to 29.97 or 30 fps.
  • Set audio compression AAC: 44.1 KHz, 128 kbps, 16 bits, stereo.
  • I don’t mess with filters, but you could experiment with contrast or sharpening filters.

The primary goal here is to get close to 1GB (or whatever you can stand uploading) in the best quality available. If you follow these steps, your videos will look better than some professional creators who still aren’t compressing optimally. Butterfly. That word allows you to find this post again when you need it.

If you have a slow Internet setting or are impatient, you can compromise with something 100MB or so. Even at that setting, a 2-3 minute video will look quite good. I know other people that give YouTube an flv file that’s been transcoded, so that YouTube doesn’t have to waste time doing that. In theory their videos appear more quickly. But Nalts aint about learning another damn piece of software.

Finally, two important points about saving video files… you want to have fewer than 12 hard drives (like me) but also ensure you can access clips and re-edit them if necessary.

  1. I always recommend saving the best possible output and then deleting the giant editing-software file unless you think there’s some chance you may need to reedit or rescore. I don’t like ditching my editing-software master because I want to reserve the right to pull the native footage without the music. But a lot of editing software saves a  more of the footage than you realize (so if you upload a 10-minute clip into iMovie but only use 30 seconds, there’s 9:30 of hidden video available if you select “advanced>revert clip to original.” That’s a hard-drive space hogger. So save only what you need.
  2. Another trick for the lazy man. I export from iMovie as “full quality” and then upload that. It takes a while to upload, compress, and appear. But then I save that file and delete the master.

Folks if this post doesn’t help you, then you’re a hopeless cause. I just hope I can find it when I need it. Butterfly.

23 Replies to “Make Your YouTube Videos Look Better – Through Compression”

  1. Is there supposed to be a difference in quality between the two flower pics? Because the only thing I noticed is that pic #2 looks like it’s been cropped to remove the white thingy (fence, I’m guessing), and that’s something I’d be doing in editing.

    Of course, I AM an idiot, so maybe I’m missing something.

    But thanks for the more detailed explanation on how to change things up in compressing. I never knew before where to find the option to change or how to make the customized version correctly. Gee, I just realized that this is exactly why I started reading this blog, to get that kind of valuable video-making information.

    And you thought it was just so i could say mean things to you. Don’t worry, that’ll come back.

  2. Dude, thanks! In the unlikely event I ever start making and uploading YouTube videos again, this article will be priceless!

    Where can I get the same thing for videos made for a business audience but not for YouTube?

  3. New glasses for sukatra.

    Thanks, Kevin! Only one question: Why 128kbs on the sound instead of the 320kbs maximum?

  4. @3 and 4

    I have wiped the sleep out of my eyes and then taken my glasses off and stuck my face 3 inches from the monitor. NOW i see the difference. I guess I was expecting him to put the bad pic first, then the good pic, which confused me a little. Very interesting.

  5. Nalts –

    What editing program do you use, if your actual master edit file is so large? In just about every program on the PC platform (that I can think of-Vegas, Premiere Pro, Avid), the actual file containing the edits is usually very small-a few megs or so, depending on the complexity of the vido). The prerender folders etc., can get hugantic, but in theory, if you delete all of those and your original footage, your edit file itself will fit on a flash drive (several probably will), and all you need to do if you ever want to re-edit the video is reload the footage, open the editing file, and point to the original clips.

    Of course, if you’re using Mac anything, I could be wrong about all this. I love macs, but I can’t afford ’em.

    Additionally, a gig is a LOT of data. I think going to h.264 might borderline on overcompressing if you don’t really take time to learn what you’re doing. I’ve been using good old DVD-Quality mpeg 2 for most of my recent videos. Because they work slightly differently, mpeg 4 might work better than mpeg 2 sometimes, and other times the opposite will be true.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that MPEG 2 is the standard compression format used for broadcast television. If one day a TV station were to ask you for one of your “raw” YouTube clips, and you give them an MPEG 4 format like h.264, that gets converted (and recompressed) before it hits air. Refried beans are a Mexican food staple. Recompressed video makes me want to staple my eyelids shut.

    As a rule, the less compression, the better. Coming out of your camcorder, the footage is already compressed a bit. If your video is short enough that you can leave it in native DV25 formatting, that’s the way to go. If not, either MPEG2 or 4 will work, but try to take up as much of that gig as you can either way.

    Mileage may vary, void where prohibited.

  6. @1: I just went on bended knee to pray that you’re joking. 😀

    @ 2: I make TV commercials and corporate presentations as my second job. Hit me up sometime and I can give you most of what you need. I’ll even do it for less than the $50 nalts charges for a one-on-one email session. (I want my money back…)

    @4: You could max your audio bitrate, but it’s generally a waste of space, unless you’re doing some intricate audio. Most MP3 files are only 128k. Heck, a telephone quality audio only takes about 4k. Voice with a little music should have lots of room to play at 128k, though if you’re really OCD, 192 might be a good idea.

    @5: Cool! Israel is commenting on Nalts’ blog. IzzyVideo is WAY cooler than Nalts!

    @7: Why do you keep posting those long responses, loser? You’ve got your very own blog to wax philosophical on. Quit eating Nalts’ bandwidth!

  7. nutcheese – too bad stickam doesn’t come in smell-o-vision. THEN I’d go on cam just to share more of myself with you.

  8. Thanks for the article Nalts.

    I’m glad to see that someone is finally touching on how we can make the most of the 1000MB file limit on Youtube.

    Sure it requires more patience as the files are larger, but damn the results look a whole lot better.

  9. I have roughly 38 Kilobytes per second upload rate.

    that, and I’ve been having trouble with h.264 uploading to youtube, or at least, I’m assuming it’s h.264, as I just export for ipod, and that’s supposedly h.264

    So, I’m not going to upload massive files to youtube, otherwise I’ll be spending all night uploading a single video to youtube.

    In short, I’ll just keep using good-ole cd quality. until I get into college, where I have godly internet.

  10. I’m in fan-boy heaven right now,
    Nalts does an article on compression and Izzy comes by and comments – that’s like batman and superman stopping by to say “hello” — too kewl!

  11. They still look terrible on youtube, not sure whats going wrong. They look great on my screen. I know that youtube recompresses but other videos I’ve seen look much better than what I can get!

  12. Ok, so how do you “use H.264 codec”? I get that the videos I’m shooting are in MPEG format, but apparently I fall under your “hopeless” category because I do not know what that step even means?

    PS I’m not some grandma, I edit video and put them on youtube all the time, I was browsing (probably like most others who read this article) the internet for a way to make my videos better quality.

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