How to Professionally Compress Video for YouTube or Vimeo

How to Compress Video for YouTube

June 20, 2014

How do the pros compress video for YouTube at the highest quality? Listen to this interview with specialist Jeff Greenberg.


Final Deliverables: Compressing for YouTube or Vimeo

Ripped from the Tao Color Correction Home Study

This Insight is being shared from my Color Correction Home Study for DaVinci Resolve over on Taoofcolor.com. In that Home Study, the final Lesson is on Deliverables. And one of the deliverables I talk about is YouTube and I interviewed an expert on this topic, Jeff Greenberg. I enjoyed his interview so much I thought it should also be shared, here on MixingLight.com.

Why is this topic being discussed on a website dedicated to the craft of color correction? As a professional Owner / Operator colorist I’ve found it necessary to understand how to compress video for YouTube upload. It’s a frequent client request for a deliverable and I want that product to faithfully reproduce what I’m seeing in the grading suite as closely as I possibly can.

In truth, throughout my career I’ve found compressing for YouTube to be a frustrating exercise. It usually involves endless tweaking inside multiple compression softwares with endless test uploads and endless visual comparisons.

As part of the Color Correction Home Study I decided to revisit this topic and come up with a solid suggestion for my members on how to specifically compress video for YouTube.

After completing a bunch of testing on my own – I decided to enlist the help of the one person I know who has spent an enormous amount of time developing an expertise in compression… and almost as much time teaching it to other professionals. That person? Jeff Greenberg.

Jeff helps me deliver a very simple, easy-to-remeber rule to compress video for YouTube when its part of our deliverable package.

Interview: Jeff Greenberg

After you log in to this website (not a member? Sign up for a free 24-hour Test Drive) you’ll be able to hear my 30+ minute Skype call with Jeff where we dig into two overall topics:

1. Compressing video for YouTube as a final client deliverable

2. Understanding h.264 compression options

If you want to reach out to Jeff with questions or thank him for this interview, you can find him on his Twitter handle: @filmgeek

He’s always happy to interact.

Compressing for YouTube and Vimeo

In most of this interview I’m asking Jeff specifically about YouTube as a deliverable – but what he says about YouTube can also be applied to Vimeo. But the truth is, if our clients want their videos to be found by Google then they need to put their videos on YouTube. Most of my clients understand this and YouTube is almost always our target video streaming deliverable, hence its emphasis here in this discussion.

YouTube: Two Instruction Sets

One of the most fascinating lessons I’ve learned from Jeff is that YouTube actually has two sets of ‘compression specifications’: One targeted at Consumers and one targeted at Professionals.

Their rationale? Consumers want the YouTube experience to be fast, easy and brainless. Consumers are more concerned with instant gratification. Professionals are willing to tolerate longer uploads and longer processing times if it means even a small increase in final image quality.

In the Show Notes below, you’ll find the links to these two sets of instructions. Listen to the podcast to hear Jeff and I emphasize what this means for us as professional content creators.

Compression 101

Also in this interview I dig into a two core Compression concepts when using tools like Apple Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder for creating h.264 videos:

1. Which should I choose as my h.264 profile: Baseline / Main / High?

2. When should I use 2-pass VBR versus 1-pass VBR? Are there times when 1-pass will give us higher quality than 2-pass?

Jeff offers a solid rule-of-thumb for when you should choose 1-pass VBR over 2-pass VBR.

Show Notes

At several times in this interview Jeff shares a few links with me, which I click on and we discuss. Here are those links:

YouTube User Upload Specs: Notice this page lists two different data rates for h.264. The first is a very low data rate and then the recommended data rate for ‘enterprise quality internet connections’. These data rates are almost the same as the YouTube Professional specs for h.264 deliverables and dovetail nicely with what Jeff says concerning 1-pass VBR and 2-pass VBR.

YouTube Professional Upload Specs: Jeff and I are both unclear if uploading ProResHQ without being a ‘certified’ professional channel partner results in their processing following a higher-quality path versus their User upload path. But we both agree, any User – as long as you’ve verified your YouTube account to upload videos longer than 15 minutes, YouTube seems to be quite able to process your ProResHQ uploads.

