YouTube launches HDR support for live streams

YouTube in 2016 added support for HDR (high-dynamic range) videos on its platform, allowing cretators to upload videos offering higher contrast, more accurate shadows and highlights, a wider range of colors, and, overall improved image quality. Today, the company announced it’s now bringing HDR support to live streamed videos, too. This will make YouTube the first major platform to support live HDR streams, it says.

The support will be available to creators using a supported encoder, while the HDR videos themselves can be played back on the latest Android mobile devices or on HDR-capable smart TVs or streaming sticks. Google’s own Chromecast, of course, supports HDR content. And the company had announced HDR playback on Android mobile devices back in 2017, so that’s not unexpected either.

When HDR first launched on YouTube, it was only offered to select YouTube channels at first. But the support for live streaming in HDR will be immediately available to any YouTube creator who wants to give it a try. Over time, YouTube says it will work to improve the experience, by allowing creators to stream HDR from additional encoders and mobile devices.

The new HDR support for live video content points to YouTube’s interest in better supporting the TV platform.

During the pandemic, YouTube said its service, as well as its live TV streaming service YouTube TV, saw an uptick in viewing on the big screen. As stay-at-home directives went into place, YouTube saw overall watch time on the TV screen jump 80% year-over-year in March. Also that month, YouTube content accounted for 41% of ad-supported video on demand streaming time on U.S. TVs, it said during its Brandcast event. YouTube usage on the TV, meanwhile, jumped to around 450 million hours per day up from 250 million hours in 2018.

Live-streamed video consumption increased during the early days of the pandemic, too. According to YouTube’s pitch to advertisers, live-streamed media via TV grew 250% globally from March 11 to April 10, 2020. It also noted that casted content watch time increased 75% year-over-year during this time frame.

YouTube also notes that today, over 100 million U.S. users watch YouTube and YouTube TV on their TV screens every month.

By offering HDR live streams, YouTube can make a better pitch to advertisers to shift more of their dollars over to its platform from traditional pay TV networks — even if HDR viewing on YouTube’s platform remains more limited.

The company envisions HDR support will be useful for a range of live streams, like gaming, esports, live events such as music and sports, as well as nature and travel streams.

YouTube says HDR support is available as of today.