Daniel Imbellino
Nov 20, 2017 · 14 min read

One of the biggest complaints among gaming channels on YouTube, is how more often than not, their videos don’t come out with the level of quality they had originally hoped for. It’s also not odd to upload your recently recorded game play footage only to realize the quality of the published content doesn’t seem to match the quality of the original footage. There’s a number of reasons why published videos on sites like YouTube suffer from a degradation in quality upon publishing, in which I’m going to explain in detail what those causes are, as well as how to properly encode your videos to achieve a higher quality finished product.

For starters, the advice we’re giving here doesn’t just pertain to gaming captures, but any video content you plan to produce really. We’re also going to be using the free to use Open-Broadcaster software for the examples shown here.

The Causes of Degradation in Video Quality:

For starters, One of the reasons why videos uploaded to video streaming sites like YouTube often look much poorer than the original recorded content is because they suffer from degradation in quality as a result of the re-encoding process they undergo before being published. You see, regardless of the format you use to record your game play or other footage, YouTube is going to re-encode and compress those videos to a more streamable format, even if they’re encoded as an MP4 (YouTube’s native format for video).

The end result is always lower quality recorded footage, leaving content creators scratching their heads in frustration as to what they can do about it.

But after recording hundreds of game play videos on YouTube myself, I’ve discovered a few neat tricks that really work to make ones videos look a lot cleaner and render better at higher resolutions.

The Fixes:

  1. Record at Higher Resolutions:

Whether you’ve realized it or not, the devices people use to access content across the web have been increasing in screen resolution for years. For example, a decade ago the average laptop had a screen resolution of 1280x720 or 1280x768, and in 2005 it was even less, 1024x768. Even mobile devices like smart phones and tablets used to share these standard resolutions, which by the way are almost obsolete now.

Today, those resolutions have increased exponentially across a multitude of devices, from desktop PC’s (which have eclipsed the 4K mark), to mobile devices (which often render content at 1080P or better), and laptop screens, which now have a multitude of standard screen sizes and resolutions they operate from.

The typical laptops today have screen resolutions of at least 1366x768, with the majority averaging in resolutions between 1600x900 and 1920x1080, with others exhibiting resolutions of 1440P, or higher. Some laptops are already 4K, as we’ve seen with several recent models released from Dell and others.

The point here, the lower the resolution of the recorded content, the crappier its going to look on higher resolution devices. While that 1280x720 recorded game play footage may look great to you, try viewing that video on a 1920x1080 widescreen desktop monitor, or a 1440P laptop screen. Chances are, its going to look awful!

To get higher resolution game play footage, you’re going to need a higher resolution screen to record from. For instance, I record all my game play footage from a laptop with a 1920x1080 resolution.

Also, make sure your your input recording resolution is at least as high, if not higher than your output resolution.

For instance, take a look at this snapshot from Open-Broadcaster, the video recording software many use to record their YouTube video with:

See where it says “Base (Canvas) Resolution”, that’s the input resolution of content being recorded. That should always be the same or higher than the output resolution.

Pixel densities are an issue as well. For instance, my laptop is 1920x1080 and it has a screen size of just 15.9 inches, while my widescreen desktop monitor of the same resolution has a screen size of 32 inches. The laptop has a much higher pixel density, as the pixels are much smaller, and they’re packed closer together, vs. the desktop screen where the pixels are much larger.

I recommend viewing your content on larger screens to get a good idea of what they will look like to viewers from desktop devices when viewed full screen.

Also, a lot of viewers are now watching YouTube videos from their smart TV’s. These screens run an average resolution of 1080P, with many in the 1440 mark, and 4K is almost the norm today. Despite the fact smart TV’s typically share the same resolutions as many desktop and laptop monitors, their pixels are much larger, and for this reason graphical elements often appear in a more stretched out manner vs. smaller screens.

2. Frame Rates Are a Problem:

While recording at higher resolutions is a must if you want to achieve great quality gaming footage, unfortunately, it wont stop Google from degrading your videos when uploaded to YouTube. The single biggest fix you make to get a higher quality finished product is to record at a higher frame rate.

For instance, when we first started our Left4Dead series of videos, we weren’t happy that regardless of the bit rates and resolutions we encoded at, our videos still looked choppy and were of much lower quality than the original recording.

The solution? Record at 60 frames per second. In fact, the higher the frame rate the better! Now, this fix wont work with all games, but it will with many. In the case of our Left4Dead videos, the results were astounding. Recording at higher frame rates had the single largest quality fix out of all we’ve applied.

One important thing to note about recording at higher frame rates is the fact that this process requires more processing power. In the case of Left4Dead 2, I was unable to record at 1080P when I attempted to run the game at 60FPS using a Core i7 4500 and an NVIDIA GT 745 graphics card. High frame rates are graphic intensive, and you really need a powerful processor and graphics card to pull it off, especially at higher resolutions. In my case, I had to settle for 60FPS at 720P, or 30FPS at 1080, my computer just couldn’t do any better.

