Video quality on YouTube has steadily improved over the years, and it is about to get better. A coming update will introduce 48 and 60 fps support for smoother video playback, and new codecs will improve picture quality for millions of users.
Higher frame rates on YouTube
Do you remember YouTube just five, six years ago? Video quality was very poor. But in recent years HD and even 4K has been added, and the majority of popular videos are now available in 1080p (althrough low bitrate).
This is only the beginning. Google has two major improvements planned for the near future. The first is support for 48 and 60 frames per second videos. Today, YouTube only supports up to 30fps. 60fps will not only make videos smoother, but also increase motion detailing.
This is potentially huge for game videos, time-lapse and documentaries, and even trailers for movies shot in HFR such as The Hobbit (48fps) and the coming Avatar movies, which could be shot in 60fps, according to James Cameron.
Google has not confirmed when 60fps support will be introduced, but you can see a 60fps sample video below (select 1080p HD).
Better quality with less bandwidth
Google will also move to newer, more effective codecs. Instead of HEVC, which Netflix uses for 4K streaming, Google has decided to push its own VP9 codec. VP9 will allow YouTube to stream a video in the same HD quality as before, by using significantly lower bandwidth.
Better encoding will bring better quality to millions of users on slow internet connections. For example, a 3 Mb/s connection will suddenly allow you to stream HD videos. Users with fast internet connections will also benefit, as 4K will eventually be available to far more users.
However, to utilize VP9 your player or TV needs to support VP9. Google has said that they will encode all future 4K clips on YouTube in VP9, but no current 4K Smart TVs support VP9, so you need to wait until at least 2015 for TVs and media streamer boxes to support VP9.
Google could also opt to support HEVC, which offers similar video quality improvements, and works with current 2014 4K Smart TVs, but has made no announcement yet.
YouTube has been synonymous with poor video quality in the past, but in five years from now video quality could actually look quite good.