Tips for posting iPhone 4 videos to YouTube

The iPhone 4 lets you easily share great, high-definition videos to YouTube. But there are a couple of gotchas to watch out for. After banging my head against the keyboard for a day trying to figure out why I couldn't get high-definition videos to post, I'll pass along what I learned, so you can save wear and tear on your forehead.

I started my learning experience Sunday evening, as I was wrapping up my post on iPhone 4 photography at Comic-Con. I'd done everything except upload my video to YouTube. I was in a rush to get done and watch the season premiere of Mad Men.

I'd already sidestepped the first iPhone-YouTube gotcha. The iPhone takes nice high-definition 720p video, and you can share that video through e-mail, or through the iPhone's built-in YouTube uploader. However, the problem with sharing video directly from the iPhone is that the iPhone steps on the video quality, compressing it before sending it, making your nice, high-definition video not-so-nice and decidedly low-definition

You can use the free PixelPipe or PicPosterous iPhone apps to share your videos in their full high-definition glory. But I didn't want to mess with that over the weekend. I exported the videos from my iPhone to my desktop using iPhoto on the Mac, and watched the video there. The video looked great, nice and sharp and clear.

I uploaded the video file straight from my desktop to YouTube using the Web uploader. And when I looked at the video on YouTube, it looked pixellated and jaggy and terrible.

Mad Men was waiting

People who know more about video and YouTube than I do are nodding right now. They know what my problem was. But I did not.

I deleted the video and tried again. Then did it one more time. Every time, the video on YouTube came out pixellated and jaggy.

I finally decided the heck with it. Mad Men was waiting. I uploaded the video to Dropbox, and put in a link to the video so readers could download it and watch for themselves.

I also sent out e-mail for help, to see if I could get to the bottom of the problem. I e-mailed Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin, who shot this outstanding YouTube video using the iPhone 4. I e-mailed Apple PR, who, of course, ignored my e-mail as they always do. (I have a defibrillator at my desk, ready to be used to re-start my heart at the moment that Apple PR actually responds to one of my queries.) I also e-mailed Google PR, which did respond to my queries, as they almost always do, because they are awesome. (Apple PR, are you listening? Oh, wait, of course you're not.)

Google confirmed for me that YouTube supports iPhone 4 high-resolution video. It supports anything from 360p to 4k videos. YouTube can eat the iPhone 4's 720p videos before breakfast.

The plot thickens

YouTube also sent along a list of settings for iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and QuickTime Pro, to optimize movies for YouTube export.

I didn't use iMovie, Final Cut Pro or QuickTime to process my video, it went straight from the iPhone to the desktop. I made a mental note that maybe I'd want to use that software in the future. But, still, my experience didn't make sense -- the iPhone 4 is supposed to take great video without having to hassle with desktop video editing programs.

By now it was long past the time when I'd already put up my initial Comic-Con blog post. For some reason, I decided to check the YouTube video again. And this time, the video was nice and clear. It looked about the same as it did on my desktop.

I didn't get it. I was sure the video had been jaggy and pixellated when I watched it Sunday night. Video isn't cheese, it doesn't get better with age.

Or maybe it does. I remembered something I thought I'd read a while ago. I checked with Google PR, they confirmed that my memory was accurate:

Mystery solved

In order to make video viewable as fast as possible after uploading it, YouTube first makes a low-resolution version of video available, and then makes the high-definition video available later.

Remember I said I was in a rush, and wanted to get done in my office and catch the season premiere of Mad Men? I tried to watch the video immediately after uploading, and so I got the rubbish low-def version. If I'd just waited a few minutes, I would have gotten the high-definition version -- which was exactly what happened when I went to watch the video on YouTube a day later.

And so those are my tips for sharing video from your iPhone 4 to YouTube:

  • If you want high-definition video sharing on the iPhone, try the free PicPosterous or PixelPipe apps. iPhone e-mail and the built-in iMovie only share low-definition versions of video.
  • For people who use desktop video editors, YouTube provides tips for optimizing quality in iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and QuickTime Pro.
  • When you're done uploading your video to YouTube, don't be in a freaking rush to see it. If the video looks jaggy and pixellated at first, wait a few minutes or a couple of hours and take another look.
  • Here's the video that caused all the trouble. It's just a video I shot walking around the convention center, looking at the crowds and people in costume. I edited the video and added titles on the iPhone itself, with the $5 iMovie app, which is amazing.

    Mad Men was fantastic, by the way.

    Mitch Wagner

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    is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

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