Exporting HD Video for YouTube (Premiere Pro)

Versions: Premiere Pro CS4, CS6 and CC

Summary of Settings

Here is a summary of the main settings:

  • Format & Container: H.264 & MPEG-4
  • Resolution (Frame Dimensions): 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720. If you are working with 4K video that would be 4096 x 2160 pixels, while 2K video would be 2560 x 1440. This article focuses on the most common resolution HD resolution on YouTube: 1920 x 1080.
  • Pixel Aspect Ratio: Square pixels (1:1)
  • Field Order: None, non-interlaced, progressive (different terms for the same thing)
  • TV Standard: NTSC or PAL (depends on your original footage and/or settings in your video editing program)
  • Frame rate: 29.97 (for NTSC) or 25 for (PAL) or 24 (depends on your original footage and/or settings in your video editing program). You can also choose the higher frame rate options of 60, 50 or 48. These are especially useful if you want to have very smooth action (e.g., in a gameplay video) and your original footage was filmed at that frame rate.
  • Bitrate Encoding: (Updated October 2014) YouTube and Vimeo now recommend Variable Bit Rate (2 pass)
  • Video Bitrate: At least 6,500 kbps for 1280 x 720 , 10,000 kbps for 1920 x 1080 video. . These are the recommended settings for what YouTube calls ‘normal quality’.  For higher frame rates, you can multiply the figures by 1.5.  You can see YouTube’s recommendations here:  Advanced encoding settings.
  • Profile: High
  • Audio Code and Channels: AAC, Channels: Stereo
  • Audio Frequency: 48 khz
  • Audio Bitrate = 320 kbps or 384 kbps

Select Render at Maximum Quality and consider selecting Render at Maximum Depth and Frame Blending.

For exporting high-definition video (HD video) using Adobe Media Encoder. In Premiere Pro, this is accessed by selecting File – Export – Media or Media Encoder. However, make sure you have clicked on the timeline first. For earlier versions of Premiere Pro make sure that you have selected all the clips that you want to export (as shown in the following image).

Main Workflow Principles

There are two main principles. One is to try to minimize the number of times the format of the original video is altered.  Therefore, the  project settings you choose when you open a new Premiere Pro file and your export settings for creating the final video for uploading are based on the format of your original video.

The second principle is to export your video in a format YouTube handles particularly well; that is, in a format that doesn’t need to be changed very much when being converted.

Three Main Choices

a) Resolution
For HD video on YouTube, there are two main choices: 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080 (not counting the 2K and 4K resolutions).

  • If you are working with 1440 x 1080 anamorphic* HD video, it is best to downscale the resolution slightly to 1280 x 720 and change the pixel aspect ratio to 1:1. (*anamorphic pixels are rectangular).
  • If you are working with 1920 x 1080 video, you can keep these larger dimensions for your output or downscale to 1280 x 720 if you want smaller file sizes.
  • If you are working with 1280 x 720 video, just export the video at this resolution.

b) TV Standard
There are two main standards: PAL and NTSC. If you are creating a video for YouTube, just maintain the same video standard through your whole workflow. For example, if your camera produces PAL video, use PAL project settings and export to a PAL video. In HD video meant to be played on computers, the main difference between the two formats is frame rate. The frame rate of PAL video is 25 or 50 frames per second. The frame rate of NTSC video is 30 (29.97) or 60 frames per second.

c) Use of Render at Maximum Quality, (CS4 and CS6), Render at Maximum Depth (CS6) and Frame Blending
CS4 and CS6 feature a maximum render quality setting. This is useful when exporting video with lots of movement, but it will  increase the video rendering time. You can see the difference in the following still images taken from the same timeline.

Still image showing video without (top) and with (bottom) Maximum Render Quality selected

The top image is from a video exported without this function enabled. The image on the bottom is with the Use Maximum Render Quality setting enabled.

These three settings are disabled by default

The Render at Maximum Depth setting involves the ability to differentiate between different colours. Enabling this function MAY increase the quality of the video slightly, but it might not be very noticeable once your video is uploaded and transcoded in YouTube.

The Frame Blending function comes into play if you have changed the speed of your video in the timeline (e.g., slow motion) or if there is any different in the frame rate between the project settings, original video clip and export settings. It tries to create smoother movement by blurring some of the frames together. Some people like this effect; others dislike it. If your video has any changes in frame rate, I recommend doing trial exports of a small portion of the video with Frame Blending enabled and disabled and see which one you prefer.

