YouTube video shifts to SD from 1080p. What does that mean for you?

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YouTube will downshift its default resolution to DVD-grade. For the next month, that Google service will present videos in “480p” standard definition, the same as on the discs that once constituted America’s primary way to watch movies at home.

The move, first reported Tuesday by Bloomberg, follows an earlier YouTube pledge to constrain its resolution in Europe to relieve networks there as the coronavirus crisis forces an unprecedented shift to working from home. A statement provided to USA TODAY called this expanded cutback Google’s way to “do our part to minimize stress on the system during this unprecedented situation.”

YouTube normally streams the highest-quality version of a video that it thinks your connection can support. For most clips, that means 1080p high definition (“1080” and “480” refer to the picture’s vertical resolution), although YouTube and other streaming services also offer some content in 4K “Ultra High Definition.”

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Per YouTube’s posted requirements, dropping from 1080p to 480p should slash the needed bandwidth from 5 megabits per second to 1.1 megabits per second. (YouTube cites 2.5 Mbps for 720p, a lesser form of high-def video, and 20 Mbps for 4K.) Viewers can still request HD or higher by clicking or tapping the menu button in a video and selecting “Quality.”

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The picture there is not so sharp.

“It is highly likely that this will reduce the consumption numbers overall,” said Cam Cullen, vice president of global marketing at the network-analysis firm Sandvine. That Waterloo, Ontario, company’s stats last week had YouTube constituting 16% of total internet bandwidth, more than any other app.


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