The Suppression of Vertical Videos

There seems to be a consensus among the “Internet Elite” that all vertical videos are rubbish and should be stricken from the Earth. It has become Internet culture groupthink to vehemently disapprove of these videos. Does the average member of the herd even understand why they are to disapprove of vertical videos? Or, do they just repeat and reinforce the same culture conformity banter they’ve seen elsewhere?

The reason vertical videos were originally frowned upon was that they do not display correctly on YouTube. This was a legitimate argument back then. There is an argument now that our eyes are horizontal so these videos do not “immerse” the viewer into what is happening, which is a great argument for keeping cinema horizontal, but has nothing to do with cellphone recorded snippets.

A large portion of crazy videos that go viral are recorded vertically. When you’re standing in public, recording something vertically helps conceal your actions. Plus, a landscape shot of the scene doesn’t add any additional information. “Here’s a video of some guy going nuts. I know how important viral video quality is to the Internet, so I recorded it horizontally. Yeah, that means I cut off half his body, but look at that pavement and grass I got in the background!”

Besides being inconspicuous and providing a better aspect ratio in certain situations, vertical videos will continue to remain popular simply because more people own phones than ever before. People who are “unplugged” from Internet culture will continue to record however they want.

As I said before, the original reason for disliking vertical videos was problems with playback. Let’s also keep in mind that most people are not watching phone-recorded, widescreen YouTube videos in full screen. It should become immediately clear who is to blame for vertical videos: YouTube! Not the person who created the vertical video!

In other words, YouTube doesn’t correctly display vertical video content. Instead of Internet culture blaming the shortcomings of YouTube and asking them to fix their website, the slippery slope fallacy is made that vertical videos will destroy cinematography. However, other websites, like Facebook, have corrected the issue, proving that it’s a limitation thta can be overcome.

properly displayed

As you see above, Facebook has fixed their playback so that vertical videos span the height of my monitor. Does the vertical video capture a better aspect ratio of this Bald Eagle released from captivity than a horizontal video would have? Yes. If it was recorded horizontally, it would have captured less up and down footage and more irrelevant left and right footage. Sometimes, recording vertically is the optimal way to capture a situations.

not properly displayed

In the YouTube screenshot above, you will see the travesty that is Vertical Video playback. If you were already angry about not getting as many pixels in the Eagle video, you should be absolutely furious right now. There’s no reason that the YouTube “expand out” feature couldn’t properly size a vertical video similar to how Facebook does. But let’s pitchfork the person who recorded the video instead because they aren’t obeying Internet culture!

The one place that vertical videos should play correctly is on mobile devices. I watch an incredible amount of YouTube from my phone; probably more than I watch from my computer. Yet, Google continues to play stupid with their vertical video playback. Instead of simply switching the variables in the YouTube app for full-screen and windowed playback, they instead jam the vertical video into the tiniest little box.

android youtube


Alas, when anything defending vertical videos is posted, it’s immediately met with baseless criticism. Once groupthink sets in, the herd has no idea why they even dislike something. It’s not about the fact that they display improperly, it’s because vertical videos are bad. I tried posting about the above screenshot on the popular Internet website, Reddit, under both the Android and Google Subreddit. I was immediately down voted and harassed for doing something that could have possibly promoted vertical videos. Here’s a couple snippets:

more arguing


Vertical videos aren’t going away. You can try to suppress them with your pitchforks, but in the end, Google needs to stop playing stupid and update their website and apps.


  1. This blog sucks says:

    then post youre videos to facebook faggot

  2. Andrew Hoppes says:

    Sold. Although, I don’t understand why Google has resisted accommodating the vertical videos. Surely they haven’t simply overlooked this or don’t want to make the investment — Doesn’t fit their M.O. No valid reasons for this?

    • Maybe they have never considered it

      • Google is ether just stumped figuring out how to get advertising into full-frame vertical video playback,
        or perhaps they have an evil plan to re-sell all that empty screen space around VerticalVideo’s!

