YouTube Now Supports High Frame Rate Playback (Sort Of)

By J. Sperling Reich | November 18, 2014 8:16 am PST
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Back in 2010, as debate raged over whether 4K was really necessary in movie theatres (it depends) and if consumers would ever adopt 4K television sets (they’re starting to), YouTube announced they would begin support of 4K video uploading and playback. The debate wasn’t entirely squelched though until Netflix began streaming content in 4K earlier this year.

YouTube may be squashing yet another film industry debate, this one over the benefits of content created and shown in high frame rate (HFR).

To date, the only feature film to be shot and released in HFR is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. The franchise was both captured and projected at 48 frames per second (fps). There have been only a few filmmakers who have since suggested they wish to shoot HFR at higher speeds, notably James Cameron. This is likely due to the lukewarm reception HFR versions of “The Hobbit” received as well as an uncertainty over the install base of HFR-capable digital projectors.

Though the merits of HFR are still being questioned for theatrical releases thanks to a perceived lack of audience interest, a couple of months ago YouTube announced they would begin support of 48 and 60 fps video. Almost immediately YouTube began testing HFR playback with limited groups, however at the end of October the feature was opened up to all users.

There is a bit of noteworthy fine print on the feature as it is currently offered. For instance, the only way to watch video played back in 60 fps is to view it in HD by selecting the 720p and 11080p from the settings drop down of each video. As well, the only web browser capable of showing 60 fps is Chrome, though support for additional browsers is forthcoming.

Oh, and one last thing… YouTube will be in charge of deciding what videos will be given the 60 fps treatment. For now they want to limit its use to videos that are considered “motion intense”. They may as well have just said, we’re doing this for video game footage. Most PC and console games run at 60 fps and look choppy when played back at the standard 24 fps. Playing back video at a higher frame rate gives viewers the same experience and perspective as the person actually playing the game. I’m sure you’ll agree the sample video shown above looks crisp, clear and with smooth, fluid movement.

Gamers are extremely important to YouTube as Tubefilter pointed out back in May of this year by revealing the top 100 video game channels on the site generate 3.5 billion views per month. That’s a significant number when you consider the top 100 channels on the entire site, regardless of focus, earn 8 billion views in a month. And of course more views mean more ads which in turn brings in more revenue for YouTube.

How much revenue you might ask? Without being employed by YouTube or Google it’s hard to know, though according to the Wall Street Journal one of the site’s most popular channels and video game players, Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a. PewDiePie), earns $4 million per year. Nice work, if you can get it.

It’s unlikely YouTube’s support for 60 fps move the needle much on HFR for theatrical feature film releases. At least not in the short term. That will be driven by creatives and audience preference. On the other hand, regularly viewing video at 60 fps could serve to acclimate viewers to HFR who will in turn build an appreciation and thus a preference for such an aesthetic.

J. Sperling Reich