YouTube 4K Vs 1080p

In what might seem like something of a contradiction, 1080p has, for a few years now, been considered both the bare minimum and the peak of quality for YouTube videos. Brought about mainly by the plummeting costs of hardware capable of recording in 1080p, it is generally considered inexcusable to upload a video at a lower resolution.

But at the same time, so few people are viewing YouTube at a higher resolution than 1080p that it becomes impractical to move to something more.

But something more is on the table, of course. 4K video has arrived, and its popularity is growing. But how does 4K compare to our old friend, 1080p? And what does it mean for the future of YouTube?

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What is Resolution?

Let’s start with a crash course in the basics. Both 1080p and 4K are resolutions. Resolution—in the context of displays, such as your phone screen, or computer monitor—is the number of pixels that screen can fit. A pixel is a tiny dot of light that represents the smallest thing that can be drawn on the screen.

The larger the resolution, the more detail you can fit on your screen. Think of it in terms of trying to create a picture using a fine pencil vs using a broad paintbrush, but both are on the same size canvas. You can get considerably more detail into your picture with a fine-tipped pencil.

1080p, also known as “Full HD”, has been the standard resolution for monitors and televisions for a number of years now, and we’ve come to expect it as a minimum. Many people who mostly grew up around 1080p are shocked the first time they see 480p—the resolution that televisions used to display.

4K, so-called because it has nearly 4,000 horizontal pixels (it also has exactly 4x the number of pixels as 1080p, but that is just a coincidence), is next standard that television manufacturers are hanging their hat on.

There are resolutions in between the two—2K is a thing, for example—but it is 4K that has been picked to succeed 1080p as the standard.

What is the Difference Between 1080p and 4K

Let’s start with the resolution since we’ve just explained what that is. 1080p is 1920×1080. That’s 1920 pixels across and 1080 pixels down, and it is the 1080 pixels down that gives this resolution its name. The “p” stands for “progressive scan”, which means all the horizontal lines of the pixels are drawn in sequence.

This an alternative to interlaced video, where every other line is drawn first followed by the remaining lines to give the impression of a higher framerate. Smaller resolutions are also labelled this way, with 720p and 480p being the main two resolutions below 1080p that you will find in televisions.

Let’s just briefly touch on aspect ratios. This is the relative size of the horizontal edge of the display vs the vertical. So for a 4:3 display, there will be four horizontal pixels for every three vertical pixels. This is relevant because it is possible to have a 1080p display that is considerably wider than 1920 pixels across. For the purposes of this post, however, we’re going to be referring to 16:9 aspect ratios unless otherwise stated, as that is the most common ratio found in televisions and monitors. Now, about 4K.

4K, on the other hand, is 3840×2160. If you’re wondering why it is not labelled 2160p, it’s purely a market thing. “4K” sounds cooler. There is a commonly used resolution (in PC monitors, not televisions) in between 1080p and 4K, which goes by both 1440p and 2K, depending on the mood of the person talking about it.

The numbers tend not to look too impressive when laid out as horizontal and vertical counts, but when you total up the number of pixels on screen, the difference is a little more apparent. A 1080p screen holds 2,073,600 pixels. That’s a lot of pixels. However, a 4K display holds 8,294,400 pixels.

That’s quite a difference.

In terms of direct differences, that’s about the start and end of it. However, there are further differences that come as a natural result of that difference in resolution. For one thing, the bandwidth needed to stream 4K content is considerably higher than that of 1080p, something that is particularly relevant when we’re talking about YouTube 4K Vs 1080p. The amount scales as you’d expect. Where 1080p requires somewhere between 8-12 Mbps to stream, 4K requires 40-70 Mbps. This is particularly important for the next section.

Another difference due to the increased size of the video is the computing power it takes to edit 4K content. Video editing is an intensive process at the best of times, and making that video 4x bigger requires a capable machine.

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4K Compression

Compression is a complicated topic that would take a post the size of this one all of its own and probably still not do the subject matter justice.

To simplify it down to something we can fit in one section, it involves replacing repetitive information with more efficient ways of storing that information. For example, if the top row of pixels in a 4K picture is entirely black, that’s 3,840 pixels-worth of information, but each pixel is identical.

