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Change the quality of YouTube videos on your phone, TV and laptop

Make your videos sharper or load faster.

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You can change the quality on YouTube videos.

Angela Lang/CNET

It's beyond frustrating when that new Billie Eilish song isn't loading on YouTube fast enough and the quality on latest alpaca video from The Dodo seems iffy. The curse of YouTube (other than my addiction to it) seems to be that the display quality isn't always equal among videos. Fortunately, you can change the display settings on YouTube that can either make it load faster or play back with a sharper image. 

Videos load faster if you choose a lower resolution, and look better if you choose a higher one. In general you probably want videos to look as good as possible, but in some cases, for example, if you're on a slow Wi-Fi or a cell connection where you want to conserve data, a lower resolution is better.

YouTube gives you the option to change the display settings across all devices, including your phone, TV and computer. YouTube remembers that setting for next time, which might help make videos run smoother when you fire them up on your next session. 

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Change the video quality on your phone, TV and computer.

Angela Lang/CNET

Change YouTube's video quality on your phone

YouTube is a go-to for video, but it's also great for playing music -- like an official music video or playlist. Say, for example, you use your phone to listen to YouTube music while driving (make sure you adjust settings before getting in your car!), or walking, commuting -- you name it.

These are scenarios where you want faster loading times and can handle lower resolution. The tips also apply to YouTube TV, a YouTube subscription service for watching live TV without cable. YouTube Music, a music-streaming app from YouTube, can be adjusted by kilobits per second.

If you're watching video on your phone while on the go, use the same method to increase the streaming resolution -- though keep an eye on the quality. If your cell service seems weak, for example, or you're minding your data, you may need to drop to a lower resolution. 

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The difference between 144p and 1080p is huge.

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET

1. After you select the video you want to stream (for listening purposes), tap the three white dots in the top-right corner.

2. Select Quality from the list.

3. Choose the quality you'd like to see. The options range from 144p for lower resolution to 2160p (4K) for higher res, depending on the video you're watching.

If you're just listening to music and not watching the video, select a lower setting so it will load faster. If you're watching the video, select a higher resolution so you get the best viewing experience. 

Also, if you select a video in 1080p, but the next video you watch doesn't offer that quality, the video will revert to the next highest setting.

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Make your YouTube video clearer on your TV

Chances are if you're watching a video on your smart TV or a media streamer (unfortunately the app isn't available on Fire TV yet), you want the quality to be pin-sharp. Here's how to select the best resolution.

1. When watching a video on the YouTube app for your TV, select the three white dots that say More in the bottom-left corner. 

2. Select Quality.

3. Choose a video quality option. Once again, the qualities range from 144p (low res) to 2160p (this is 4K quality, which is very high res). You'll want to select a higher resolution for a clearer picture.

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Changing the video display is simple.

Angela Lang/CNET

Change the video resolution on your computer

You might be listening to videos or perhaps you want to watch them, depending on what you're doing. If you have a strong connection through Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable, higher-resolution videos will be the way to go. That might not be the case if you're hotspotting your phone or if you're in a cafe or library with slower or spottier Wi-Fi.

1. On the video screen, select the settings tool that looks like a gear.

2. Click Quality.

3. Select a quality option. Again, if you're only listening, the quality settings can be lower.

Want to know more? We have plenty of other YouTube tips, too, like enabling YouTube dark mode in the app, YouTube Music tips and tricks and how to share YouTube Premium with your family.

Originally published June 30, 2019. Update, July 1.