  3. well, put me in the vertical camp. i produced a feature length animated video (164 min.) at 720Hx1280V last year. it was rejected by the iTunes movie store because of the aspect ratio. it is available on, (as 12 apps), and (an app that downloads the mp4 file as an “obb”). so, i’m here to say that even the digital distributors aren’t jumping through hoops to support vertical formats. verticals will happen, however. i used vertical in my video because of the underlying artwork (images from picture books from 1901-1922).

    as to how wrong it is, eisenstein was for it. but the technology has worked against it. now, just rotate your tablet and you have a portrait display. another interesting example is tacita dean, who recently did a vertical using 35mm film! at the tate modern in london. british director mike leigh, in an interview with sean o’sullivan in o’sullivan’s recent biography of him, says: “… I’m fascinated by the idea of a vertical frame.” p. 158.

    but i don’t expect to see them in theaters. as to ours, we did do a show in a “theatrical space” (an old highway department garage turned into a video venue) by using a HDMI projector turned on its side. but, like watching a wide screen special effects scene on a phone, watching the intimate drawings projected on the wall just seemed wrong.

  4. We came up against the same mentality and so we created (the tongue in cheek) vertical cinema manifesto. The idea was to use a fun idea to highlight a real issue. Hope you like it
    We have also just finished shooting and editing a short in vertical

    • I think that our arguments are completely separate. I am not arguing for filmography or cinema to be displayed vertically. I find the idea of watching a film vertically quite appalling. Furthermore, women aren’t displayed in film sexually because of horizontal videos, but because that’s what people want to see. And obviously, it’s also what the women being filmed want to show. But that argument is for another time on another website.

  5. I could not disagree with you more. I didn’t even know that youtube doesn’t display them correctly. I can’t stand vertical videos because it is an extremely unrealistic way to view something. Our eyes are lined up horizontally. The human visual spectrum is much much wider than it is tall. Videos should be filmed from this perspective to give the viewer the sense of “being there.” Horizontal filming cuts things off??? I’ve never heard that one before. Try backing up. I don’t think Hollywood has ever had this problem.

    • +1 – they look absolutely horrible. It’s like watching life through a tunnel.

    • Well if you cut a shot that was originally horizontal vertically it won’t look too good, now would it? Not a very strong argument, phee. Now, if you actually composed an image with having the vertical frame in mind, then a world of compositional possibility is open to you before that never existed horizontally. Take for instance this animated short
      it looks fine on both my computer/tv hookup (when in use) and any mobile device I’ve watched it on (google nexus, ipad, iphone)…even (dare I say) beautiful . If you design a shot in a way that works with the frame, it will look nice. it is jarring at first, but wasn’t the first moving image considered a novelty that would go away over time too? Why restrict art, man?

  6. Here’s my problem. If I view a vertical video full screen (no matter what site it’s on) there are still going to be black bars on the outside. Because my monitor is, like every other monitor in existence, a horizontally oriented monitor.

    So you have an awesome video like this:

    Except now it’s impossible to enjoy it full screened. Especially since most smartphones are shooting in 1080p. So you have a 1080p video shrunken down to 1/3 of its original size. (1920 x 1080 becomes ~ 635 x 1080). So you lose about 66% of the pixels with a widescreen monitor (like the majority of people have). And no, my monitors aren’t able to rotate.

    So, no, vertical videos are never and will never be useful, because nobody buys displays to correctly view vertical videos.

    Vertical photos, on the other hand, are fine. Because you can just frame them… Vertically. Get it?

    • I don’t know if you really read my entire article. I wouldn’t want to watch something full screen in vertical, either. But think about the things people are recording vertically – they do not NEED to be watched in full screen. We are not talking about shooting film vertically, that would be atrocious. We are talking about random camera phone shots of something funny or viral being displayed properly on my screen. Most large wide screen monitors are plenty large enough to view a vertical video on one half while working on something else on the other half. Sure, you’re not immersing yourself in the video, but I never immerse myself in a camera phone video – horizontal or otherwise.

      • The problem you’re missing is that very few subjects are suitable for a vertical aspect ratio. One might argue that humans are a good subject, but they’re often moving around in videos.

        When this happens with vertical videos, there is a lot of panning and motion blur in the footage, which makes it very unpleasant to watch. An example of this effect:

        If this video had been shot horizontally, the camera barely would have had to move and it would have captured all the motion of the cosplayer. Now half his body is out of the frame half the time because of the panning delay.

        You say that horizontal videos often have superfluous detail like grass and sky, but I could say exactly the same about vertical videos. An example:

        About 25% of this video is the actual subject. That’s the kind of videos people complain about, not the ones that are suitable for a vertical aspect ratio.

        • These are valid points, but you’re not responding to my actual argument – YouTube needs to properly display vertical videos, regardless of how you feel about them. Even if you already dislike vertical videos, watching them being displayed improperly only makes it worse.