You can enable frame blending while exporting or you can enable it on individual video clips in the project (Right click on the clip then select ‘Clip’ in the toolbar at the top of the screen. Select ‘Video Options’ and then ‘Frame Blending’).

The WMV Option

If you are using PAL settings, you can also create a HD WMV video for YouTube very easily.  Just select ‘Format: Windows Media’ and select the most appropriate preset (the one that most closely matches your video footage) . The video quality will be almost as good as the MP4 file and can play more easily on different versions of Windows Media Player. You don’t need to change any values (but if you are still using CS3, make sure the deinterlace option is checked).

If you have any more information about exporting for YouTube, please let me know. This page is intended for newbies. If there is anything that isn’t clear, let me know so I can improve the page.

Important: YouTube’s Changing Recommendations

It is important to note that YouTube often upgrades its recommended settings. For example, when I first started uploading videos to the platform in 2008, these were YouTube’s recommendations: “We specifically recommend the MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format at 640×480 resolution with MP3 audio, 30 frames per second 100MB size limit (aspect mode 4:3).” In 2009, they introduced these recommended settings for HD video: 1280×720 resolution. frame rate as the original video, up to 1GB file size and 10 min. duration.

Of course, when I now look at the videos I uploaded under those settings, they look quite poor in quality.

Therefore, I recommend that you export two versions of the video. One—for uploading—based on YouTube’s recommended settings and another one—for archiving—with much higher settings in terms of resolution (if possible) and bitrate. You can also consider exporting an archive version in a non-compressed format such as AVI, but the file sizes can be very large.

My Other Articles on Video Editing

~by longzijun


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51 thoughts on “Exporting HD Video for YouTube (Premiere Pro)

  1. Thank you so much for doing this!! These instructions are so awesome and they did a great job! I’ve been looking for this information for a very long time. Thank you thank you thank you!

    • Hi Jimmy, thanks. I’m a newcomer to video editing, so I am just trying to figure out how to do use the software properly. It’s been a steep learning curve (For exporting files in Premiere Pro, I had naively expected to find a button called ‘Finished’). There’s a lot of interesting stuff on your site – the videos (I’ll take a longer look at the busker one later this week), for example, and also the insane DIY stuff like the depth-of-field adapter. It’s given me some non-DIY ideas regarding how to upgrade the camcorders in the small media studio I recently set up in a high school (my reason for learning video editing). Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I do not have the h.264 as an option on my prpro cs3 (ver 3.0.0). Can I add it there?

    • Hi George. It should be there. When you go to export the video, are you using File – Export – Adobe Media Encoder? (CS3 also has a different ‘File – Export – Movie’ function used for creating AVI files). If you are using the export media function, what video formats appear in the drop-down box at the top of the export settings?

  3. Thanks for the answer. I am using the media encoder. There are 4 options there. I do not have the premiere here now but roughly they are: ReaL Media, Flash Video, QuickTime and Windows Media.

    I could find the h.264 codec if I chose quicktime and then on video/codec I found it. But it doesn’t look like what you are describing.

    Should I have installed on my PC some codecs that will trigger the appearance of h.264?

    • @George. I looked around a bit. Someone was wondering about the exact same thing as you were (he/she also had the same version CS3 and the same limited number of export options). The solution seemed to be simply activating the Premiere Pro software (i.e., going to the Adobe site and registering it).

      I’m not sure why Adobe would put such a limitation in place

  4. yup, after all my searching and trialing this is the best for youtube. in the past my mpeg2 or .mov files worked great for vimeo but never for youtube. finally a good quality youtube recipe!

  5. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been spending hours trying to figure premier pro out and i’ve read dozens of posts… this is the one that finally explained it for me. Thank you!

  6. Oh God, I think I want to marry you… Thank you SO MUCH!! You totally saved my video-editing (beginner) life

  7. I was pretty pleased to find this page. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every part of it and i also have you book-marked to look at new stuff on your website.

  8. Hi,

    I have a problem with premiere pro cs4. When i’m done with editing and ready to export my media, the media encoder doesn’t pop out. Was wondering if you would know how to get this problem solved? Thanks!

