The words YouTube and “high-resolution” have never really fit well in the same sentence. YouTube has always greatly limited the resolution of their videos to conserve on bandwidth, but going forward that may not always be the case. As it turns out there is a little something that you can add on to the end of a YouTube URL to have it play a high-resolution version of the same video.

The thing that you need to know, however, is that not every video has been re-encoded into the higher quality. In fact, I’ve tested this “trick” on about 40 videos, and only 7 of them had a higher quality version available. I’ve been reading around about this, and it looks as though newly uploaded videos are being converted a few hours after they’ve been added. And no one really seems to be sure as to whether it depends on the format of video (AVI, WMV, etc…).

I spent about 30 minutes trying to find a good video that has been converted to the higher resolution, and one that was also a good demonstration of why the higher quality matters. To really notice the difference I wanted to get something with a lot of motion, and I thought that there’s nothing better than the skateboarding dog made popular by the iPhone commercial!

Ready for the example? Just add &fmt=6 onto the end of any YouTube URL. Using the skateboarding dog as an example you would take the normal URL:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=CQzUsTFqtW0

and add the &fmt=6 onto the end:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=CQzUsTFqtW0&fmt=6

If the YouTube video just sits there loading then that is a sign that the video has not been converted to the higher resolution yet. To really see the difference you should view the video in full screen mode by clicking the button in the bottom-right corner of the player.

Note: Alternatively you can add &fmt=18 and it will play the high-resolution version when available, otherwise it will play the regular version. Here’s a Greasemonkey script that will automatically add &fmt=18 onto the end of each YouTube URL.

I took a still image from part of the video so that you can really compare the differences side-by-side:

youtube high quality videos

I can’t wait for YouTube to start rolling this out to all of their videos, and hopefully they’ll add a button to their site where you can easily switch between the low and high quality versions on a per-video basis.

UPDATE: Since writing this article YouTube has incorporated a feature so that users can switch between videos of the different quality.

[via VideoHelp] Thanks to Yansky for the tip!

There Are 50 Comments

  1. I don’t know why everyone – especially YouTube, has been so slow on the uptake of Flash 9′s new MPEG4 support – its outstanding. I thought they would have been totally switching over.

    The only site I know of who is using it already is usenetbinaries.com, they are reencoding all of their usenet videos in MPEG4, and you can download the exact same file and play it on your ipod/xbox360/zune/pc/TiVo.

    We finally have a video format that everyone supports, it would be nice if YouTube could get in line.

  2. Great tip!

    Can you add the same parameter in your embed code to make that high quality as well?

    // Lars

  3. Sumo are actually testing and using this format, [sumo.tv]

  4. You can also use a bookmarklet to view the HD videos. This is using the greasemonkey script, but I modified it to use &fmt=6 instead of &fmt=18 because the &fmt=18 wasn’t working. Just drag this link to your bookmark toolbar:

    Youtube HD

    Just click the bookmark whenever you visit a low-res Youtube video. (accident double post, please delete :?)

  5. I am still disapointed.

    I have exactly the same video on YouTube, on YouTubeHD (means it has been recoded), on Vimeo.com and i had it on Stage6.com

    Site: Filesize
    Stage6 = 17.1 MB
    Vimeo = 13.6 MB
    YouTube (HD) = 25.4 MB
    YouTube (normal) = 6.7 MB

    This list also reflects the quality. Stage6 (or DivX) is by far the best quality (but lets get past that). Comparing the Flash-Files only, Vimeo.com has slightly better quality by half the filesize. Whats up with that?! Whats so hard in tweaking the flash-encoder? I mean it would make sense because it would result in smaler files which means way less traffic. If they leave it that way, the traffic would increase by factor 4.

    I deeply hope they will go on tweaking. from google, i only expect the best.

  6. firefox+downloadhelper
    saving
    normal
    Skateboarding_Dog.flv 3.532.222 bytes
    &fmt=6
    Skateboarding_Dog-1.flv 3.532.222 bytes

    but visual quality better
    i think this option change quality only in player

  7. Lars K Jensen wrote:
    Can you add the same parameter in your embed code to make that high quality as well?

    I do believe so.

    bob89 wrote:
    You can also use a bookmarklet to view the HD videos. This is using the greasemonkey script, but I modified it to use &fmt=6 instead of &fmt=18 because the &fmt=18 wasn’t working. Just drag this link to your bookmark toolbar:

    Nice, thanks for the bookmarklet! That will be handy.

