Leading tech analysis site Digital Foundry is best known for pointing its magnifying glass at video games and their myriad issues with frame rates, resolutions, and other visual elements. Those tests have been published at YouTube for years, but on Monday, the site aimed its critical lens directly at YouTube’s tech and concluded that the video-streaming platform isn’t up to snuff.
DF’s announcement of a new video-distribution site, which requires a minimum $5/month subscription via Patreon, came on the same day that the site began publishing videos of retail PlayStation 4 Pro impressions. That fact is no coincidence.
(Ars Technica’s own PlayStation 4 Pro review is coming, by the way, and will be timed closer to the system’s November 10 launch date.)
Head DF analyst Richard Leadbetter explains in the subscription plan’s announcement that problems arose when staffers tried uploading captures from the new PS4 Pro console, taken from that system’s preview events months ago. At the time, confusion reigned about how the PS4 Pro renders games in 4K resolution. Some games upconvert to that whopping 3840×2160 resolution via tricks like “checkerboarding,” and Digital Foundry struggled to show exactly how that looked on YouTube.
“Platforms like [YouTube] specialize in convenient, easy streaming, but fast-action gaming is often reduced to a sea of blurriness and macroblocks,” Leadbetter says—and he claims that YouTube’s current 4K renderer “actually seems to resolve lower levels than 1080p.”
If anybody can back that allegation up with pixel-perfect resolution analysis, it’s Digital Foundry, a site that specializes in analyzing and confirming such game-video processing techniques as anti-aliasing, supersampling, and dynamic resolutions. Potential PS4 Pro owners, especially those with 4K screens, will want to see exactly what “4K” performance looks like on the system. “The whole point of 4K is its pristine level of presentation,” Leadbetter says. “[On YouTube,] we couldn’t show you what [the] PS4 Pro—or indeed other high-end gaming hardware—was capable of, because the platform didn’t exist to get the job done. So we decided to build it.”
To distribute accurate 4K captures, DF has launched its own dedicated site, which offers full 4K resolution video captures via MKV video downloads. As of right now, the site does not include any embedded video players for streaming or mid-download viewing, and file sizes aren’t tiny, with the site’s first free sample selection—a 128-second 4K comparison of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4 Pro and on a high-end PC—landing at roughly 850MB.
More pure 4K videos await paying subscribers today, including impressions of various PS4 Pro games. Those videos are also being published to DF’s YouTube channel in “4K” resolution (or as best as YouTube can render it, anyway). Leadbetter says that the outlet does not want to apply a “walled garden” approach to its paid 4K channel, though its subscription site could receive “raw gameplay videos or other small bonuses” in the future.
We have sent questions to Digital Foundry about the technical issues it faced when trying to stream 4K content to viewers on YouTube. We also have asked YouTube to respond to DF’s allegations about its videos’ 4K performance. We will update this report with any responses.
Update, 10:45am ET: In an e-mail interview with Ars, Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter praised YouTube as “an amazing streaming platform that has to juggle a huge amount of challenges literally on a global scale” and was emphatic in defending YouTube’s most popular use cases. “Inherently, YouTube isn’t set-up to be the ultimate platform for quality video—that’s not what it is about,” he wrote.
Leadbetter also emphasized the importance of favoring downloads over streams for the site’s new videos, as offline decoding of h.264 videos offers more quality in a more efficient manner than simply throwing more bandwidth at the issue. “Maximum bandwidth on a standard 1080p Blu-ray is in the region of 50Mbps,” he wrote. “We have video with average bitrates as high as 92Mbps.”