YouTube has confirmed that it is experimenting with a higher-quality 1080p option for Premium subscribers next some Reddit users noticed a new “1080p Premium” option in the quality settings menu. The option is currently available to “a small group of YouTube Premium subscribers,” said Paul Pennington, a spokesperson for the company.
“1080p Premium is an enhanced bitrate version of 1080p that provides more information per pixel, resulting in a higher quality viewing experience,” said Pennington, adding that “there are no changes to the existing 1080p (HD) resolution quality offerings on YouTube.” There been worried that YouTube uses the standard 1080p mode to make the Premium version more appealing, but the statement implies that the company has not made any changes.
While 1080p describes a video’s resolution, or the number of pixels that make up the image, there are more factors that go into overall video quality. Bitrate and color depth are also important factors and can even make good 1080p video look better than poor 4K footage. Bitrate is often used to describe how much data is used to transfer each second of video.
For example, a 1080p Blu-ray can give you up to 40 Mbps, which produces a pretty sharp picture. Meanwhile, YouTube’s standard 1080p bit rate fluctuates between 8 and 10 Mbps and can jam noticeably more than Blu-rays or the original exports. It also depends on the codec the video is compressed with, as some are more efficient than others and can give better results with less data, often at a cost elsewhere – it can be quite complicated. (Bitrate isn’t entirely separate from resolution, either; how many pixels are in a video plays a role in how much data you’ll need to send it in acceptable quality. If you want to dig deeper into the concept, here’s a pretty good explanation.)
However, it is generally correct to say that video encoded with the same codec but with a higher bit rate looks better. That seems to be what YouTube does: one Reddit user with access to the feature posted a screenshot from the company’s “Stats for Nerds” tool, showing that the Premium 1080p option ran at around 13 Mbps versus 8 Mbps in Standard mode for the same video. However, it’s worth noting that YouTube mostly uses variable bitrate encoding, which means the amount of data it uses will fluctuate a bit depending on what’s shown on screen.
The premium version could increase the bit rate by about 50 percent
The company did not immediately respond The edge‘s request for comment on what the average premium bitrate would be.
The reason YouTube doesn’t just show you the original video file at the maximum bit rate is that this would be expensive both for them and potentially for you depending on your speed and data cap. The lower a video’s bit rate, and therefore the lower its quality, the less bandwidth it takes up on its journey from YouTube’s servers to your screen. The 1080p Premium test indicates that YouTube could be willing to let people access more quality, as long as they pay for the service.
This isn’t the first time YouTube has experimented with putting higher-quality video behind the Premium paywall. Last year, the company ran a test that prevented some people from accessing 4K playback unless they were subscribers, a move that drew a lot of backlash from the community. However, a lot of that came down to people losing something they previously had free access to. If YouTube really keeps the quality the same for the regular 1080p option, then the experiment is just a perk for paying customers.