YouTube in U-turn over 4K content restrictions

(Image credit: Future)

A few weeks ago, we reported that YouTube was exploring ways to save money and increase revenue by converting more users into paying customers with experiments including increasing the number of unskippable ads and limiting 4K viewing to Premium subscribers only. 

During a recent trial, non-subscribers were unable to select 4K/2160p as a video resolution, with the option instead tagged as 'Premium'. YouTube Premium currently costs £11.99 / $11.99 / AU$14.99 a month and gives you various perks, including no ads, YouTube Music Premium, and downloads for offline viewing/listening.

News of the potential change led to widespread online outrage from viewers, and it now appears as though the trial has been officially been terminated, according to various online posts. 

One tweet concerning the issue from from Team YouTube said, "We've fully turned off this experiment. Viewers should now be able to access 4K quality resolutions without Premium membership." 

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There's been no official statement from the company, but the reasoning behind the decision is likely to include negative user feedback over the prospect of 4K, which has been available for free on the platform since 2010 (long before the likes of Netflix and Amazon), suddenly being capped.

YouTube's origins as a site for creators to share their content led to it being at the forefront of the hi-res revolution and, since 2015, has also been the primary online resource for 8K video. 

But perhaps its past efforts to provide both a high-quality, future-proofed, free, ad-supported platform and Premium perks have made it more difficult for the streamer to switch up the status quo compared to other services.

Google, which owns YouTube, is far from alone in its efforts to increase profitability in the face of an oversaturated streaming marketplace and widespread global recession.

For a long time, Netflix has only let subscribers to its premium plan enjoy 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos content. But it will soon introduce a far cheaper ad-supported subscription tier, which it announced in April in partnership with Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Spotify has long made non-paying customers endure adverts, but reports suggest it may soon be launching a Platinum service that is double the price of its current Premium subscription plan, finally offering higher-quality audio and other benefits, including limited ads during podcasts.


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Mary is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and has over a decade of experience working as a sound engineer mixing live events, music and theatre. Her mixing credits include productions at The National Theatre and in the West End, as well as original musicals composed by Mark Knopfler, Tori Amos, Guy Chambers, Howard Goodall and Dan Gillespie Sells.