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:
and add the &fmt=6 onto the end:
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:
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.