For quite some time, playing 4K YouTube videos has been one of the iPhone’s most notable shortcomings. 4K videos on YouTube are nothing new, but playing 4K videos on iPhone has long been a surprisingly elusive feature.
Recently, though, it suddenly became possible to finally play 4K videos on iPhone. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this new ability comes with a lot of catches.
To help you navigate this surprisingly confusing feature, here’s what you need to know about playing 4K videos on YouTube via your iPhone
What Do I Need to Play 4K YouTube Videos on iPhone?
The first thing you’re going to need for 4K YouTube videos is beta access to iOS 14. If you’re running an older version of iOS, you’re sadly out of luck. Yes, even the latest version of iOS 13 isn’t compatible.
As for hardware requirements…this is where things get tricky. What we can tell you for certain is that iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone XS models seem to be able to play 4K videos. So, if you’re sporting the latest iPhones, you should be set.
So far, it does not seem that later model iPhones are capable of playing 4K videos. However, some analysts have pointed out that iPhone 8 and newer models should theoretically be able to play 4K content from YouTube. Most tests seem to suggest that they are incapable of doing so quite yet.
While that may change, for the moment, you’ll need the latest version of iOS and a newer iPhone.
Why Won’t 4K YouTube Stream on Older Devices?
This problem can be attributed to a few different factors.
The biggest issue with playing 4K YouTube videos on older devices comes down to the software. To make a long story short, Google and Apple used different video codecs for years. While the Apple codec allowed iPhone users to rent or purchase 4K YouTube content, it didn’t let them watch 4K videos due to a compatibility issue.
Remarkably, Apple fixed that problem by adopting Google’s preferred video codec. It’s rare that Apple makes such changes to please other companies. Nevertheless, their decision to do so means that iOS 14 will finally properly support 4K content on YouTube.
The other problem here is related to hardware. iPhones released before the iPhone 8 seem to be strictly incompatible with pretty much any kind of 4K content. However, as we noted above, it doesn’t seem like iPhones released between the 8 and the 11/XS currently support 4K streaming on YouTube.
Why? That’s a great question. While the problem will likely be fixed, it could just be that older iPhones lack the components needed to support this feature. We’ll have to wait and see.
Why Doesn’t My 4K Video Look as Good on iPhone?
Many early 4K YouTube viewers on iPhone are commenting that videos just don’t look as good. The reasons behind this drop in quality can vary but often come down to a few possibilities.
The first is the videos themselves. Simply put, some videos promise 4K content but deliver something less substantial. That comes down to the quality of the equipment used to film the video itself. In other words, you can’t really do anything about that.
The bigger problem is that iPhones still have limits. The first (and most important) limit to consider is the mas resolution of your device’s screen. iPhones can’t achieve the video resolution of high-end monitors and televisions. As such, certain videos are going to look better on those devices. You may not even be able to access certain 4K HDR video settings on iPhone.
We expect your service options to improve as this technology evolves. For now, though, this feature is somewhat limited.
How Do I Play a 4K YouTube Video on iPhone?
If you meet the above criteria (and you’ve found a 4K YouTube video you want to play) then you’re ready to start playing 4K content.
Fortunately, this is the easiest step. To start, just open the YouTube app and select a 4K video. Then, you’ll need to tap the ellipsis on the top right. From there, you should be able to change the quality of your video. Tap the quality section, choose a 4K option, and you should be ready to go.