macOS Big Sur gets support for 4K YouTube videos in latest beta [Updated]

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YouTube in Safari on iMac Pro
YouTube videos can look a lot better thanks to macOS Big Sur Beta 4.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Apple released the public beta of macOS Big Sur beta 4 Thursday, and the hottest new feature is very high-resolution YouTube videos. Once Mac users get their hands on the OS upgrade this autumn, they’ll be able to stream video from this service in 4K.

The big news came quietly buried in the macOS Big Sur 11 beta 4 release notes. In the Safari category, the sole entry for new features is: “Support for 4K HDR playback of YouTube videos.”

It’s not really surprising Apple buried this light under a bushel. It also gave iOS, iPadOS and tvOS support for 4K YouTube video just as quietly.

What’s happening behind the scenes? Apple began supporting Google’s VP9 video codec. That’s the one used for 4K video on YouTube. Without it, this streaming service maxes out at 1080p.

In addition to this small change, Mac users will see a big design overhaul in the next iteration of macOS, which is version 11. That includes updated application icons that caused quite a stir among Mac fans.

The final version of macOS Big Sur should arrive this autumn. If you want to try it early, sign up for the free Apple Beta Software Program.

Note: We originally published this post on Aug. 4. We updated it when the public beta became available on Aug. 6.