The Software we used to record our game play footage on PC is Open Broadcaster, this is a free open-source program for capturing video footage on your computer.

3. Bit Encoding Rates Matter:

Think of the bit rate as a matter of space, the more space you have, the more stuff you can put into that space, and the same goes for digitally encoded data. The higher the bit rate you encode with, the more content you can capture, and the higher the quality of the game play footage as a result.

However, higher bit rates while recording can amount to longer buffering times when content is streamed back to users. Too high of bit rates could force your viewers to sit and wait aimlessly while the video buffers, something you don’t want.

I recommend recording at a bit rate of at least 6 mbps for 1280x720 recordings, and at least 8 mbps for 1920x1080 recordings. The ideal bit rate for decent quality footage on youtube would be at least 8 mbps.

In some cases, I often have to record at 10 or 12+ mbps in order to achieve a good quality capture at 1080P.

Another thing to keep in mind here is that the higher the bit rates during recording, the larger the file size, and the longer its going to take to upload that content to youtube or elsewhere. In the case of YouTube, it seems Google always gives priority to smaller file sizes. If its under 500MB, it could upload in just a couple of minutes, but if the file size is 3 or 4GB, YouTube may offer a lot less bandwidth for uploading, making the upload process an hours long endeavor. In one case it literally took 9 hours to upload a single video, yikes!

4. Downscale Filters in OBS:

Bit rate alone is not the only thing that determines the quality of a video. The downscale filter in OBS determines how many samples of a given snapshot of video footage are going to be encoded within the amount of space allocated through your bit rates.

OBS provides 3 options for its downscale filters, which can be accessed through the video settings of the application.

Bilinear: Generally speaking, this is very low quality, not recommended.

Bicubic: Decent quality captures can be had with this setting, it take 16 samples of video for each each frame.

Lanczos: Very good quality can be had with this setting, the most recommended of the 3 available options. It takes 32 samples of video footage for each frame. Its also more processor intensive than the lower settings, and can require more hardware resources when recording at higher frame rates.

5. Output is only as good as the input:

The quality of your recordings is also going to be dependent on the hardware and software you’re using to capture your game play footage. For instance, if you’re using a capture card to record your game plays, then the quality of the finalized recordings you produce will be dependent on the quality of video the capture card transmits back to your PC.

If you’re recording game play footage natively from your PC, without the use of a capture card or console, then you’re likely going to have a bit more control over the quality of graphics and finished recordings as a result.

6. Video Encoding Apps:

If you have an NVIDIA graphics card, then you have access to NVENC, NVIDIA’s video encoding protocol. If you have an Intel processor, then in most cases you should have access to Intel’s “Quick Sync”, the company’s fast encoding/decoding video application.

The video capture program OBS we mentioned earlier supports both protocols.

Now, you’re probably wondering which app is better, NVIDIA’s, or Intel’s? After testing both applications with OBS at the highest quality settings, it appears NVIDIA’s encoding won out. I tested both applications on Left4Dead 2 at 1280x720 and 60 frames per-second with NVIDIA’s 1050TI graphics card, and NVIDIA seemed to perform the best in terms of the quality of footage being captured; that is, when I used the the high quality low-latency settings.

Now, let’s do a side by side comparison to give you a better idea of just how important data and frame rates really are.

This is a snapshot of Left4Dead 2 taken at 30 FPS and shown in the standard YouTube viewing window:

That video was encoded at 1280x720 at 30 FPS, and at a data rate of 7.5Mbps.

Now lets view the same video full screen on a 1920x1080 monitor:

Its easy to notice the graphical quality really starts to breakdown pretty badly once the video is stretched to the full width and height of the screen.

Now lets view another snapshot from a different Left4Dead 2 video, this time encoded at 60FPS and also 1280x720, and encoded at 7.5Mbps:

That 60 FPS snapshot is from the standard viewing window on YouTube.

Now lets view it full screen:

Notice how much cleaner the 60 FPS full screen snapshot appears vs. the 30 FPS one. This time our video capture was of a noticeably higher quality. The image being rendered here was taken full screen at 1920x1080, just like the 30 FPS video, but notice despite being rendered at a much higher resolution than it was originally recorded at, it still managed to retain its quality.

This is why frame-rates are so important! Often content creators make the misconception that data rates are what really matter, but when it comes to platforms like YouTube, they’re actually irrelevant if the frame rates are poor. You could record your game play at 18 Mbps, and it would honestly make no difference. If the frame rates are bad, the data rates become irrelevant, and you’re going to end up a with a lower quality finished product than what you had initially anticipated.

Even for games that only run at 30 FPS, I still recommend capturing at higher frame rates whenever possible. As long as OBS can sync properly with the game, then the differences between an actual game’s frame rate and the frame rate you’re recording at are irrelevant. Even for a 30 FPS title, managing to capture at 60 FPS can make a huge difference in overall quality.

