At HiLo Media, we create tons of content that gets delivered via social media, mostly to YouTube. We use mostly Adobe apps to create and edit our content and deliver final file exports from Adobe Premiere Pro.
I get asked a lot . . . "What are the Best Premiere Pro Export settings for YouTube?"
Luckily Premiere Pro makes it easy to render at maximum depth and export high quality videos via their export presets, which usually represent the best export settings. But it's also a good idea to understand what's happening under the hood so you can tweak the settings in Premiere Pro and export the best quality video for the content style you're producing.
Default Export Settings for YouTube
You can see the default YouTube export settings by going to Export / Media or by going to the Export panel, new in Premiere Pro for 2022. If you choose the YouTube setting, it defaults to H.264 / Match Source - Adaptive High Bitrate. Below the main export settings are Publishing settings for YouTube, but we won't worry about that now.
Match Source denotes the frame size and frame rate will be the same as the source timeline. So if you're editing a 1080P timeline at 24 fps frame rate, that will be the same in the resulting file export media. Same goes for ultra-HD like 4K content. It will match the size and frame rate.
Adaptive High Bitrate denotes that the encoding process will choose a Variable Bitrate (VBR). This preset defaults to a target bitrate of around 15 Mbps. The "variable" part means the encoder will analyze the file and use up to 15 Mbps bitrate (maximum) depending on the demands of the source material
What does bitrate mean?
It is the bits per second of a streaming format. If you were to embed the file on a web server, it would determine how the video file would play back based on the server speed and the internet speed of the viewer.
Back in the "old days", internet connections were slow so we had to create smaller videos with smaller bitrate settings.
The default export settings in Premiere are likely fine for most source material. But there are some ways you can improve the output quality of the export file.
What Does "Render At Maximum Depth" mean?
Checking this box will render at maximum bit depth supported by the format or settings defined regardless of the bit depth of the source footage.
Check this box if you'd like to ensure that things like motion graphics are rendered at their maximum bit depth.
What Does "Use Maximum Render Quality" mean?
This tells Premiere Pro to export using better quality scaling but will take longer to render.
Maximum Render Quality maximizes the quality of motion in rendered clips and sequences. Selecting this option often renders moving assets more sharply.
What are the Bitrate settings?
Premiere Pro sets the bitrate of the final output media by using one of three methods:
CBR means "Constant Bitrate" and will use your Target bitrate setting and encode a constant stream at this bitrate.
VBR means "Variable Bitrate" and will use the Target bitrate as a guide to encode the media file. The bitrate, and resulting file size, will vary depending on the source material. When VBR is set to 1 pass, Premiere Pro will analyze the file and encode the file in one pass.
VBR 2-pass is a Variable Bitrate setting that will use both the Target bitrate and Maximum bitrate settings and will analyze the video in the first pass and encode it in the second pass. This will create the best-quality output as determined by bitrate but, obviously, will take twice and long to encode.
What are Good Target Bitrate Settings for YouTube videos?
YouTube recommends a bitrate of around 10 Mbps for 1080P video at standard frame rates (24 fps, 25 fps, 30fps).
For 4K material (2160P), your target bitrate might be more like 45-55 Mbps.
For higher frame rate material (48 fps, 50 fps, 60 fps), you can generally add 50% to the target bitrate settings and be fine.
In general, just experiment with bitrate settings in Premiere Pro and see what your output file looks like. Pay close attention to segments with lots of video information: fast-moving elements, or complex elements like trees or water. These are the places where you'll see the information break down if your bitrate encoding isn't high enough.
You certainly could aim for a higher bitrate in general, but this will result in a larger file size. If you've got a massive internet connection and uploading huge media files isn't an issue, err on the side of higher bitrate encoding.
A bit about file formats
These export preset settings in Premiere Pro (on the Mac) default to H.264 video. What is an H.264 video file? H.264 is the industry standard codec that's used by smartphones, DSLR cameras, GoPro, etc. It is a type of MPEG-4 video.
The advantage of H.264 video format over more common formats like Quicktime (.Mov), MP4 (.Mov) and Quicktime-compatible (.Mov) is its enormous storage requirements, the fact that it can handle a much higher quality at a given bitrate than the more common formats and its high dynamic range, making the file appear brighter, clearer or more vibrant than it really is. The downside of H.264 format over other formats like Quicktime (.Mov), MP4 (.Mov), and Quicktime-compatible (.Mov) and Quicktime-compatible (.Mov) are the higher power requirements, which make the export process slower and less reliable.