A few months ago in April, video-sharing and social media giant YouTube announced a few new features for its Premium subscription in an attempt to garner more subscribers. Among those was a new ‘1080p Premium’ video quality setting. While that was the first official release of the feature, it was only available to Premium subscribers on iOS.
Recently, the platform has made the feature more widely available to Premium members on desktop, Chromecast, and video game consoles. But what’s so ‘enhanced’ about it? Why is it only for Premium members? What does this mean for the platform’s future? We’re glad you asked.
Before you start hyperventilating, the platform is not locking the 1080p quality setting behind a paywall. It’s said as much. The 1080p Premium video quality setting is offered alongside the regular 1080p setting and is meant to enhance the viewing experience by providing increased clarity to videos on supported platforms. So… pretty much everyone except Android users.
What’s being enhanced exactly?
The resolution of a video isn’t the only factor that determines how good it looks and how much data you’re using to stream it. A video’s bitrate (the number of 1s and 0s per second that are used to encode it) can have a big impact on both.
If you’ve ever watched a video or live stream where someone wins something and is showered in confetti, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Even if you’re watching in 4K, when the confetti is fired visual quality will drop considerably. That’s because, as YouTuber Tom Scott put it “there are only so many 1s and 0s to go around.”
That’s where YouTube’s 1080p Premium setting comes in. It will serve you the same video with a higher bit rate – essentially throwing more 1s and 0s around. Theoretically, you shouldn’t see as big of a quality drop in a video with lots of confetti using the 1080p Premium setting as you would using the regular 1080p setting. And in videos devoid of confetti, the increased bit rate is used in other parts of the video to make it look clearer and more detailed.
But those extra bits come with a cost and we’re not talking about the YouTube Premium subscription. They’re coming down the same internet pipe as the rest of your video which means you’ll be using more bandwidth to stream it. That’s only really a concern if you’re using expensive mobile data or your home connection is slowed down by your bandwidth-hungry family. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Why only for YouTube Premium members?
Bandwidth and storage drives don’t grow on trees. YouTube.com is the second most visited website in the world but most of those people are doing it for free. Ad-supported users are cool, but they’re nowhere near as cool as paying users. If you want more paying users, making your paid-for service more appealing by adding features seems like a good way to get there.
What does this mean for the platform’s future?
A worthwhile, feature-rich, paid-for service, we hope. Especially if YouTube is serious about enforcing its ad-blocker rules. Obviously, we hope future features are similar to this one and the platform doesn’t go the Twitter route and start locking usually free features behind a paywall.
Either way, the same ‘increased bitrate costs more, let’s charge the viewer’ argument could be made for 4K and HDR videos. It’s easy to understand why when you consider the costs of storing the 800 million+ videos on the platform, not to mention the network infrastructure required to make those videos accessible to anyone in the world.
Do you really need 4K, HDR, or an increased bitrate? No, you don’t. Are you going to stop using YouTube because it’s making you pay R72/m and won’t give you all the nice features for free? With possible alternatives being removing old videos or seeing more ads, we didn’t think so.