    Andi wrote:
    This list also reflects the quality. Stage6 (or DivX) is by far the best quality (but lets get past that). Comparing the Flash-Files only, Vimeo.com has slightly better quality by half the filesize. Whats up with that?! Whats so hard in tweaking the flash-encoder? I mean it would make sense because it would result in smaler files which means way less traffic. If they leave it that way, the traffic would increase by factor 4.

    There are also some audio quality enhancements which have to be taken into consideration. So that might justify the large filesize on the video.

  8. Please.

    Don’t say “going forward”. It makes you sound like an airheaded corporate buffoon. Just say “in the future” (if you’re American) or “in future” (if you dig the Commonwealth style).

    Thanks.

  9. There’s no difference, people. It’s the exact same quality!

  10. at imeem.com we’ve been serving videos using the new H264 support in flash, so DVD quality videos get displayed in DVD quality resolution now – this of course means you need to have an up to date version of flash and a broadband internet connection that can handle at least a megabit per second.
    ( I know most people know imeem as a place to upload and share mp3′s but I’m quite proud of our video support which has always been a front runner in terms of video quality)

  11. Anonymous wrote:
    There’s no difference, people. It’s the exact same quality!

    It could depend on the country you’re viewing it from, but as you can see in the screenshot I took above there is definitely a difference in quality.

  12. I couldn’t tell the difference either.
    They both seemed to be the high quality version.

  13. 665 wrote:
    firefox+downloadhelper
    saving
    normal
    Skateboarding_Dog.flv 3.532.222 bytes
    &fmt=6
    Skateboarding_Dog-1.flv 3.532.222 bytes

    but visual quality better
    i think this option change quality only in player

    Downloadhelper throws out parameters, so you just downloaded the same video twice. The high-quality video of the dog is 9.5MB, as seen here: [img248.imageshack.us]

    Oh, and &fmt=18 does not play the high-quality video, exactly. It pulls up the video re-encoded for the iPhone (according to slashdot anyway). This can be high quality, like the dog video, but not as high quality as the &fmt=6 parameter. The filesize of the dog video was 6.3 MB for &fmt=18 (seen here: [img248.imageshack.us])

  14. Hahaha!
    This is a well known internet legend.
    The video quality is the same in both cases.

    It just exposes those people who claim they can see a better quality even though they are the same. Sure the screenshots are different… but those were just manipulated.

  15. Thank you for the skateboarding dog video.

  16. “This list also reflects the quality. Stage6 (or DivX) is by far the best quality (but lets get past that). Comparing the Flash-Files only, Vimeo.com has slightly better quality by half the filesize. Whats up with that?! Whats so hard in tweaking the flash-encoder? I mean it would make sense because it would result in smaler files which means way less traffic. If they leave it that way, the traffic would increase by factor 4.

    I deeply hope they will go on tweaking. from google, i only expect the best.”

    For presumably historical reasons, YouTube uses Sorenson Spark, which is basically h.263 and is rather outdated – not to mention that h.263 was really aimed at videoconferencing. (The main reasons are probably that for a while it was the only thing available everywhere, and until Flash added support for h.264 it was the only codec available for Flash use unless you were willing to pay On2 Technologies through the nose for a VP6 encoder.)

  17. Anonymous wrote:
    Hahaha!
    This is a well known internet legend.
    The video quality is the same in both cases.

    Ya wanna provide a source? After messing around I seem to be getting high quality versions of these videos (like with the Indy 4 trailer I saw referenced on another site) and I’ve been trying to understand why. Piss off if you’re trolling.

  18. bob89 wrote:
    You can also use a bookmarklet to view the HD videos. This is using the greasemonkey script, but I modified it to use &fmt=6 instead of &fmt=18 because the &fmt=18 wasn’t working. Just drag this link to your bookmark toolbar:

    Youtube HD

    Just click the bookmark whenever you visit a low-res Youtube video. (accident double post, please delete :?)

    I also added
    Youtube HD (iPhone)

    which is the same as yours, but replacing ’6′ with ’18′ for those videos that won’t work with the highest quality.

  19. How was this technique first discovered

    was it leaked from someone inside Google/YouTube :idea:

  20. Anonymous wrote:
    It just exposes those people who claim they can see a better quality even though they are the same. Sure the screenshots are different… but those were just manipulated.

    Huh? I definitely didn’t manipulate the screenshots.

