by Anthony 

June 7, 2021

By default, YouTube determines what resolution to play a video based on your current internet speed. Typically, if you’re watching YouTube using mobile data, it’s more likely playback will be at a lower quality.  However, there are ways to permanently change YouTube settings to play videos in their highest possible quality.

To permanently set YouTube to play videos at their highest quality use the Chrome plugin Turn Off The Lights. Alternatively, set YouTube's playback quality to high definition in the video quality preferences in YouTube’s mobile App.

READY TO START YOUR OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL?

How Do I Permanently Change YouTube’s Playback Quality

Changing YouTube’s video quality depends upon whether you are using a computer (desktop or laptop) or using the YouTube mobile app on your phone. This is because, while YouTube has settings to set playback quality in their mobile app, the same settings are not available in a browser.

How To Force YouTube To Pay Videos At Their Highest Quality In The Mobile App on iPhone and Android

A recent update to YouTube’s mobile app has made it even easier to choose between watching videos in high definition or saving on data by watching them in standard definition. Up until now there’s always been an option to choose the resolution by simply clicking on the ellipsis icon in the top, right corner of a video and choosing Quality. However, the latest update to the mobile app now gives us additional options to choose between Higher Picture Quality and Data Saver.

YouTubes new video quality settings in the mobile app

By default, video playback quality in YouTube’s mobile app is set to Auto. This means YouTube will determine the quality of playback based on your current internet speed. However, if your wish to guarantee High Definition playback, you simply need to choose High Picture Quality which will deliver a minimum of 720p. Or, if you’re worried about your data usage, you can choose the Data Saver mode, which maxes out at 480p - standard definition.

If you prefer having the ability to choose a specific resolution, don’t worry - this option is still available by clicking on advanced. Just bear in mind that setting video playback to 1080p or higher when your phone is on cellular data will likely cause playback to stutter and freeze as there won't be enough bandwidth available to cope. What’s more, your data usage will be significantly higher, so you’ll need an appropriate mobile data plan. 

Set the specific resolution of video in YouTubes mobile app

Another way of permanently setting YouTube’s video quality in the mobile app is to use YouTube’s Video Quality Preferences. You can find the Video Quality Preferences in the advanced settings, where you manually adjust the resolution.  Here you can set specific options based upon whether you’re watching on WiFi or on cellular data. For example, you may opt for low resolution when on mobile but prefer maximum quality when on WiFi.

How to access YouTube Video Quality Preference settings in the mobile app

How To Force YouTube To Pay Videos At Their Highest Quality on Windows or MacOS

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t appear to offer similar settings when watching videos in a browser on Mac or Windows. However, there are Chrome plugins that will force YouTube videos to permanently play at their highest resolution. The plugin I use for this is called Turn Off The Lights

Turn Off The Lights settings page

Its primary purpose is to darken the screen during playback with the intention of creating a more cinematic vibe. However, one of the additional settings is to force YouTube videos to be played in their highest resolution. This video demonstrates exactly how it works.

What Video Resolutions Does YouTube Use?

In the main, YouTube will playback videos in a resolution as low as 240p, which is 426 by 240 pixels, all the way up to 8K resolution, which is a whopping 7,680 x 4,320 pixels. All these resolutions use a 16 by 9 aspect ratio. However, YouTube does also support the 18:9 or 2:1 aspect ratio, which some YouTubers - Marques Brownlee - prefer. YouTube has also recently introduced YouTube Shorts, which playback in a 9 by 16 vertical format designed specifically for watching on mobile.

Obviously, to be able to play videos in 2K, 4K, and 8K, you’ll need a device that supports these resolutions and plenty of internet bandwidth.

NAME

RESOLUTION

QUALITY

8K

7,680 x 4,320 pixels

4320p

4K

3840 x 2160

2160p

2K

2560 x 1440

1440p

FULL HD

1920 x 1080

1080p

HD

1280 x 720

720p

SD

854 x 480

480p

Usually used video ads on websites

640 x 360

360p

Lowest possible quality

426 x 240

240p

What Is The Best YouTube Video Quality?

The best or maximum YouTube video quality is currently 8K - 7,680 x 4,320 pixels. However, many YouTubers will upload in 1080p meaning these videos cannot be viewed in a resolution higher than 1080p. If you’re watching videos on a mobile phone, this isn’t necessarily going to be a problem since most mobile phones do not offer 4K resolution. For example, Apple’s current flagship iPhone - the iPhone 12 Pro Max - has a screen resolution of 2778 by 1284, some way short of 4K. 

What’s more, the size of the display is small enough that the human eye is unlikely to notice the difference between a video in 1080P and one in 4K.  However, 4K is becoming the standard for televisions, computer monitors, and laptops. If you are watching videos on a 4K screen, especially a larger screen, with say a 28 or 32-inch wide display, you may start seeing pixilation when watching lower resolution videos in full-screen mode. This is because, in order to fill the screen, the lower resolution video is being scaled up.

Why Are My YouTube Videos Low Quality?

So what should you do if you notice all the YouTube videos you watch are in low quality or pixelated? Well, as just mentioned, this could be caused by the video being scaled to fit your screen and, in this case, it’s worth checking the current playback resolution and increasing it if possible, say from 720P to 1080P. 

In most cases, if YouTube has set a lower resolution for playback it’s because you’re on a slow internet connection. Remember, by default YouTube will automatically adjust the quality of video playback based on your current internet connection speed. You can check your internet speed by using a service such as FAST.com.

What’s more, the size of the display is small enough that the human eye is unlikely to notice the difference between a video in 1080P and one in 4K.  However, 4K is becoming the standard for televisions, computer monitors, and laptops. If you are watching videos on a 4K screen, especially a larger screen, with say a 28 or 32-inch wide display, you may start seeing pixilation when watching lower resolution videos in full-screen mode. This is because, in order to fill the screen, the lower resolution video is being scaled up.

In some cases, however, poor video playback is not a fault of YouTube or your internet speed. It can be caused by how the video was produced. If the video was highly compressed in the production process this will reduce the quality of the picture image, regardless of whether it is 480P or 4K.

Final Thoughts

In most cases, you’re better off relying on YouTube’s auto setting to determine the best playback resolution based on your Internet speed. If you find that’s not satisfactory, the mobile app now has several options for fixing the quality of playback. Unfortunately, these options are not extended to desktop computers and laptops where YouTube videos are viewed through a browser. Here, you can set the resolution on a per video basis and not much else, unless you use a 3rd part browser extension like the one I recommend here - Turn Off The Lights. 

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