Why Does YouTube Auto-Select 360p? Understanding Video Quality and Streaming

YouTube is the most popular video-sharing platform in the world, with millions of users watching countless hours of content every day.

But have you ever wondered why YouTube sometimes auto-selects 360p video quality, even when your internet connection seems fast enough for higher quality?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind this phenomenon and how you can optimize your viewing experience.

YouTube Auto 360p?

Adaptive Streaming and Bandwidth Conservation One of the main reasons YouTube auto-selects 360p video quality is to ensure smooth playback without buffering.

To achieve this, YouTube uses adaptive streaming, which automatically adjusts video quality based on your internet connection speed. By default, YouTube starts with a lower quality (360p) and increases it if your connection can handle it. This approach helps prevent buffering issues and ensures a seamless viewing experience.

Bandwidth Conservation and Compatibility

Device Compatibility and Screen Resolution Another factor contributing to YouTube’s automatic 360p selection is device compatibility.

Older devices and those with smaller screens may not support higher resolutions, so YouTube adjusts the video quality to match the device’s capabilities.

Moreover, if you’re using a device with a low-resolution screen, there’s no real benefit in streaming a higher quality video, as the difference in quality will not be noticeable.

Screen Resolution Issues

Data Usage and Mobile Viewing Data usage is a significant concern for many users, especially when streaming on mobile devices.

YouTube auto-selecting 360p can be a way of conserving data usage, as lower-quality videos require less data to stream. For users with limited data plans, this can be a crucial factor in managing their data usage while still enjoying their favourite content.

Why Does YouTube Auto-Select 360p? Understanding Video Quality and Streaming 1

Mobile and Data Usage

Server Load and User Experience Lastly, YouTube’s automatic 360p selection helps manage the platform’s server load.

With billions of video views per day, YouTube must distribute its resources efficiently to ensure a stable and enjoyable experience for all users.

By initially offering a lower-quality stream, YouTube can manage its server load and avoid overloading its infrastructure.

YouTube Video Quality Options and Resolutions

Video Quality Resolution Aspect Ratio
144p 256×144 16:9
240p 426×240 16:9
360p 640×360 16:9
480p 854×480 16:9
720p (HD) 1280×720 16:9
1080p (Full HD) 1920×1080 16:9
1440p (2K) 2560×1440 16:9
2160p (4K) 3840×2160 16:9

Approximate Data Usage per Hour by Video Quality

Video Quality Data Usage per Hour
144p 90 MB
240p 150 MB
360p 300 MB
480p 500 MB
720p (HD) 900 MB
1080p (Full HD) 1.5 GB
1440p (2K) 2.5 GB
2160p (4K) 4 GB

Common Internet Connection Speeds and Recommended Video Quality

Internet Connection Speed Recommended Video Quality
< 0.5 Mbps 144p
0.5 – 1 Mbps 240p
1 – 2.5 Mbps 360p
2.5 – 4 Mbps 480p
4 – 7.5 Mbps 720p (HD)
7.5 – 15 Mbps 1080p (Full HD)
15 – 25 Mbps 1440p (2K)
25+ Mbps 2160p (4K)

Note: The above tables provide general information and approximate values. Actual data usage and recommended video quality may vary depending on various factors, including device type, internet service provider, and individual user preferences.

How to Change YouTube’s Video Quality Settings

If you prefer to watch videos in a higher quality than the default 360p, you can easily change the video quality settings on YouTube. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the gear icon (Settings) in the lower-right corner of the video player.
  2. Select “Quality” from the menu.
  3. Choose your preferred video quality from the available options.

Keep in mind that choosing a higher quality may result in increased data usage and potential buffering if your internet connection cannot support it.

YouTube auto-selecting 360p video quality can be attributed to factors such as adaptive streaming, device compatibility, data usage concerns, and server load management.

By understanding these factors, you can make informed decisions about your video quality preferences and optimize your viewing experience.

Remember to adjust the video quality settings according to your needs and enjoy your favourite content in the best possible way.

Q: Why does YouTube auto-select 360p video quality?

A: YouTube auto-selects 360p video quality to ensure smooth playback without buffering, maintain device compatibility, conserve data usage, and manage server load.

Q: What is adaptive streaming?

A: Adaptive streaming is a technology that automatically adjusts video quality based on the viewer’s internet connection speed. This helps prevent buffering issues and ensures a seamless viewing experience.

Q: How can I change the video quality on YouTube?

A: To change video quality on YouTube, click on the gear icon (Settings) in the lower-right corner of the video player, select “Quality” from the menu, and choose your preferred video quality from the available options.

Q: Does watching videos in higher quality consume more data?