Rather than storing every single pixel, a compression algorithm might store data for the first of those pixels that include the colour, but then it would state how many pixels it repeats for. Using a simple method like this, the nearly 3,840 bytes-worth (1 byte per pixel) of information required for that top row of pixels could be reduced to something more like 24 bytes.

That’s 160x less memory being used to store the same amount of information!

Of course, when we’re talking about video footage, it’s not that common to get large areas of identical pixels, and as a result, the compression algorithms are far more complex than the example we just gave. Still, it helps to illustrate what is going on. But why is this relevant to YouTube?

Well, YouTube is in the bandwidth game, big time. In 2019, 500 hours of video were being uploaded to YouTube every minute, with over 250 million hours of video being watched every day. When you are dealing with that much bandwidth, even a tiny improvement in your compression algorithms can represent millions of dollars.

So, here’s the kicker. As you might have guessed from the woefully inadequate explanation of compression above, the busier a picture is, the less it can be compressed. In fact, if you had a frame of 4K video where every pixel was a different colour, it would be impossible to compress it without losing information. Now, 4K captures a lot of detail, and for the most part, a lot of that detail goes unnoticed. YouTube knows this, and so they tweak their compression algorithms to be a little more… keen.

If there is only a relatively small difference between two pixels, such as you might get from film grain, then it won’t make a noticeable difference to the video, but it could save an extra megabyte of bandwidth per frame. When you consider that a typical video will have at least 24 frames per second—with some videos being as high as 60 frames per second—you can see why YouTube might be willing to sacrifice a little of that detail.

Should I Upload 4K to YouTube?

Size Matters… With Your Screen

There is a thing called “pixel density” which refers to the number of pixels in a physical area and is measured in “pixels per inch”, or PPI. To understand what this represents in practice, imagine an iPad-like device with a 1080p resolution. Now consider a standard 21″ computer monitor with the same resolution.

Both devices are displaying the exact same number of pixels, but one of them is packing those pixels into a much smaller space. The higher the PPI, the more pixels there are crammed in, and the clearer the image looks.

There is a point, however, where pixel density becomes so great that the human eye is no longer capable of discerning the increased detail. This translates to a little over 300ppi. What that means, in practical terms, is that once you get above that threshold, there is no benefit to increasing it further, as our eyes literally cannot tell the difference.

As we’ve established, 4K has around 4x the number of pixels that 1080p has. This means that the critical pixel density we mentioned, where the human eye stops being able to tell the difference, is on a screen size of around 13″ for 4K, but is down to 6.5″ for 1080p.

What does this mean for YouTubers? Well, mobile phones—which often have screens between five and six inches—are the most popular way to consume YouTube content. That means that the majority of YouTube videos are watched on devices where there is no benefit to being in 4K since the viewer can’t tell the difference visually. Furthermore, only a tiny portion of computers running a 4K resolution are currently active on the Internet, meaning that of the people looking at a big enough screen to do 4K justice, the vast majority of them are not using a screen capable of displaying 4K content at all.

Recording 1080p Vs Recording 4K

What about recording video? By now, 1080p is ubiquitous in the sense that it is difficult to buy a device that doesn’t support 1080p.

Even budget webcams offer 1080p, and phones have long since moved beyond that barrier. 4K, on the other hand, may require you to buy a specific device (though you might already have one capable of recording in 4K).

It also requires more effort in setting up your recording space, more time spent encoding and uploading, and more power in your computer to edit that enormous video file.

YouTube 4K Vs 1080p

When you factor everything in, 4K begins to look like a lot of extra work for not much reward. Still, when comparing it to 1080p, there is little argument to be made against it in terms of quality.

While our eyes may have maxed out when it comes to mobile phone screens, computer monitors and TVs still have plenty of room to expand, and it is here where 4K YouTube content will make the most difference.

We can’t, in all seriousness, recommend that you take any difficult steps to move to 4K at this moment in time, but there will come a time when it is a necessary move. And, given that YouTube automatically scales video down to suit the device, there’s no downside to uploading 4K content if you can.