    Mike wrote:
    Oh, and &fmt=18 does not play the high-quality video, exactly. It pulls up the video re-encoded for the iPhone (according to slashdot anyway). This can be high quality, like the dog video, but not as high quality as the &fmt=6 parameter. The filesize of the dog video was 6.3 MB for &fmt=18 (seen here: [img248.imageshack.us])

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Dhtml wrote:
    How was this technique first discovered

    was it leaked from someone inside Google/YouTube :idea:

    It must have been. It would be hard for someone to sit there and guess those parameters.

  21. I was very curious why the parameter is “fmt=6″ and my mind raced to deduce that Youtube is using the On2 VP6 video codec and not H.264 (or 263 or AVC or whatever).
    I examined the raw data download from a “fmt=6″ URL and according to the meta data the format is actually On2′s VP6 codec.

    Furthermore, the data *inside* the downloaded data indicates that it is created from one “vp.video.google.com” domain.

    The “fmt=18″ is not the same data, either.

    Let the Youtube hype assumption wars begin.

  22. :arrow: High-Resolution YouTube Videos
    . . . will be available to everyone within three months!

    YouTube’s co-founder Steve Chen has announced high-quality video streams are in the works. He spoke at the NewTeeVee Live event, discussing the challenges facing the project and when we can expect to see less grainy social videos.

    “The need to buffer the video before it starts playing will change the experience. Hence the experiment, rather than just a rapid rollout of this technology. On stage, he said the current resolution of YouTube videos has been “good enough” for the site until now. Chen told me he expects that high-quality YouTube videos will be available to everyone within three months. Chen also confirmed that in YouTube’s internal archive, all video is stored at the native resolution in which it was sent. However, he said, a large portion of YouTube videos are pretty poor quality to begin with — 320×240. Streaming them in high-quality mode isn’t going to help much.”

    ________________________________________________________

    All &fmt = 18 avi xvid encoded
    All &fmt = 6 wmv highest quality

    Basically it depends on your quality settings.
    If you used the highest form possible wmv/avi you get 18
    If you formatted it with quick wmv settings but decent quality you get 6
    Anything lower you just get flash

  23. RD wrote:
    All &fmt = 18 avi xvid encoded
    All &fmt = 6 wmv highest quality

    Basically it depends on your quality settings.
    If you used the highest form possible wmv/avi you get 18
    If you formatted it with quick wmv settings but decent quality you get 6
    Anything lower you just get flash

    Thanks for the clarifications! That makes a lot of sense now.

  24. Bookmarklet for High-Resolution YouTube Videos: [youtubehd.ebiene.de]

  25. stalkerX wrote:
    Bookmarklet for High-Resolution YouTube Videos: [youtubehd.ebiene.de]

    Nice, I like the page you setup for that.

  26. you don’t need to do this anymore.
    there is now an “Watch this video in higher quality.” link below the video when a higher quality version is available

  27. Anonymous wrote:
    you don’t need to do this anymore.
    there is now an “Watch this video in higher quality.” link below the video when a higher quality version is available

    Nice find!

  28. YouTube is using higher quality video compression but you only see it if you have an iPhone. We
    have been uploading movies to YouTube and although they play after a few minutes on the computer
    it takes a day or two before they play on our iPhones. That is because the uploaded movie is being
    encoded to H264 which is what the iPhone requires. The video quality on the iPhone is much better and
    the Audio is much better and stereo. It is a shame that you cannot select this option on the Computer.

  29. If you have high speed connection, there’re really many resources online that you can get to to enjoy [x264-bb.com] besides YouTube.

  30. I might have missed it but please name some other sights I can post my iPhone videos so they come out in better resolution. All my videos come from my phone and I’m not happy with the youtube res.

    Thanks, Leon

  31. If you want to watch HD YouTube Videos or High Quality Videos when using 3G Internet,then you’re in right place

    iPhone will automatically change YouTube video quality according to your Internet connection,if you are in WiFi it will show high quality in case of 3G Internet it will show low quality for faster response and also for carrier charge

    This feature is not good for fast Internet users

    Here are the possible ways to watch HD YouTube videos in iPhone 3G Internet

    (1),Use Safari Browser

    1,Visit Youtube.com in your Safari

    2,Select Mobile Version If your not in Mobile Youtube view

    3,Select HD button on Safari and Click Play.

    (2),Use Truveo Video application

    Source:
    [indiatodayonline.com]

  32. angry props to the article dawg

  33. I got a dog exactly like that, his name is Paco and he made 1 year this Sunday.

  34. I think this will give you a virus guys.

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