A: Yes, watching videos in higher quality requires more data to stream. If you’re concerned about data usage, consider sticking to lower-quality options like 360p, especially when using mobile devices.

Q: Will changing the video quality to a higher resolution improve my viewing experience on a low-resolution device?

A: No, if your device has a low-resolution screen, there will be no noticeable difference in quality when streaming a higher resolution video. In such cases, it’s more efficient to watch videos in a lower quality like 360p.

Q: Can I set YouTube to always play videos in a specific quality?

A: While YouTube doesn’t offer a native option to set a default video quality, you can use third-party browser extensions or add-ons to achieve this. However, be cautious when using such tools, as they may not be officially endorsed by YouTube.

Q: How can I improve my internet connection speed for a better YouTube streaming experience?

A: To improve your internet connection speed, you can try using a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi, upgrading your internet plan, or contacting your internet service provider for assistance.

Q: Why do some videos on YouTube not offer higher quality options?

A: The availability of higher quality options depends on the original video file uploaded by the content creator. If the video was uploaded in a lower quality, higher quality options may not be available.


What is the Best Bitrate for YouTube Streaming?

When you start delving into the details of video encoding, it can come as quite a shock just how much there is to tweak and adjust. Many of us will be content to choose an encoding preset that works and stick with that, and that’s fine for your average YouTube video, but what about streaming?

If you’re looking for a quick answer, here it is; the best bitrate for YouTube streaming is between 2,250 and 6,000 Kbps for 720p video at 60 frames per second. Of course, there is much more we can cover in this topic, which is precisely what we intend to do in this post. For example, why did we pick 720p? What is the best bitrate if you want to stream a different resolution to 720p? What is a bitrate?!

Let’s dive in.

What is a Bitrate?

The bitrate of a video is literally the rate that bits are transferred when streaming. The higher a bitrate, the higher the quality of the video can be. Bitrates can be fixed or variable, and the streaming platform can (as most do) make dynamic adjustments, such as dropping the quality of the video to compensate for poor connections, so that less bandwidth is required.

One way to think of bitrate is as a pipe through which water is flowing, with the water being your video content. The bigger the pipe, the higher the volume of water that can be transported at any given time.

What is the Best Bitrate for YouTube Streaming? 1

Why is Streaming Bitrate Different to Regular Video Bitrate?

When you watch a regular video, be it on YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or anywhere else that serves streamed video content, there are a few factors that make it different from streaming live content.

The Source is Fixed for Regular Video

When streaming a video from a server somewhere, the video is already made. It is a file on a server, and it’s not going to change size, vary in quality, suffer from processing issues due to a bogged down computer, or anything else that might change the requirements on the streaming platform. Having this stability at the source allows the streaming platform to be more refined with its methods, and squeeze more performance out of it without worrying about large margins of error.

Timing is Less Important in Regular Videos

For a standard YouTube video, YouTube is essentially at liberty to produce the video as quickly—or as slowly—as they like. Now, don’t get us wrong, if you had to sit and wait for forty seconds for the video you put on to actually start playing, you’d probably be a bit annoyed. The point is that YouTube can take a little extra time to load in the content, and they can even buffer the content (load ahead of where you are in the playback) so that they have some extra information to compensate for erratic connections.

With streaming, the content is expected to be as close to live as possible. With live content, buffering is far less useful because the content is being created in real time; you can’t load ahead! The only way to buffer a live stream is to delay it so that the viewers are behind the live content, which is frustrating for those live viewers. Especially if there is a live chat situation and the streamer is interacting with their viewers.

The Requirements on Your Computer are Lower for Regular Videos

One thing that many aspiring YouTubers overlook—at least until they find out the hard way—is just how intensive working with video is on a computer. In the early days of Blu-ray, many computer owners excitedly bought themselves a Blu-ray drive for their computer, only to find out the computer wasn’t powerful enough to play back Blu-ray content!

Streaming is much more intensive than merely playing back content, because your computer is not just processing the video, it is encoding it as well. When you export a regular video, your computer can take its time and let you know when it’s done. When you stream, your computer has to do the same thing but instantaneously.

Now, of course, there are differences between the two processes—streaming sacrifices some quality to ensure fast encoding times—but it should give you an idea of why streaming is so hard on a computer. Especially when you consider that there’s a good chance the streamer’s computer will be doing other things beside streaming, such as playing video games. Some streamers get around this by having an entirely separate computer dedicated to the streaming side of things, and doing their gaming on a different computer, but that’s obvious not an option for everybody.

So, how does this tie in to bitrates? Well, the higher the quality of the video, the higher the bitrate. You may find that your maximum bitrate is not limited by your connection, but by the power of your streaming computer.

