Friday, July 9, 2010

YouTube Goes 4K: Why?

YouTube started hosting 4K clips, and I am stumped: why offer something that very, very few people can use? Here are my tops reasons to not host 4K clips:
  1. My monitor is too small. The official YouTube blog post says that "the ideal screen size for a 4K video is 25 feet". Yes, 25 feet. That's 6 times your average Joe's 50-inch TV and most apartment walls are 10 to 14 feet unless you feel like finding an empty wall at Ralph's... good luck.

    Wait, here is an idea. You go buy a 4K Red One camera ($25-50K with lenses and accessories), shoot an awesome 4K video, upload it to YouTube and... watch it on your iPhone? Oh wait, it's less than 4 inches and you need 25 feet of real estate to view it. Then go to your nearest Imax theater - they should let you fire up your 4K YouTube video after hours, right? Or, rent one of those 4K projectors and a 25' screen for something like $5K a day... There, enjoy your 4K movie. Don't forget the popcorn.

    Seriously, most high resolution monitors max out at 1080p and there are very, very few monitors or projection screens out there that can display 4K. None of them are accessible to regular mortals outside of 4K post production houses and Malibu celebrity row. People attempting to view 4K clips on their supposedly high end systems will be disappointed to not being able to see the 4K quality.


  2. My computer is too slow. The vast majority of computers will choke on 4K. My 3-year-old office machine (Intel Core 2 6600 2.4GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, GeForce 8800GTS graphics, Vista 64) sure does choke: choppy playback, severe compression artifacts. The monitor is the 30-inch HP LP3065 with 2560x1600 resolution. In 1080p mode, it's smooth and gorgeous. In 4K mode - horrible. Here is the 4K clip I tried - see if your results are better. I hope they are.

    Ouch 2.

    (Added 2010-07-10 10:57am) Current computers with high performance multi-core Intel and AMD CPUs will likely play back 4K videos in their "original" mode smoothly. HP Z800 with dual Xeon E5530 CPUs and NVidia Quadro CX card had no issues although the visual quality of the video in the original mode is still noticeably worse than in 1080p mode and even 720p mode: not as sharp, with visible gradients and pixelized lines. According to Pavel P who commented on this post, his 27" iMac with Core i7 CPU had no issues either. I can only guess that the "original" 4K mode is worse than 1080p because of Adobe Flash player processing: it may simply not know what to do with such high quality video.

  3. YouTube says you need a "super-fast broadband" to video 4K videos although my crude calculations show that they stream at about 6Mbs, which means even a home-brew 3Mbs DSL is fast enough if you don't mind a little waiting. It took me about 4 minutes to fully download a 3-minute 4K video over a 6Mbs DSL. So to me, broadband speed isn't that big of an issue. The real issue is that most people can't enjoy the 4K quality.
Bottom line, virtually nobody can enjoy the full 4K quality. Why offer this 4K support then?

For YouTube, it's most likely a test of the potential market, a somewhat cruel tease akin to putting you in an F-22 Raptor and taxiing you around the airstrip but no flying. Lots of tease, no release, excuse my parallel. These 4K videos may be useful to few of us with access to the right display and computer equipment, and to ubergeeks to stress-test their uber-duper gaming or editing systems - but certainly not to the vast majority of YouTube users.
(F-22 Raptor image by Rob Shenk)

Another reason is future-proofing YouTube. Making the 4K option available today rather than sometime in the future, eliminates the inconvenience of re-uploading 4K clips in the future. After all, there aren't too many 4K cameras out there; 4K production (and post-production) is expensive, and the impact on YouTube's servers because of hosting 4K will be minuscule. Letting users upload 4K clips today is a smart move even if few people can enjoy them at full quality.

Have you tried YouTube's 4K videos? How do they look? Can your computer play back YouTube's 4K videos smoothly in their "original mode"? Is that "original" mode better quality than the 1080p mode? Let me know - post a comment, and tell me this:
  • which 4K clip(s) you tried, and in what mode (original, 1080p, etc.)?
  • the resolution of your monitor
  • the CPU, RAM and GPU in your system
  • What OS you are running (e.g. Windows Vista Business 64-bit), and Flash player version (right-click on the video, click on "About Adobe Flash Player")
  • What was the effective frame rate of the video, and how many frames were dropped during playback? (Right-click on the video during playback and choose "Video Info")
  • How is the quality of the video in "original" mode vs. 1080p and 720p?
Enjoy your tests!

Sample 4K video below. Click to open it on YouTube page and select "original" quality.


  1. I tried "Secret World". Works perfectly on my imac 27 inch
    Resolution: 2560X1440
    2.8 GHz intel core i7
    RAM: 4 GB
    Snow Leopard (64-bit)
    GPU: 512 MB

  2. Thanks Pavel. Was it in "original" mode? Could you right-click on the video while it plays, click on "video info", note the frames rate and how many frames were dropped during playback, and post it here? Average CPU usage would be great too.

  3. Chrome is still faster: 56 dropped frames vs. 91 on IE9 Beta. Video: "Lupe" by Elvin Grant (, full-screen original mode, system: HP Z800 8-core, Quadro CX graphics. Browsers:
    1. Microsoft IE9 Beta 64-bit 9.0.7930.16406
    2. Google Chrome


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