April 13, 2023

Understand YouTube’s New ‘1080p Premium’ Before You Subscribe for It

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If you don’t watch YouTube enough, YouTube Premium isn’t worth the monthly $11.99. But for avid watchers, Premium means no ads, and now a new feature called “1080p Premium.” So what exactly is 1080p Premium, and is it worth it?

In short, 1080p Premium is a higher-quality version of 1080p video. It isn’t 4K—that already exists on the platform for free—but 1080p Premium has a higher bitrate than standard 1080p video.

The difference between video resolution and bitrate

To understand, you need to know the difference between resolution and bitrate. A video’s resolution is the measurement of the number of pixels a particular video contains. 1080p video, for example, is 1,920 pixels wide, and 1,080 pixels tall, which means the video itself contains 2,073,600 pixels in total. That’s a lot of pixels, but that doesn’t inherently mean the video itself is higher quality than, say, a lower-resolution 720p image. It simply denotes the number of pixels the video has.

The other half of the equation is bitrate, which is, in essence, the number of bits (or information) transmitted over time. The higher the bitrate, the more information you have to work with. That’s why bitrate plays such a big role in the quality of any particular video: You might be watching a 1080p video, but if the bitrate is too low, those two million pixels won’t be enough to impress you.

How 1080p Premium videos compare to 1080p

That’s where 1080p Premium comes in: The new resolution option offers a higher bitrate than standard 1080p video, which means those 1080p clips will look better to YouTube Premium subscribers than they will for the rest of us. Unfortunately, YouTube is being cagey with the exact bitrate with which 1080p Premium runs, but that’s par for the course considering the company doesn’t reveal the bitrates of its current resolutions, either.

We can look at the recommended bitrates for uploads to get an idea of what YouTube works with traditionally: The company recommends 1080p video with 24, 25, or 30 frames per second (fps) upload with a bitrate of 8Mbps, while 48, 50, or 60 fps videos should have a bitrate of 12Mbps. 1080p HDR video should have a bitrate of 10 or 15Mbps for the same frame rates, respectively.

But just because someone uploaded a 1080p video with a bitrate of 8Mbps, that doesn’t mean you’re watching the video at such a bitrate. Either YouTube downsamples the bitrate to save on data, or employs the use of something called variable bitrate: YouTube might not stream your video at one constant bitrate, but rather change the bitrate depending on the content of the video. The less motion or change in a particular scene, the less bitrate you need for viewers to perceive quality. On the flip side, increased motion requires a higher bitrate, otherwise the quality will take a noticeable dip.

With 1080p Premium, that higher bitrate means 1080p video will look even better, especially in scenes with a lot of movement. You’ll unlock higher quality videos for channels that only upload in 1080p, such as Kurzgesagt. However, it won’t be available on videos uploaded at a higher or lower resolution. That means you can’t downscale a 4K video to 1080p Premium, nor can you upscale a 720p video.

As for how 1080p Premium compares to 4K video, we simply don’t know, since we can’t compare the bitrates of 1080p Premium with YouTube’s current bitrate for 4K. Hopefully that changes soon with hands-on comparisons.

The feature is also only currently available on iOS, but there are plans for it to come to the web app. It’s definitely a nice perk for YouTube Premium subscribers, but until we get more data, it might not be the killer feature that gets you to spend the extra twelve dollars each month.

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