Quality Can be Higher for Regular Videos

Because of the above points, the quality of a regular YouTube video can be quite high compared to a stream, with a typical streaming resolution being 720p, compared to the standard YouTube video resolution of 1080p, with 1440p and 4K beginning to show up more and more.

Of course, this will change as Internet connections become faster, more reliable, and more widespread. We are already at a point where 4K content is available on services like Netflix, which means there must be enough of a user-base able to stream 4K to make it worth those platform’s while to provide that content. And, if we’re streaming 4K video today, we will probably be live-streaming 4K video in the not-too distant future.

Finding the Best Bitrate

Assuming your computer is capable of processing the video that you are putting out, your only limitation on bitrate is your Internet connection or the destination platform. If you go by YouTube’s recommendations, you would be looking at a bitrate of 51,000 Kbps for the highest quality streaming they support—4K video at 60 frames per second, so it is unlikely your bitrate will ever need to be higher than that on YouTube. At least, not until they start supporting 8K streaming.

Since your bitrate is essentially a single-value representation of your video content as it is being transferred, you can tweak just about any setting to change the bitrate requirements of your video. For example, if you switch from 4K content to 1440p content, you are essentially halving the amount of information that needs to be sent because each frame is half as big.

There are more subtle changes you can make, such as lowering the frame rate from 60 frames per second to 30 frames per second, which once again will halve the amount of information being sent because there will be half as many frames. You can also change codecs to something with a more aggressive compression, or make smaller changes across the board to get an overall lower bitrate.

Is Screen Recording YouTube Illegal?

Visual Information

Methods of compressing video content are constantly evolving, and are increasingly effective in the streaming arena, but it is useful to understand a little about what is going on in this regard, so you know how the type of content you are filming can affect your bitrate.

We mentioned above that switching from 4K to 1440p essentially halves the amount of information you are sending; this technically not true. It would be true if the video was being sent raw and uncompressed, but video like that would be enormous and not practical for today’s Internet connections.

The basic concept of compressing video is that duplicate information is bundled together. An easy way to visualise this is with a list;

  • Black pixel
  • Black pixel
  • Black pixel
  • Black pixel
  • Black pixel

Our list tells us that there are five black pixels, but we can represent that more efficiently like this;

  • 5x black pixels

Compression does this to your video, finding information that can be bundled together so that it takes less space when it is transferred over the Internet.

This is why video that doesn’t have a lot going on requires less bitrate than video that is all action. If a streamer is sat talking in front of a static background, the compression algorithm can practically render half the screen “free” in terms of data costs because it is unchanging. On the other hand, if the streamer is playing a fast-paced game in full screen, every frame will be different, and there will be much less that can be compressed, increasing the necessary bitrate.

Final Thoughts

If you choose a preset for your stream, and it works, there is no pressing need to go optimising things for the lowest possible bitrate you can get away with. YouTube will take care of the variable side of things, and as long as your connection and computer are up to the task, your end will be fine.

That being said, if you do want to get under the hood and tweak your streaming settings, be sure to enlist the help of someone (or a few someones) to check your stream is playing how you hope before you go live with it.

Top 5 Tools To Get You Started on YouTube

Very quickly before you go here are 5 amazing tools I have used every day to grow my YouTube channel from 0 to 30K subscribers in the last 12 months that I could not live without.

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”.

Big mistake!

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.

Maybe you’re on a bus, a train or sat in a living room with a 5 year old singing baby shark on loop… for HOURS. Or, you are trying to make as little noise as possible while your new born is FINALLY sleeping.

This is where Rev can help you or your audience consume your content on the go, in silence or in a language not native to the video. can help you translate your videos, transcribe your videos, add subtitles and even convert those subtitles into other languages – all from just $1.50 per minute.

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

4. PlaceIT can help you STAND OUT on YouTube

I SUCK at making anything flashy or arty.

I have every intention in the world to make something that looks cool but im about as artistic as a dropped ice-cream cone on the web windy day.

That is why I could not live on YouTube without someone like PlaceIT. They offer custom YouTube Banners, Avatars, YouTube Video Intros and YouTube End Screen Templates that are easy to edit with simple click, upload wizard to help you make amazing professional graphics in minutes.

Best of all, some of their templates are FREE! or you can pay a small fee if you want to go for their slightly more premium designs (pst – I always used the free ones).

5. StoryBlocks helps me add amazing video b-roll cutaways

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.

I can talk about skydiving, food, money, kids, cats – ANYTHING I WANT – with a quick search on the StoryBlocks website I can find a great looking clip to overlay on my videos, keeping them entertained and watching for longer.

They have a wide library of videos, graphics, images and even a video maker tool and it wont break the bank with plans starting from as little as £8.25 ($9) per month.