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|
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 MarketFinding 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 screenresolutions.org (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.
4K is GrowingNow 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.
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 4KSo you’ve decided that 4K is a good move for your channel? Great! Here are some things to think about.
Prepare YourselfWe’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 TextThis 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 KnowIf 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.
ConclusionsThe 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.