Wikipedia h.264 Profiles: What are the different h.264 Profiles and what do they mean? Scroll down to see a handy-dandy chart.

• Wikipedia h.264 Levels: Jeff introduces us to the concept of h.264 Levels in this podcast, this is a link to the chart.

Credits

Audio editing and sweetening by Tom Parish. Thanks Tom!

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Comments

28 thoughts on “How to Compress Video for YouTube”

  1. This is very valuable, thanks Jeff. I’m loving this approach to compression based on ‘rules’. Also in the podcast, Jeff mentioned an ebook he wrote about his experience & strategy : any way to have the link on this page Pat ? Thanks.

    1. Christophe, I’m working on an ebook just for YouTube; with other compression material coming out this year. I’m almost as detail oriented as Patrick (or Robbie.) – I was aiming for a February release – and life keeps getting in the way! It’s close.

      Mixing Light will get the info before anyone else!

        1. I want to make one area of clarification – the 60mbs is specifically what they give to their media partners. They’ll suggest for ‘consumers’ anything above 10mb/s – and they just changed their suggestions (again) to 50mb/s if you have the bandwidth for ‘consumers’ with a good connection. So above 50 is probably great for 1080.

    1. As far as I know, Vimeo doesn’t like ProRes at all – I haven’t tested it in over a year…While YouTube handles HQ just fine, you’re not getting much better than 422 – and you’re nearly doubling the size. If you have a big enough upload pipe? Go for it!

    1. So Maximum Render quality can be found in two places in Premiere – first is in your sequence settings and the other is in the export settings dialog box. This setting basically governs high quality scaling. Turn it on you’ll get better quality scaling either from motion settings for an individual clip on the timeline (seq settings) or if you’re scaling on output (export settings).

      The funny thing about this option is that it essentially sharpens the video a tad. So you have a heavily compressed format that already exhibits macro blocking you can actually make the macro blocking worse!

      The other thing to consider is that checking this box on can significantly increase your render time.

      BTW the check box in sequence settings for use maximum bit depth is a key one in premiere. By default Premiere does things at 8-bit quality turn this option on and now you access higher bit depth footage (pro res, dnxhd etc). In addition this lets some effects (those marked with the 32 on the folder icon in the effects panel) to operate in up to 32 bit precision – which is huge for color related filters.

  2. I got to say that despite the rules i tested to upload as the rulebook file looks really bad, specially if you have grain or noise in the image. It seems like your file is double compressed in that way. This is why i always upload Prores 422 HQ. It retains so much more quality and looks a ton better. Sure it will tell you this and that on the way but you just ignore it and there you go.

  3. I know this is over three years old, but I’d love an update on best practices for web delivery.

    The information from Jeff here is a bit curious because it seems to be contradicting information directly from Google’s documentation and Adobe’s video team.

    As far as I know, Google has never publicly confirmed the use of ffmpeg. Claims floating around on the Internet are based on unverified reverse engineering. Even if some properties of ffmpeg transcodes seem to be present in YouTube transcodes, we have no idea how YouTube might have customized their own code.

    My understanding is that while the professional specs can be used to upload “YouTube user-generated content,” there is NO advantage for content that is NOT going to Google Play Movies & TV: https://support.google.com/moviestvpartners/answer/1679498?hl=en

    Also, I’d love more in-depth analysis on Jeff’s claims about the H.264 data rates. Though what Jeff says makes intuitive sense–that high data rates will hold up better for whatever compression YouTube is doing on the back end–it contradicts YouTube’s official recommended upload encoding settings: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/1722171?hl=en

    The question is WHY YouTube recommends these settings. Is it because they’re merely trying to minimize their storage costs, or have they deliberately strategically chosen an inflection point where any quality for any higher data rate won’t be discernible after their back-end transcoding?

