YouTube locks 4K playback behind Premium subscriptions in latest test

YouTube is running a test that places its 4K videos behind a YouTube Premium subscription. In recent weeks, some users have reported seeing playback of 2160p resolution video restricted with text labeling it as a premium feature. YouTube has since confirmed via Twitter that those seeing the new restrictions were part of an experiment to better understand the feature preferences of Premium and non-Premium viewers.

It isn’t clear if YouTube will actually restrict all non-Premium users to 1440p video quality, and the company is directing users to leave feedback on the restrictions in order for the Google subsidiary to “make improvements.” Google did not provide further clarification when contacted by The Verge for comment.

A YouTube Premium subscription will set you back $11.99 per month in the US, with prices varying across other regions. The service grants access to YouTube Music Premium, as well as in-app downloads, background play, and most importantly: ad-free viewing. YouTube has been known for some fairly aggressive advertising, with 9to5Google reporting that a previous test saw the company place as many as ten unskippable ads onto a single video.

It was estimated that YouTube had around 2.24 billion global users in 2021, of which only around 50 million were Premium and Music subscribers. That’s a lot of potential upsell revenue for Google after suffering a recent slump in profits. As 4K resolution TVs have become commonplace, being restricted to ad-riddled, 1080p resolution videos might be what begrudgingly forces some YouTube users to go Premium if Google follows through on the change.