          • Displaying them like Facebook does would break the YouTube layout though. The comments and video description would be pushed offscreen, especially on Android. Also, on Android you would just watch the video in fullscreen mode. No one watches mobile videos like you’re showing, not even horizontal videos. There’s no point to watching videos on a space even smaller than phone screens already are.

            • Please explain how to get a YouTube video into fullscreen mode on Android. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but that the options are not intuitive. I have tried multiple times to figure this out. If I turn the phone sideways (the way I do to make a regular video full screen), it still puts the video in the center with black blocks on either side.

            • Also, arguing that it would “break the YouTube layout” is nonsense. The videos could play in the current layout, but just like how expanding a video pushes the sidebar below, expanding a vertical video could just push the entire page below. And that’s only one solution that I’ve come up with in 3 seconds. Google clearly could make it work.

          • I’ve been able to upload edited vertical footage to YouTube which then allows me to confirm its parameters so that when it is played on a phone/tablet (using YouTube) it appears full screen. I don’t think it compresses the quality any further (although I could be wrong). Is this what you are hoping YouTube will do or is there still something missing in this scenario?

    • vertical is just one example of video that does not fill the screen. ever seen “ben hur”? huge black bars top and bottom on all known computer or TV screens. watch a 1080p movie on an iPad: big black bars top and bottom. watch a SD TV show on a HD TV: black bars left and right. watch any movie on an old style (4:3) TV: black bars or cropping. the only way to avoid black bars is to only watch things that have the same aspect ratio as your screen. that means you miss out on an extremely large number of videos, no matter what your device is.

  7. The problem is when you play it back for family on your widescreen TV, you get 25-30% of your TV screen used, the majority is black. Years from now, people will be very dissappointed with their childhood videos.

    • Although I think a lot of families will desire to watch their videos on a widescreen TV, there are an equal number who like sitting around with a tablet. In the same way there is something intimate about being able to hold a photo album as opposed to watching a slide show projected onto a screen, there is something intimate about sharing videos on a portable device (that can be rotated to show videos in a horizontal or vertical fashion)

      • if people continue to produce vertical vids, then at some point in the not too distant future, someone will produce a swiveling bracket allowing you to swing your HDTV into vertical. perhaps they will motorize it so you can swivel it with a click from the couch. this is not rocket science. also, the TV manufacturers will use the gyro on the chip they are already using to display things vertically, just like a tablet. this will be incredibly simple for them to do. movie theaters may have more trouble because the big $$$ equipment they are in the middle of installing was conceived without vertical in mind.

  8. Darkside_Hero says:

    Vertical video cannot convey proper horizontal motion, which is the vast majority of motion observed in the world.

    • nonsense. much horizontal motion is done using a stationary image against a moving background. in live action, this is done with a green screen. this can be done with either a vertical or horizontal image. if the interest is in the character, vertical is preferable. reverse for interest in the background.

  9. Roscoe Van Damme says:

    I applaud Google for not catering to this growing trend. And I do hope they keep it that way.

    • You’re like a modern day Luddite. Want to maintain an old way of doing things simply because – period.

    • wait so you actually want the vertical videos to be resized and made smaller rather than youtube fixing the problem and enabling them to be displayed larger? ok

  10. i’m with you, mr. watt. recording– and viewing– video is no longer solely the domain of television. more and more video is being watched on portable devices that can be turned every which-a-way. no reason to limit things to the old way of doing things.

  11. Here’s a stupid solution, make square phones :)

  12. This is a bigger problem tho, beyond youtube – actual TV stations are airing ‘viral’ or news-worthy vertical-shot videos on actual television now regularly.. and vertical videos look TERRIBLE on television. Agreed, youtube should adapt and automatically change it’s aspect to suit the video, but that’s not going to help television!

    • When television has to take videos from the Internet in an attempt to stay relevant, I can assure you vertical videos will not be the reason TV goes away. :)

  13. Well, assuming tall TVs are created and Youtube corrects its display of vertical videos, it doesn’t change the fact that our vision is horizontal and that to correctly see the total height of the video, we will have unrelated background (namely the wall or whatever is behind our device).So yeah, talk about feeling in the action with 2/3 of my vision being unrelated junk…

    And seeing someone’s feet may be a turn on for you, but I don’t give a fucking shit. The only case would be dancers, and there’s plenty of horizontal movements there, so it’s not well suited anyway.

  14. The only way this argument works is if your display is vertical, eg a phone, even then your eyes aren’t vertical, so if your holding your phone vertically, I would argue your holding it wrong. In your first screenshot, your browser window is re sized to 2/3 of the screen width, I have fixed this for you. Notice the size of the men have not changed.

