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February 12, 2021

Should You Film 4K YouTube Videos, Isn’t 1080p Good Enough?

Should you be obsessed with making 4k YouTube content when 99% of your audience watches on non-4k devices (iPhones, iPads, and cheap LCD computer monitors)? Is there any point to it? Let’s find out!

What’s The Max Resolution of an iPhone?

Almost 0 of the popular devices your audience watches you on can display 4k.

Starting with the iPhone. Here’s a table of the latest iPhones and their resolutions. While phones are inching their way closer to 4k (Sony released a 4k smartphone in 2015), most popular phones as of 2021 don’t support 4k.

Device Pixels Tall (in Landscape orientation) Pixels Wide (in Landscape orientation)
A 4k Screen 2160 3840
iPhone 12 Pro Max 1284 2778
iPhone 12 1170 2532
iPhone 11 828 1792
iPhone X 1125 2436
iPhone 8 Plus 1080 1920
iPhone 8 750 1334
iPhone 7 750 1334
iPhone 6 750 1334

The same goes for iPads. As awesome as they are, they don’t have a resolution that can display 4k content either.

Device Pixels Tall (in Landscape orientation) Pixels Wide (in Landscape orientation)
A 4k Screen 2160 3840
12.9″ 2020 iPad Pro 2048 2732
11″ 2020 iPad Pro 1668 2388
2020 iPad Air 1640 2360

Even the most Spec’d out laptops, and the most popular computer monitors don’t have 4k resolutions.

Device Pixels Tall (in Landscape orientation) Pixels Wide (in Landscape orientation)
A 4k Screen 2160 3840
Microsoft Surface 3 1280 1920
M1 Macbook Air 1660 2560
Acer SB220Q bi 1080 1920
Sceptre 20″ 900 1600

To stream 4k YouTube content, you would first need to buy a ChromeCast Ultra 4k HD or an AppleTV 4k and hook it to your 4k capable television. And even if you had that, YouTube will throttle you down to 1080p regardless (to save bandwidth).

Meaning 99% of people will never see your YouTube video in 4k. Or will they?

Are We Future Proofing By Filming in 4K? Will These Devices Ever Be Capable of 4K?

640K (of RAM) ought to be enough for anybody Bill Gates – 1981

People continuously fail to recognize just how fast our electronics will advance.

Heck, the prosumer cameras that came out in 2020 (like the Sony A7S iii) blow away cameras from 2018, which blew away the cameras from 2015. Go check out a popular YouTube video from 2014, and compare it to one from 2020. You’ll see just how far we’ve come.

So we should film in 4k now to prevent our videos from looking like garbage in 8 years, right? Actually, maybe not. While I do think a 4k or 8k resolution will become a necessity for 360° VR videos, you can make a legitimate argument that 1080p content will NEVER look deprecated vs. 4k in 2D (unless we all get significantly bigger televisions).

Can You Even Tell The Difference Between 1080p and 4K?

There’s a very cool viewing distance calculator you can use to determine the exact point you can start to tell the difference between 1080p and 4k content.

That calculation depends on the distance from the screen, the size of the screen, your viewing angle, and whether you have 20/20 vision. Rather than get into the equation, I’m just going to give you a table of popular screen sizes and how close you’d have to be to notice 4k content with 20/20 vision.

Screen Size How Close You’d Have To Be To Screen To Begin To Notice 4k over 1080p
6 inches (Regular sized iPhone 12) < 0.9 ft.
12 inches (12″ iPad Pro) < 1.4 ft.
22 inches (mid-sized computer monitor) < 2.9 ft.
32 inches (big computer monitor / small TV) < 4.3 ft.
42 inches < 5.4 ft.
55 inches < 7.2 ft.
65 inches < 8.6 ft.
75 inches < 9.7 ft.

Yes, some people sit this close to screens of these sizes. It’s not that 4k is entirely irrelevant. That said, a lot of people don’t sit this close to screens of these sizes. A lot of people don’t have 20/20 vision. Those people literally can’t tell the difference between your 1080p and 4k YouTube content.

To those viewers, 1080p content will NEVER look out of date…

That said, I’ve been watching a lot of videos with my Oculus Quest 2 VR headset of late and you can create a television in Virtual Reality that’s as big as you want. So there is a world where our 1080p content might look outdated on gigantic virtual screens.

Does It Make Sense To Make 4k YouTube Content?

99% of Your YouTube audience will never see your videos in 4K due to their device not supporting it or bandwidth throttling. And in the event they did see your video in 4k, they’re probably not sitting close enough to a large enough screen to notice the difference. The only real reason to shoot in 4K or higher is if you want to punch in in post or shoot a 360° video.

That said, I shoot in 4k.

Why? Well, the Sony A7Siii I shoot on only does 4k with h.265. Meaning whether I shoot in 1080 or 4k, it takes up the same amount of space. If that’s the case, then why not shoot in 4k?

However, if you’re using an older camera that struggles with 4k, don’t continue the struggle of shooting in 4k. 1080p will look just fine; use that.

Your audience literally can’t tell the difference.

Shaun Poore has spent a ton of time filming 4k YouTube content only to find that nobody has a screen capable of playing it back. Meaning 1080p is good enough for everybody right now.