How to watch YouTube in 4K on iPhone and iPad

How to watch YouTube in 4K on iPhone and iPad

There was only one reason you couldn’t watch YouTube in 4K on iPhone and iPad: the lack of the VP9 codec. Unlike the rest of the tech industry, YouTube has gone for VP9 over HEVC. The reason? No one knows exactly. To complicate matters, Apple was unwilling to support the codec as hundreds of millions of people watched YouTube on its devices.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad presented

However, with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, that has changed. Apple has finally added the VP9 codec to its mobile platforms, which means you can now watch YouTube videos in 4K on the iPhone and iPad.

What you need to watch YouTube in 4K

Before watching YouTube in 4K on your iPhone or iPad, you must have iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 installed. Since stable versions of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 are not yet available, I am using public beta versions on my iPhone and my iPad. You can also sign up for the Public Beta program, but be warned about stability issues.

Suppose you are reading this article in late September or early October 2020. In that case, you should have no problem updating to stable versions of iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 – go to Settings> General> Software update to do this.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 4

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 4

You also need an updated version of YouTube: go to the App Store, search for YouTube and tap Update if a new update is listed. Then you are ready to watch YouTube in 4K on your iPhone or iPad.

If you are using the public beta of iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, you may not be able to watch YouTube videos in 4K on some models of iPhone or iPad. For example, I can watch in 4K on my iPhone XR and iPad Pro 12.9 (4th generation), but not on my iPad Air 2. Expect most iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 compatible devices to support YouTube in 4K once the stable version hits the shelves.

How to watch YouTube videos in 4K

Once you have upgraded to iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 and installed the most recent version of the YouTube app, start playing 4K video. If you’re just looking to give the feature a try, check out this 4K video here.

Then tap the three dots (vertical ellipses) icon in the upper right corner of the video pane.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 1

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 1

In the menu that appears, tap Quality.

Note: If you see “2160p” or “2160p60” listed next to Quality, then YouTube has automatically started playing the video in 4K. In this case, you don’t have to do anything else.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 2

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 2

Then select 2160p or 2160p60. This should prompt the YouTube app to load the video in 4K. Just give it a few seconds to adjust the video stream to the appropriate quality setting.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 3

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 3

Note: In the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 public betas, some videos may not have the 2160p (4K) quality setting despite supporting resolution. You can expect better consistency in the stable version.

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What to expect when watching YouTube in 4K

So what does watching YouTube in 4K mean on iPhone and iPad? For starters, you won’t get the full 4K experience, as none of the current iPhone and iPad screen cultures support the full 4K resolution of 3840 × 2160 pixels. So the YouTube app will scale the video to match the resolution of your device.

For example, my iPhone XR with its 1792 x 828 screen showed no noticeable difference in quality when switching between 1080p and 2160p. No wonder since the device is not able to display 1080p video in the first place! Technically, I should still feel less artifacts due to the increased bit rate in 4K videos, although this is virtually indistinguishable in practice.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 5

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 5

YouTube in 4K should also play a smaller role in iPhones with resolutions exceeding 1080p (like the iPhone 11 Pro Max with its 2688 x 1242 display), as the smaller screen sizes of smartphones do not relay them very well. video quality peaks.

However, watching YouTube in 4K was a game changer on my 4th gen iPad Pro 12.9. Despite its resolution capping at 2732 x 2048, the larger display size showed significant improvements in visual quality.

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 6

You Tube 4k Iphone Ipad 6

Apart from display size and resolution issues, there are also obvious bandwidth issues to consider. Streaming in 4K can consume twice as much bandwidth as 1080p video. On most iPhones where you can hardly tell a difference, it’s a complete waste of data.

Additionally, there are potential issues with battery life to be aware of. While I can’t say it correctly with the beta versions of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, streaming at 4K should result in reduced battery life due to additional processing demands. The VP9 codec, unlike the HEVC codec, is also not optimized for the iPhone and iPad, which could further contribute to the problem.

Start watching

If you own an iPad, especially an iPad with a gigantic 11-12.9-inch display, watching YouTube in 4K makes a lot of sense. On the iPhone, however, not so much, as it is often impossible to notice the improvements. But by all means, don’t let me stop you from trying!

That said, you can also stream YouTube in 4K on the Mac (via Safari) and Apple TV if you’ve installed macOS Big Sur or tvOS 14. Don’t forget to try this.


Did you know that YouTube offers a “restricted mode”? Find out what it is and how you can activate it.

Last updated Sep 7, 2020

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