    • I think you missed the entire point of my article. 1). You can’t stop others from making vertical videos, but you will have to watch them at some point. 2). The videos should display correctly when viewed.

      I see that you’ve added on additional footage to the right of the video. While that’s great for your little thumbnailed screenshot, it doesn’t solve the problem of resolution. An HD vertical video is natively shot at 1080×1920 (as opposed to a regular HD video at 1920×1080.) On a 1080p screen, such as my phone, I should be able to watch vertical videos in full 1080p. If the detail being captured in the video, such as these men and the Eagle above, had been captured with the camera sideways, the men would be out of the frame. This is because there is less resolution available. There’s no way that your picture would have worked, it would have actually been this:

      It also would have been a lot harder to capture the bird as it flew up and down.

  15. Hmmm how about when I’m watching the news and half of my tv screen is BLACK because the only video of that amazing dunk at the basketball game was recorded VERTICALLY? Vertical photographs or paintings are fine because the artwork is permanent and the human eyes have all the time in the world to view it. But, TV screens are horizontal, as with computer screens, movie theaters, etc, FOR A REASON. Our eyes are horizontal. The only reason vertical videos exist is because of smart phones. They didn’t exist before.. nobody held their camcorders sideways all the time and nowadays vertical videos are not usually taken intentionally for composition purposes OR to be inconspicuous. It also really pisses off newsroom video editors when the only footage they have from an event is from a dumbass recording a video like they were text messaging. Be smarter than your phone, and hold it horizontally.

    • They should be glad they have any footage at all. It’s not like they paid for any of it.

    • Basically all they have to do to get rid of the black is to put the vertical video in its own frame and then put a still of the basketball arena behind it. I would also leave the sportscaster in the wide frame to comment (as he had to do because the audio from the arena would suck, basically a roar and/or some guy ordering another beer). Sort of like they do with still images in a frame while the news anchor talks. Only it moves! How novel. TV guys don’t quite get it yet. Not like they’re rocket scientists or anything.

      • p.s. I am actually in the process of writing a short film on this exact topic. only I was envisioning a tornado and a newsroom where the only footage was (oh no) vertical. then it goes through all the machinations of how they will be ridiculed, etc. and then the young guy with long hair who holds the cords (grip?) suggests that they put it in its own frame. they do it, then, in the nick of time a video comes in that is not vertical and they go with it … I will be making two movies of the same content, one formatted landscape and one portrait. they may or may not even end exactly the same way.

  16. First let me say that cinema in portrait is a bad idea. I watched that short animated film in portrait, and like one commenter said, as long as it’s framed correctly it will look good. And it does, but my focus was on the subjects, and most of the content on the top and bottom wasn’t taken in, since, like another commenter said, our eyes are set up horizontal. ANYWAY, I really want an option to rotate videos in full screen on the YouTube Android app because of a big reason nobody has mentioned. SCREEN RECORDINGS OF PHONES. Sure, you can record your whole tutorial in landscape, but most people use their phones in portrait most of the time. Also in the case of portrait games, you can’t force them into landscape, for example endless runner games like Temple Run, Sonic Dash, or Flappy Bird. I see the last comment was back in November, but I hope you see this and reply to it, I would love your feedback!

  17. Warlock Jones says:

    I just posted similar sentiments on /r/web_design:
    Not being completely shut down as you were and there are even some who agree. But someone posted a link to this article and I think you articulated it really well. It really is crazy how nut people get about this issue and how vehement they are that the only possible solution is to ban all vertical video. Makes zero sense.

  18. Thanks so much for your article…completely agree that videos on YouTube should and could easily have a vertical display capability.
    I recently had an exchange with several commenters on the Huffington Post objecting to a vertical video of a child piano prodigy. They insisted that all videos must be horizontal, “NO exceptions”. It was stunning how angry they got when I suggested that vertical framing was appropriate for some situations, like that one, and that we don’t need to limit our creativity to one format.
    It reminds me of similar outrage about pronouncing “GIF” with a soft “G” as the inventor does…but that’s another story and I don’t mean to spark more anger here.


  1. […] The Suppression of Vertical Videos, James Watt makes the case for Vertical Videos and argue that YouTube should be blamed instead of […]

  2. […] Blogger James Watt, however, speaks out on behalf of vertical videos, saying it is suppression by the “Internet Elite.” […]


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