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Why Can’t Safari Play 4K Videos on YouTube?


Picture this: you’re minding your own business watching funny videos on YouTube. Everything is great, but you realize the quality isn’t as high as it could be. You know 4K videos have become the norm, so why are you watching everything in 1080p? 

Unfortunately, watching 4K YouTube videos on Safari isn’t very easy. 

Here’s what you need to know about playing high-quality videos on Safari and what you can do to improve your viewing experience.

Why Can’t Safari Play 4K Videos on YouTube?

Safari logo app

You can play some videos in 4K on Safari, but generally, Safari is not the best web browser to enjoy 4K videos in. YouTube encodes it’s 4K videos with the VP9 codec, which is “an open and royalty-free video coding format developed by Google.” 

If you know anything about Apple, you probably know they aren’t usually compatible with other technologies. Unfortunately, this is also true for using VP9 as a codec. Safari cannot process it, so viewers are left having to watch their videos in 1080p or lower. 

Some argue that it’s not Apple’s fault it can’t play 4K videos. Instead, fingers should be pointed at Google, who chose to set their technology up in a codec that isn’t readily used.

Developers at Google knew that masses of consumers would be watching YouTube on Apple products, so why not make everything compatible with their pre-existing technology from the get-go? 

Apple, on the other hand, supports all international standards. It understands that people are going to visit a lot of websites using Safari, so they will need to make it compatible with a variety of codecs. 

For better or worse, the technology that processes 4K videos is different than that of lower quality videos, so we’re all left here waiting with our fingers crossed that Google and Apple come to an agreement in terms of what codec to use. 

Hopefully, the two giant companies will be able to settle their differences sooner than later, leaving us to binge-watch as many 4K YouTube videos as our hearts desire. 

Safari app on a tablet

How Do I Enable 4K on YouTube in Safari?

As previously mentioned, the issue isn’t with Safari itself, but with the VP9 codec that Google uses. Therefore, you will need to enable a VP9 codec decoder on the web browser. Luckily, this is relatively simple. 

Start by opening up a Safari window.

Go to the top left corner of the screen and click ‘Safari’ which should be right next to the Apple emoticon. This will give you a list of options like clearing your history and quitting Safari. Click the “Preferences” option. 

There will be an option to show the Develop menu in the menu bar. Check that box, then head over to the menu bar and open up the Develop menu. Locate the “Experimental Features” on the menu, then highlight it with your mouse by holding and dragging it over the words. 

Finally, you can check the box next to “VP9 SW Decoder.” This will enable 4K on Safari.

Restart your computer, open up YouTube on Safari, and get to enjoying your crisp and clear 4K videos! 

enable VP9 SW Decoder on Safari

Other Ways to Play 4K Videos

A girl watching video on laptop

Switching on the VP9 SW Decoder isn’t the only way to watch 4K videos on an Apple device. 

If you’ve got the computer storage and broadband speed, downloading videos you want to watch in 4K is an option. You can always delete them after enjoying them.

We wouldn’t do this if you’re watching 20 30-second videos in a row, but if there’s a longer video that you really want to enjoy in 4K, this might be a worthwhile option. 

Downloading YouTube videos is simple, and there are a lot of websites out there that turn YouTube URLs into HD mp4 files. 

You can also use a download manager that helps you download and organize files. This is particularly helpful if you download videos regularly. A download manager will make downloading YouTube videos convenient. 

Finally, you could always just play the video in Chrome. This isn’t a creative or difficult solution, but it does work. Downloading Chrome is free, and if you’re determined to watch your videos in 4K, this might be your easiest option. 

The only downside to this is that you’ll have to juggle two web browsers. You could either switch everything over to Chrome (social media, emails, etc.) or exclusively use Chrome for YouTube. This choice is yours. 

Is Chrome Better Than Safari? 

Chrome app on a smartphone

We’ve developed into why Safari doesn’t work well with 4K YouTube videos — so does that mean Chrome is a better browser? 

While Safari lacks the ability to be compatible with Google technologies, it generally runs faster and looks cleaner. The Chrome interface, as useful as it is, can be a little jumbled. You are also constantly encouraged to link your Gmail to everything, which can get a bit annoying. 

Safari is also designed for Apple, so it knows how to protect your computer from viruses. It also works well with other Apple applications. Therefore, you should stick to using Safari to protect your computer and get the most out of your internet experience. 

It’s also been shown that Apple watches and tracks your history less than Google does, meaning that you’re more likely to have the browser privacy you deserve when exclusively using Safari. 

Wrapping Things Up 

Safari app on a smart device

It’s not easy to play 4K videos on the Safari web browser, but it is possible.

The reason stems from Google using a VP9 codec, which isn’t compatible with Apple technology. Some people think this is Apple’s fault, while others blame Google. 

There are a few ways to play 4K videos on Safari, and the easiest way is to just copy and paste the URL into a Chrome web browser. But at the end of the day, Safari is the best option for Apple users. 

Are you a die-hard Chrome or Safari fan? Has not being able to play 4K videos gotten in the way of you enjoying watching YouTube?

We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below! 

Good luck!


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