    • Oh . . . that must be incredibly frustrating. Try 1) Rebooting (of course), or 2) Browse to where the Adobe Media Encoder executable is (e.g C:Program Files AdobeAdobe Media Encoder CS4), hold down Ctrl + Shift + Alt (CMD + Shift + Alt for Mac) and double click the executable. This will reset your preferences file and bring Adobe Media Encoder back to life.Note that doing this from the shortcut on the start menu does not seem to work. You need to browse to the folder where the executable is. (http://www.emreakkas.com/windows-tips/media-encoder-fails-to-launch) or 3. Do a repair installation or 4. Uninstall and reinstall the programes or 5. Uninstall and run the Adobe cleaner programme to get rid of all Adobe files and reinstall or 6. Do step 5, but before reinstalling search ther computer and manually delete anything adobe related or 7. Go to the Adobe site and get the latest updates for PPro4 and Adobe Media Encoder or 8. check out some suggestions on Adobe’s help forums

      Good luck . . .let me know if anything worked.


  9. Hello! Thank you for the great info. I followed your directions for 1280 x 720 video for Premiere CS3 but I’m getting some weird artifacting when I render. Below is a screenshot of my video at the resolution it was recorded at:

    And this is what it looks like after render:

    Does anyone know what would be causing this? I’ve tried rendering at several different formats (mp4, mov, and wmv) and I’ve tried using CBR (at values between 3Mbps and 10 Mbps) in addition to VBR2 but it always has that aliased look to it. My source video is 1280 x 720 and was recorded at 30 fps

    • For a test, try exporting it as an uncompressed avi file (file – export – movie, and adjust the settings (so they most closely match the video). If it comes out OK, then you know the problem is simply caused by exporting it to a compressed file format (wmv, mov and mp4 are all heavily compressed, so there is definitely going to be some loss of quality no matter what you do).
      The next time you record, you can also try recording your source video at a higher resolution (1920 x 1080) and see if that works better.
      CS4 – CS6 have options for increasing the render quality (maximum render quality); I don’t think CS3 has this option, but do make sure you have ‘Optimize Rendering for Performance’ selected (Edit – Preferences – General)
      You can also try increasing the video bitrate.

  10. hy there…tnx a lot for this,it was of help…
    i have a question anyway…i use an Olympus PL1 photocamera also for recording,it has HD option recording (1280/720),i can’t find out if it is recording in PAL rather then in NTSC mode,but as in the details properties of the videos is written that the FPS are 30,i suppose is filming in NTSC. My problem is,when i import it in adobe premiere (CS5) it looks like the footage isn’t fitting the source monitor. i tried to export one of them just to see if they are working well (h264 with 1280×720 resolution and 29.97 fps and 16:9 wilde screen inputs),and unfortunatly the video results visibly cut on the side edges. i have then Scale the video from 100 to 81% in premiere,and exported with the same inputs, and i get something that looks like a 4:3 option,still slightly cut on the edges…
    It is not bad,but i was really hoping you could help me get the 16:9 wildscreen video i should have with my footage…tnx for your time anyway.

  11. To Misel and others having problems importing video into Premiere Pro: The secret is to NOT create a sequence when creating a new project. Follow these steps (verified in CS6):
    1. Start Premiere Pro, and select New Project.
    2. Browse to folder, give the New Project a Name, and click OK.
    3. Cancel the New Sequence dialog that follows.
    4. Drag and drop your source video into the Project pane.
    5. Right click on a source video in the Project pane, and click New Sequence from Clip.
    The resulting sequence should have the correct settings for the clip, and display properly in Source and Program windows. To check this you can right click on the Sequence, and click:
    * Properties to see the properties of the clip
    * Sequence Settings to see the settings for the sequence.
    When creating output video, you’ll want to select or create a Format and Preset compatible with your sequence (and clip) settings.

    • With respect, that is not correct. You can work entirely at 1080p (1920×1080), and if you then export as 720p (1280×720), Premiere Pro will automatically scale the resulting video. Or even 480p. No cropping is needed, or tricky calculations, and the working display will be correct. Try it.

  12. Hi,
    I have some problem with my Format, I have a Camera Sony used SD memory card and I have format Type of file: AVCHD Vidio. (MTS)
    a. Frame width : 1920
    b. Frame Height : 1080

    When I transfer to Timeline Adobe CS 6 “HDV” and Export to AVI format it’s changes to
    a. Frame width:
    b. Frame Height: 576

    But I need the same format with original Frame width : 1920, Frame Height : 1080 !
    How I can find original format ?
    Please any one can help me!!!


    • John, it seems that Eddy’s problem is with export settings as opposed to sequence creation. There is no advice in this post about exporting to AVI or about creating sequence settings, so I am not sure which advice you are dismissing here.