But if you can’t, and if you’re not thrilled about the idea of investing more time and money in your channel at this stage, don’t worry about it. 1080p will do just fine for now.

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Maybe you are a youtuber and you want to know if uploading in 4K vs 1080p is better for YouTube? I have a deep dive into this and youll be surpised how much impact it could have on your views.

Finally, there is the issue of streaming. Internet speeds may be increasing all the time, but many homes don’t have a fast enough connection to stream 4K content, and certainly not at higher frame rates.

For reference, here are the different standard resolutions broken down.

Resolution Up to 30FPS Up to 60FPS
2160p (4k) 3840×2160 35-45 Mbps 53-68 Mbps
1440p (2k) 2560×1440 16 Mbps 24 Mbps
1080p (Full HD) 1920×1080 8 Mbps 12 Mbps
720p (Std HD) 1280×720 5 Mbps 7.5 Mbps
480p (DVD) 720×480 4 Mbps 4 Mbps


4K represents something of an inevitability for YouTubers. Even if the majority of viewers didn’t care, PC gaming and television sales are bringing 4K displays into the mainstream, and once people have 4K, they typically want to use it.

Whether this represents any kind of significant opportunity to find new subscribers through providing that 4K content at a time when there isn’t much of it will remain to be seen. But it is undoubtedly something of a unique feather for your cap.

As for switching to 4K, there’s no rush. If moving to 4K for you would be a frictionless affair, it is certainly worth doing. As mentioned above, YouTube will scale your videos down when needed, so the only reason not to go to 4K is the added costs and inconvenience to you. If those inconveniences don’t worry you, make the switch. You’ll be giving your channel a certain amount of prestige while also future-proofing your content for such a time when 4K does become the standard resolution. When this happens, you will not only be providing 4K content for your viewers, you will be established as a channel which provides 4K content.

And, when you’re all set up and producing stunning 4K content for your YouTube channel, you can begin planning for the next big thing—8K


Should I Upload 4K to YouTube?

As a general rule, the better the quality of your video, the better it is for your channel. While channels can—and indeed have—succeed with lower quality video, there is hardly any reason at all not to opt for the highest possible quality you can manage when considering things from a viewers perspective.


As with most things in life, the practical reality of uploading videos in 4K isn’t quite as straightforward. 4K is nowhere near ubiquitous, yet the cost of a good 4K camera over a regular HD camera is not insignificant. The result of this being that you could end up putting considerably more time and effort into making your videos 4K, only to find none of your audience is watching in that resolution. But we want to go a little deeper than that, of course.

So let’s get to it. Should I upload 4k to YouTube? Kind of. If it is something you can already do—if you have a 4K camera, your set is nice and dressed up, you’ve mastered your makeup game, and you have a beefy Internet connection and a beefier computer, there’s no reason to not upload in 4K. If some or all of these things are not true, however, you need to weigh up the pros and cons before deciding 4K is for you.

What is 4K?

Let’s start with the basics. Before you decide whether 4K is right for your channel, you should know what it is you’re deciding about. 4K is a somewhat gimmicky name given to the latest standard screen resolution to hit the market. The name could come either from the fact that the horizontal resolution of 4K is almost 4,000 pixels or from the fact that there is exactly 4x the number of pixels in a 1080p display.

4K represents several challenges from a creator’s standpoint, from recording to editing and, ultimately, streaming. Not only do you need a camera capable of 4K, but it also needs to be a good camera, as poor quality video will be considerably more apparent at that resolution. You also need a computer capable of editing such high-resolution footage. As anyone who has rendered a video before can tell you; video editing is not light work.

You also need to pay more attention to yourself, your set, and anything that might be in the shot when filming. The increased resolution of 4K will bring a lot more detail into the light.

Finally, there is the issue of streaming. Internet speeds may be increasing all the time, but many homes don’t have a fast enough connection to stream 4K content, and certainly not at higher frame rates.

For reference, here are the different standard resolutions broken down.

