In context: YouTube's controversial experiment in which it restricted 4K content to its $12-per-month Premium service has come to an end. What conclusion Google drew from the test is unknown—it appears to be still gathering feedback–so there's no guarantee the resolution will remain accessible on the platform indefinitely.
Earlier this month, users on Reddit and YouTube started posting screenshots of the 2160p/4K resolution option for YouTube videos showing as a feature available only to YouTube Premium subscribers. It was theorized that Google was looking to make 4K content another benefit of its $12 pm/$120 per year service, which lacks the ads found on the free version of YouTube and comes with the music streaming service YouTube Music.
So, after testing up to 12 ads on YouTube for non-Premium users, now some users reported that they also have to get a Premium account just to watch videos in 4K. pic.twitter.com/jJodoAxeDp— Alvin (@sondesix) October 1, 2022
YouTube has offered 4K videos for over a decade and even has an 8K option where available, so removing resolutions above 1440p was always going to cause a backlash. According to an official YouTube Twitter account (spotted by 9to5Google), the experiment has now ended, meaning those few users who had been unable to see 4K on YouTube should again be able to access the resolution.
Responding to a user tweet about 4K being limited to YouTube Premium, TeamYouTube wrote, "we've fully turned off this experiment. viewers should now be able to access 4K quality resolutions without Premium membership. we're here if you have other q's"
we've fully turned off this experiment. viewers should now be able to access 4K quality resolutions without Premium membership. we're here if you have other q's— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) October 17, 2022
It's unclear whether YouTube ended this trial prematurely due to the amount of pushback it received or if the experiment ran its course. Interestingly, a tweet in Japanese from Team YouTube included a link for users to give their opinions on locking 4K content behind the YouTube Premium service.
Whether Google decides the new users it could attract to YouTube Premium looking for 4K videos would outweigh the outrage is unknown. It's unlikely that people would boycott the platform in significant numbers—the latest Steam survey shows that few participants have 4K monitors, though plenty watch it on 4K/HDR smart TVs. As always, corporate decisions like these ultimately tend to come down to money, sadly. One also has to wonder if Google could decided to make other YouTube features, such as 60fps or HDR, Premium-only.