      Eddy, the first step would be to check your sequence settings. If these are OK (i.e., in full HD), then your trouble is at the export stage. (If not, then refer to John’s post for creating a sequence).

      Here is a possible solution. I am using CS4 on this computer so I cannot verify if this solution works (start at the 1:30 mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_qJT5M_mp4 (it doesn’t work on CS4)

  13. Sequence settings are important, but I should indeed have also commented on Export. Thank you.

    Export options are limited by the selected codec (Preset), and the standard DV codec doesn’t support Full HD resolution. Options:

    1. Use a Format that supports Full HD resolution, like H.264 or QuickTime.

    2. Use AVI (Uncompressed). Output files will be huge.

    3. Install an AVI codec that supports Full HD resolution. Possible candidates include DivX, XviD, and Lagarith. Whatever codec you use will also have to be installed for playback.

    • Thanks for adding that, especially the codec recommendations (Let me just add a note for the original poster–if you are looking to post the videos online, video hosting sites like YouTube typically reject some codecs. AVI is generally not a preferred format for video online).

  14. Great post. Helps a lot. One thing: What is Key Frame Distance? The YT preset in Premiere ticks it and sets it at 90. I’m doing a video that is music + 1 JPEG. Does KFD really matter? Thanks in advance!

  15. I have a problem… When I export a video on Premiere CS4, the Encore doesn’t open to finally save the file… How can I export the video?

    Btw, thanks for the tips! They indeed cleared all my doubts! Problem is my program doesn’t want to render it…

  16. Can someone help? Saving Export specs on Premiere Pro CS6, but how do you bring them up next time? I’ve found where they reside, but when you click on the Import Preset button (in Export Settings window) you can find them but they don’t do anything. Please help. I’ve googled far and wide without finding help.

    • You need to save your settings using the save icon, giving an appropriate name. To use those settings again, first select the same output format, and your saved settings will then be available in the drop-down list.

  17. i have HD video in width 1920px and high 1080px resolution. i want to export it for broadcasting (in satelite) with software named (Air box). Please say what sequence i will creat for editing (FULL HD) and how can i export my sequence in (FULL HD) resolution in adobe premiere pro CS6 (on MAC OSX)?

  18. Harut,
    Create a Sequence from your video clips as I describe in my 1st Comment above. Then encode that Sequence to whatever Format Air Box supports (probably MPEG-4 AVC).
    Hope that helps,

  19. John Navas
    December 29, 2014 at 4:44 pm
    Create a Sequence from your video clips as I describe in my 1st Comment above. Then encode that Sequence to whatever Format Air Box supports (probably MPEG-4 AVC).
    Hope that helps,

    Thank you very much

  20. please help me again. i have Full HD (NTSC) file and i want to export it to MPEG 2 (PAL). earlier i had exported in blackmagic RGB 10 BIT. and befor that my sequence parameters is blackmagic’s PAL.

    • Harut,
      In Export Settings, select Format > MPEG2, Preset > HD 1080p 25, and adjust individual settings as desired. Try checking Use Frame Blending since you are changing the frame rate.
      Hope that helps,

  21. Thank you dear John Navas. If i choose Preset>HD 1080p, 25, my video size will be 1920×1080. But i want to export it in 720×576.

  22. hi guys,
    i made a screen capture with from my display(1366 x 768) with WebM (VP8) High Quality.
    now i want edit it in adobe premiere CS5 and export it to youtube.
    which settings i must use for opening the project and which settings for Export?

    • If you just want to encode, Handbrake is the easiest way to do that. H.264 at 4Mbps should be more than adequate for typical screen capture. And since I don’t think CS5 supports VP8, converting first with Handbrake makes sense even if editing in CS5. When you do open it in CS5, just create a default project, import the video, and create a Sequence from the clip. When exporting, use the same H.264 at 4Mbps.

      • Hey John, if the original poster goes for the simple conversion using Handbrake, should he/she just convert it at the original resolution (1366×768) (and then let YouTube convert that one to 1280×720 when it is uploaded) or would it be better to go for 1280×720 during the conversion?

        • Since the 1366×768 aspect ratio is correct for YouTube (16:9), I recommend resizing in Handbrake to 1280×720. That way no further transcoding will be needed for YouTube HD streaming. (Other resolutions will of course require transcoding, but while transcoding inevitably results in some quality loss, that’s much less of an issue at lower resolutions ) For more details, see Upload videos > Upload instructions and settings > Recommended resolution & aspect ratios in YouTube Help.

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