Do you post movies to YouTube? Do you notice from time to time, that your movies can sometimes end up looking like utter shit, while others look awesome? Well I do… and I’ve spent the last 2 days reading through post after post, page after page of “How to create better looking YouTube movies!” or “How to make your YouTube movies look awesome!” or “How to fucking waste 2 days worth of time, fast!”. I’ve even tried doing what the YouTube suggested video settings FAQ entry said to do, to get the best quality, which happens to be:
- MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format
- 640×480 resolution (* most updated recommendation)
- MP3 audio
- 30 frames per second
I have been encoding, reencoding, uploading and installing video software until I was crapping blood, and the end result, once YouTube had loaded the movie was always exactly the same. At one point I thought YouTube might have enabled a new policy that was in place, that wouldn’t allow better versions of movies… but the proof was in the pudding, some movies (not mine) looked awesomer.
All these guides talk about “source material” and “bitrates” and “donkey raping”, but none of those were my problem. Everything I’m recording is done at full 704×480 resolution and looks great when I play it on my computer or even reencode it to h.264, FLV, DivX or any other goddamn format. But as soon as I upload it, it becomes a blurry mess of shit.
It wasn’t until I ran across a post from 2006 that basically summed up the problem. My issue isn’t with quality of the source, my issue (and likely others) is with what I’m recording… specifically the detail in the video I’m trying to post.
Because of how aggressively the FLV encoding is set on YouTube’s end, minor details in a scene are blended into the scene around it. So for example, recording a movie of a blue ball on a black background will look good, because there is stark contrast. Recording a blue ball, with fur, on a black background will likely look like a blurry mess and you won’t be able to see the hair because during the encoding process it’s “optimized out” of the scene.
To show an example of what I mean, considering the following scene. On the left is the “High Quality” or original version of the scene, on the right is the over-compressed “YouTube” version of the same scene. Pay attention to the details on the clothes on on the wall, notice how the texture of these items and really fine details just blend off into oblivion and become a muddy mess? (Click for bigger version)
So in my case, I’m not shooting simple scenes, I’m shooting scenes from games being played in action, and due to the detail and the animation of the content, the end result is unfortunately shit.
The other guides that do make the point of “Garbage in, Garbage out” are absolutely right. So if you use your camera-phone to record a video of something on your TV, that’s going to look piss-poor… but it likely looks piss-poor on your computer when you play it anyway before even uploading… so no surprises there.
The one trick I did pick up that did work, is if you encode your videos to FLV format ahead of time, after uploading them to YouTube they will be converted and ready for viewing much faster than any other format, for me it was just a few seconds the few times I tried it. Unfortunately the video is still reencoded by YouTube, so even if you encode your movie in FLV format with exactly the settings YouTube wants for it’s FLV files, it will still reencode the entire movie, leaving you with exactly the same end result… over and over again.
Some alternatives are that you can upload better quality images to Google Video, but then there is a verification/acceptance process that your video must go through first. Additionally there are services like blip.tv that let you post high definition movies… but if people finding your videos via searching is important, it’s hard to ignore the traffic YouTube is going to provide for you.
So there you have it, there is your YouTube optimization guide from me to you if you don’t want to go read the other 20 that won’t help: If your video looks bad when you upload it, go record something else… like an orange sitting on your table.
Update #1: Even though this post is older, all the hints still apply; you can’t really optimize for YouTube, just record and upload at the highest resolution and bitrate you can produce and YouTube will handle the rest however it wants.