Resolution Up to 30FPS Up to 60FPS
2160p (4k) 3840×2160 35-45 Mbps 53-68 Mbps
1440p (2k) 2560×1440 16 Mbps 24 Mbps
1080p (Full HD) 1920×1080 8 Mbps 12 Mbps
720p (Std HD) 1280×720 5 Mbps 7.5 Mbps
480p (DVD) 720×480 4 Mbps 4 Mbps

Of course, the average Internet connection speed in most developed countries has risen in the 100s, but it is important to remember that averages can be easily skewed by a relatively small number of abnormally high connections. And there is also the possibility that all of a households internet connection will not be available, such as would be the case if someone were watching Netflix at the same time your viewer is attempting to stream your 4K content.

One final thing to factor in is your connection. As fast as Internet speeds are getting, upload speeds have always been notoriously slow in comparison. Having to wait 4x as long for your video to upload (plus additional processing time at YouTube’s end) might not be an issue for you, but it’s worth mentioning.

4K Represents a Tiny Slice of the Market

Finding concrete statistics on 4K as it pertains to YouTube is not easy. What we can safely say is that only a tiny share of computer users online have their resolutions set to 4K. As shown by (at the time of writing), only 0.12% of users online are using 4K resolution, with 2K just creeping inside the top ten, and regular 1080p (1K, if you like) topping the list by a wide margin.

“But what about TVs?” I hear you yell. Well, more and more people are indeed watching YouTube through their TV, thanks to the prevalence of things like Amazon’s Fire Stick, Smart TVs and gaming consoles with an app ecosystem. However, 4K TVs are still vastly outnumbered by 1080p, so even if every TV owner on the planet was watching YouTube on their television rather than their computer, 4K would still be in the minority.

To briefly touch on phones since, of course, mobile devices are the most popular kind of device for watching YouTube on. While it is true that many—probably most—modern phones can display 4K videos, it’s something of a moot point since our feeble human eyes can’t tell the difference on screens that small. It is estimated that a healthy human eye can discern detail up to 326ppi (pixels per inch). 1080p on an average mobile phone screen is already higher than that, so increasing the pixel density further won’t make a noticeable difference.

Should I Upload 4K to YouTube?

4K is Growing

Now that we’ve talked about how small a market 4K is for YouTube let’s look to the future. 4K TV sales are increasing exponentially, and the ever-hungry PC gaming market is driving the sales of 4K monitors. Furthermore, the cost of making a 4K device is dropping to the point that the Smart TV Effect is beginning to take hold.

If you’ve never heard of the Smart TV Effect before… that’s because we just made it up, but the premise is simple enough. The “smart” part of smart TVs is notoriously terrible. There are exceptions, of course, but most smart TV interfaces are clunky, slow, and generally unpleasant to use. So why, then are they in almost every television?

The answer is because it got so cheap to add to their product that it was worth it just to get that “Smart TV” sticker on the box, it doesn’t matter if nobody wants a smart TV, it became almost impossible to buy one without it.

4K is heading in the same direction. The cost of making 4K TVs is dropping, which means the cost of the TVs themselves is dropping, too. 4K is proving to be a powerful marketing tool, if not a particularly useful feature given the lack of 4K content.

So what does all this mean for YouTubers? Well, 4K is a significant minority now, but it almost certainly won’t be staying that way. So when you consider whether or not you want to record your videos in 4K, you need to think about how important having the best possible quality is to your channel. Right now, 1080p is good enough, but 4K is coming.

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Should I Upload 4K to YouTube?

So, now we have laid out all the basic information, how do you decide? We can get one straight forward answer out of the way easily enough. If you already have the means to record in 4K, and the thing you are recording is ready (remember, every imperfection, be it on you or your set, will be 4x larger), your computer is up to the task of editing, and the additional upload times do not bother you, then there is no reason not to upload in 4K.

YouTube will automatically process lower-resolution versions of your video, which will then be delivered to those who are not viewing on a 4K screen, so nothing will change for them. But you will be future-proofing your videos. Not to mention; with the lack of 4K content available right now, you may even gain viewers just through virtue of having 4K video on your channel.

But what about everyone else? What if you don’t have a means of recording 4K, or your computer wouldn’t be able to handle the editing even if you did? Is it worth taking steps to get 4K video?