Other Factors That Affect Video Quality:

One often overlooked factor of quality has to do with the brightness of the video. While that last video you recorded may look great on the screen you’re viewing it on, it may not look so great on someone elses screen. Factors like the type of technology being used on alternate screens, the strength of their LED/LCD back lights, as well as various screen settings across multiple operating systems and devices can all produce varied effects upon video rendering.

I often made the mistake in the past of not testing my videos on alternate screens to see just how bright or dark the imagery was, and the results were disastrous. I ended up with videos that looked great on my laptop, but looked comparably darker, and in some cases hardly viewable on alternate monitors.

That being said, a little brighter is always a little better! Trust me, you’d rather the video be a little to bright than not viewable.

Color Saturation:

Unlike video brightness, this is one of those settings that’s best often not messed with. Too little saturation, and your videos will come out looking dull. Too much saturation, and colors will start to bleed. If the saturation levels of your monitor look good while recording, its best to leave them alone.

Other things to consider:

Another thing to note about video resolution, is that YouTube only supports certain resolutions overall. For instance, if you upload a video at 1600x900PX, Google is going to downgrade it to 1280x720. So, if you’re looking to get higher resolution recordings, then try encoding at 1080P, 1440, or 4K instead, since those are all supported sizes for the YouTube platform.

Also, Google recommends using a variable bit rate, but I don’t recommend doing this at all. For cleaner, smoother recordings, always use a fixed bit rate instead. While variable bit rates do allow for your videos to buffer faster for viewers and often trim down the size of your videos substantially, they also tend to be of lower quality, and its possible to get slight glitches and frame rate drops during the videos encoding process, neither of which you want.

Alternate platforms like Vidme only accept fixed bit rates.

Now for the part that really sucks and that you cannot control! You see, YouTube will serve videos at whatever is deems to be the best data rate for each individual viewer. For viewers with a slower internet connection, YouTube will often drop the quality to 480P or even much less. The bad part is, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about this.

YouTube’s Recommended Video Bit Rates:

Notice that even for just standard resolution videos YouTube recommends encoding at bit rates of 8 to 12 Mbps. To be honest, 12 Mbps is really high, and its going to leave some viewers sitting in the buffering cue for eons. Even viewers with 100 Mbps connections may often not have anything close to that much available bandwidth depending on how much network congestion they have. For example, if a family of 4 are all accessing the internet at the same time, and several of those family members are already streaming videos from other sources like Netflix. In this case, network congestion becomes a serious problem, and the higher your bit rates, the worse in this case.

Another thing to note here is that the bulk of YouTube traffic is mobile, and mobile devices are typically slower than desktop and laptops, and for good reason. Mobile data transfers have additional layers of encapsulation/decapsulation of data that make the processing of any data take longer.

Formatting Tags:

Often creators will upload their latest work to YouTube only to realize their videos have black bars on both sides of the video, and the content doesn’t completely fill the video space. This is happens when content that’s uploaded doesn’t fall in line with having an aspect ratio of 16:9. In this case YouTube will “Window Box” the video, placing those dreaded black bars on each side of your video. I’ve even had this happen when uploading video that were recorded with a 16:9 aspect ration and corresponding resolution with older versions of OBS.

The workaround is to make use of formatting tags! The format tags go in the same place as the keyword tags, and they help you to override YouTube’s default settings.

To remove those dreaded black bars and have your video fill the entire viewable area of the window, use the yt:crop=16:9 tag. This instructs YouTube to remove the black bars and stretch the video out to fill all empty space.

For fixing content that is the wrong aspect ratio you can use the yt:stretch tag. For instance, if your video is a 16:9 production, but for some reason its being displayed with a 4:3 aspect ratio, you can use the yt:stretch=16:9 tag to instruct YouTube to change the aspect ratio.

Likewise, you can use the yt:stretch=4:3 if your video was recorded at a 4:3 aspect ratio, yet for some reason YouTube is displaying it in a 16:9 ratio.

You can also use the yt:crop=off tag to return your video to their default aspect ratio settings.

Hopefully the tips and tricks we outlined here will make your video productions on YouTube and elsewhere on the web a bit easier, and help you to get better quality video captures from your work overall. If you have useful tips you’d like to share, please do jot them down in the comment section below so we can all benefit together.

Written and published by Daniel Imbellino, co-founder of Gamers Bay! Connect with us across the web to stay up to date with honest gaming news and reviews! Connect with me on Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DanielImbellino

Gamers Bay on Twitter:

Additional Resources:

Learn more about Intel’s Quick Sync video technology here:

Learn more about Open Broadcaster Here:

Open Broadcaster is free to use, but its developers work incredibly hard to keep it up to date with the web’s constantly changing technologies. The developers do have a donation option for those who’re interested in supporting them further.

More from YouTube on video uploading:

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Daniel Imbellino

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Information Technology Specialist — Co-Founder of Strategic Social Networking and www.pctechauthority.com

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