YouTube Video Upload Specifications and a Bit of History

Uploading videos to YouTube is easier than ever, primarily because the platform accepts a great variety of video lengths, as well as the majority of video formats.

In brief, any YouTube user can upload videos up to 15 minutes long. However, users who have a good track record of complying with YouTube’s Community Guidelines may be offered the ability to upload videos up to 12 hours in length (or 128GB, whichever is less), as well as live streams, which requires verifying the account, normally through a mobile phone. This even includes high-quality video formats, such as 4K.

But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the earlier days of YouTube, only low-quality formats and shorter videos were acceptable. For more info on some of the history of YouTube video upload specification, scroll down further. For now, let’s get to the current specs.

Supported YouTube File Formats

A video file format normally consists of a container that holds video data, separate audio data, subtitles and additional information such as the type of video compression used. Technically, the last items on the list, DNxHR, ProRes, Cineform, HEVC (h265), are compression technologies (codecs) and not video container formats themselves. Nevertheless, YouTube includes them in the following list anyway, likely for simplicity’s sake, so we’re including them as well.

  • .MOV
  • .MPEG4
  • .MP4
  • .AVI
  • .WMV
  • .MPEGPS
  • .FLV
  • 3GPP
  • WebM
  • DNxHR
  • ProRes
  • CineForm
  • HEVC (h265)

YouTube Recommended Resolution & Aspect Ratios

‘Aspect ratio’ describes the proportional relationship between the width and height of video screens and video picture elements.

YouTube states that “The standard aspect ratio for YouTube on desktop is 16:9. If your video has a different aspect ratio, the player will automatically change to the ideal size to match your video and the viewer’s device.”

Hence, the following aspect ratios are all the same (16:9), which represents the shape of a high-definition TV. But the actual size (resolution) of the images are different, as depicted by their pixel lengths horizontally and vertically. A bigger image size is associated with higher quality video.

  • 2160p: 3840×2160
  • 1440p: 2560×1440
  • 1080p: 1920×1080
  • 720p: 1280×720
  • 480p: 854×480
  • 360p: 640×360
  • 240p: 426×240

The ‘p’ in the name, such as ‘1080p’ refers to ‘progressive scanning‘ to differentiate from ‘i’ (not recommended by YouTube) which means ‘interlaced video,’ usually associated with TV.

Following are how three of the above resolutions and aspect ratios relate to each other.

A Word on Video Length

How long should your video be? Just because you can upload a video to YouTube that is longer than 15 minutes in length, should you? The short answer is “it depends.” For more info, visit What’s the Best Length for an Internet Video?

Video Quality

Video quality means different things. For this paragraph, we’re not talking about the quality of the content or the quality of the lighting or audio or camera placement or how well focused the camera was or was not. We are simply referring to the technical quality of the video file itself. In brief, the higher video quality you upload to YouTube, the better quality available to viewers. But viewers will not necessarily see the same quality that you uploaded. YouTube will provide a level of quality appropriate to the internet speed of the viewer in addition to the size of the viewer’s screen. In other words, just because you upload a 4K video does not mean viewers will see a 4K video. For example, instead they may see a 240p video if that is most appropriate to their internet speed and/or size of their viewing device.

A Bit of YouTube History

YouTube was founded in 2005 by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim, who were early employees of PayPal. The platform originally offered videos at only one quality level, displayed at a resolution of 320×240 pixels.

In March, 2006, a ten-minute limit was introduced after YouTube found that the majority of videos exceeding this length were unauthorized uploads of television shows and films.

On October 9, 2006, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in Google stock, and the deal was finalized on November 13, 2006.

In March 2008, a ‘high-quality’ mode was added, which increased the resolution to 480×360 pixels.

In December 2008, 720p high-definition (HD) support was added. Also, the YouTube player was changed from a 4:3 (standard TV) aspect ratio to a widescreen 16:9, which reflected the future of high-definition video and TV viewing.

In November 2009, 1080p HD support was added

In March 2010, YouTube began offering online streaming video.

In July 2010 the 10-minute video upload limit was increased to 15 minutes.

In Dec 2010, YouTube began allowing users to upload videos of unlimited length.

In October 2014, YouTube introduced videos playing at 60 frames per second, in order to reproduce video games with a frame rate comparable to high-end graphics cards

In March 2015, support for 4K resolution was added, with the videos playing at 3840 × 2160 pixels.

In 2016, YouTube discontinued the ability to upload ‘unlimited’ videos and instead limited the ability to upload videos up to 12 hours in length (or 128GB, whichever is less).

In January 2019, YouTube said that it introduced a new policy intended to stop recommending videos containing ‘content that could misinform users in harmful ways.’ This invoked controversy since is necessitates censorship in terms of what represents misinformation.