Google has quietly been adding true 720p-resolution HD movies. Wired was the first of the mainstream news sites to pick up this news after it first appeared in several forums. Just have a look at the video below to see the difference in resolution over normal YouTube videos:

To view the video full-screen you’ll have to open it at the YouTube site directly. The key to viewing the HD versions is adding the parameter “&fmt=22” at the end of the URL; if a high-res version is available you’ll immediately receive amazing video and sound quality. According to Webmonkey, you need to install Flash Player 9 or higher before this will work; presumably, the videos use H.264 encoding which is only available in the newer Flash versions.

Videos uploaded right now are immediately available in the new resolution; YouTube has stated earlier that all original versions of uploads are kept for future use, so it’s safe to assume that more content will become available in higher resolutions over the next months. With full-length movies coming as well, this will be a major blow to rival video sites. Could this be the reason AOL is closing its video service?

An interesting issue that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is bandwidth usage. This Where the Hell is Matt video weighs in at 73 MB for 4:29 minutes. That is over 2 Mbps of bandwidth; with AT&T’s highest bandwidth cap of 150 GB per month, this equates to watching roughly 5 hours of YouTube videos per day. That might not seem like much today, but when more full-length videos and TV series are added this will quickly start to become an issue for users that are on lower bandwidth caps. This is already an issue in the UK following the release of the BBC’s iPlayer. YouTube was already responsible for about 10% of all internet traffic last year; one can only imagine what that percentage will look like next year.