This will depend on your channel. If you are making software tutorial videos, you shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to switch. The important thing there is clarity. If your viewers can see what it is you’re doing on screen, that’s good enough. If you can relatively easily switch to 4K, by all means, do it. If it’s going to be too difficult or expensive, don’t worry about it.

The same can be said for most types of channel, actually. For the most part, the benefits of moving to 4K right now are not big enough to warrant the cost and effort involved. But are there any types of channel where switching to 4K should be considered a priority? As a matter of fact, yes. Any channel where the viewing experience is paramount should consider getting onto 4K as soon as possible. This is as much for future-proofing your videos as it is for capturing current viewers. Videos like this tend to be evergreen—that is, they remain relevant long after they are uploaded. An example of such a video might be nature videos or aerial drone footage.

In two years, if somebody wants to watch “3 hours of serene woodland ambience”, they are not going to care if your video is two years old, but they might care if it is only available in 1080p when everything else is in 4K.

Tips When Switching to 4K

So you’ve decided that 4K is a good move for your channel? Great! Here are some things to think about.

Prepare Yourself

We’ve touched on it a little in this post. For better or worse, 4K video offers considerably more detail, which means your viewers will be able to make things out that they wouldn’t before.

If you like to look good on your stream, you might need to up your prep game. You should also take special care to make sure there is nothing in the shot that you don’t want public. This can include address labels, serial numbers, and any other potentially sensitive information.

You should do this anyway, of course, but the chances of a viewer being able to read the address on a label a few metres behind you in 1080p are pretty slim. Not so much with 4K.

Scale Up Your Text

This applies mostly to videos where text is a significant part of the content, such as with software tutorials. It’s important to remember that, while the resolution may be 4x larger than 1080p, the screens that your video is being viewed on are not.

Or, to put it another way, the same text that is legible on a 24″ 1080p screen will be 4x smaller on a 24″ 4K screen.

When you make the switch to 4K, you will need to rethink your various designs, such as end screens and lower thirds. Any text that would have been considered small in 1080p will need increasing in size when you switch to 4K.

Let People Know

If you are going to make the switch to 4K, be sure to let people know. This can be as simple as adding an “in 4K” to the end of your video title, and certainly tagging it and mentioning it in the description.

You will now be offering a type of content that is rare, so you want to capture that niche audience while you can.

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The price of 4K equipment—both recording and watching—will continue to drop as it becomes more prevalent. There will come a time when the switch to 4K will not be as difficult as it is now.

That being said, there is an element of “getting in on the ground floor” about being a 4K YouTuber in 2020, and it could be a great way to gain extra subscribers that might not otherwise have checked out your channel.

Still, it is not a cheap transition to make. If that leap is too big for you at this moment in time, don’t sweat it. Most of us are watching in 1080p anyway.

Top 5 Tools To Get You Started on YouTube

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1. VidIQ helps boost my views and get found in search

I almost exclusively switched to VidIQ from a rival in 2020.

Within 12 months I tripled the size of my channel and very quickly learnt the power of thumbnails, click through rate and proper search optimization. Best of all, they are FREE!

2. Adobe Creative Suite helps me craft amazing looking thumbnails and eye-catching videos

I have been making youtube videos on and off since 2013.

When I first started I threw things together in Window Movie Maker, cringed at how it looked but thought “that’s the best I can do so it’ll have to do”.

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I soon realized the move time you put into your editing and the more engaging your thumbnails are the more views you will get and the more people will trust you enough to subscribe.

That is why I took the plunge and invested in my editing and design process with Adobe Creative Suite. They offer a WIDE range of tools to help make amazing videos, simple to use tools for overlays, graphics, one click tools to fix your audio and the very powerful Photoshop graphics program to make eye-catching thumbnails.

Best of all you can get a free trial for 30 days on their website, a discount if you are a student and if you are a regular human being it starts from as little as £9 per month if you want to commit to a plan.

3. helps people read my videos

You can’t always listen to a video.

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A GREAT way to find an audience and keep them hooked no matter where they are watching your content.

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I mainly make tutorials and talking head videos.

And in this modern world this can be a little boring if you don’t see something funky every once in a while.

I try with overlays, jump cuts and being funny but my secret weapon is b-roll overlay content.

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