    I have heard directly from a member of the Adobe video team that Adobe worked directly with YouTube so that the built-in H.264 presets for YouTube in Adobe Media Encoder were designed in such a way that if they are to be used, transcoding can be skipped on YouTube’s back end, at least for the highest-resolution copy that YouTube serves to users.

    Such information is contradictory and puzzling, because:

    1) Adobe’s H.264 1080p 23.976 fps preset is 16 Mbps
    2) Google recommended upload spec for H.264 1080p 23.976 fps is 8 Mbps
    3) The video that Google actually serves for 1080p 23.976 is actually VP9, and you can’t ascertain the video data rates merely by looking at what’s coming through your router

    The bottom-line: I could really use an update on what the best practices are today…

    1. HI Seth! Saw you reached out on my webpage – I responded but didn’t hear back.

      > Google has never publicly confirmed the use of ffmpeg

      You’re 100% right.

      While I have friend who is an engineer on the YouTube team, I’ve never specifically asked if its FFMPEG. Everyone else (Vimeo, bright cove, Wistia, Frame.io) uses open source tools. Google heavily uses Apache servers that runs their search engines – but I imagine that they roll custom builds to maximize hardware.

      This encoding page [https://disq.us/url?url=https%3A%2F%2Fsupport.google.com%2Fmoviestvpartners%2Fanswer%2F1679498%3Fhl%3Den%3AcazlL_Wg8LQCbafzBwG-KqFR6ok&cuid=2260547} has a different title about 3 years ago.

      It was for Media Partners with an Enterprise Class connection. Networks that were uploading their own content directly to youtube. Specifically that document had numbers of 60+Mb/s. Now this document is suggesting ProRes HQ.

      The 2nd webpage https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/1722171 read (up until recently) *Minimum bitrate required.* Meaning that their bitrates were the least they wanted to see. That more would be better (but would produce a poor user experience.

      > WHY YouTube recommends these settings. Is it because they’re merely trying to minimize their storage costs, or have they deliberately strategically chosen an inflection point where any quality for any higher data rate won’t be discernible after their back-end transcoding?

      Probably a combination of storage and user experience. I have content that won’t work when used when less than 50 Mb/s – and it wouldn’t work post YouTube compression – but if I use the default values, it’d never even have the chance.

      Here – put them together on an album – https://imgur.com/a/V83IA

      > I have heard directly from a member of the Adobe video team that Adobe worked directly with YouTube so that the built-in H.264 presets for YouTube in Adobe Media Encoder were designed in such a way that if they are to be used, transcoding can be skipped on YouTube’s back end, at least for the highest-resolution copy that YouTube serves to users.

      I know the person on the Adobe team who built that preset. And there’s a major error in it. It’s set to 16 Mb/s and a 16 Mb/s VBR setting. This limits the real VBR capability, when the average and the max VBR value are the same.

      Reach out to me privately about who on the Adobe team you spoke with. I know (along with Robbie) the lead engineer. I’m 100% sure that Adobe doesn’t get a free pass in this regard, but let’s find out.

      > 1) Adobe’s H.264 1080p 23.976 fps preset is 16 Mbps

      Which is twice was YouTube suggestion of 8 Mb/s. If the average user has a 10 Mb/s outgoing pipe, this will be slower than RT. But they also clearly indicate that this is their minimum suggestion. No maximum.

      > 3) The video that Google actually serves for 1080p 23.976 is actually VP9, and you can’t ascertain the video data rates merely by looking at what’s coming through your router

      It’s dependent on your browser, and I bet you’re using Chrome? Chrome gets VP9 where Safari/Firefox gets h264.

      You can right click on the media and show “stats for nerds’. Totally worth checking out.

      I use a number of tools to download the actual HLS file to examine the data rates and GOP patterns. One is 4kDownloader and the other is MediaInfo.

      I just ripped some 8k – h265 media in a MKV container. Interesting data rates.

      Feel free to reach out directly too. I’m happy to update this, but the deep thought + research can’t happen for a couple of weeks. And reach out with your specific questions. I’m happy to try and track them down.

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