Can I upgrade my Google or YouTube Movie video quality after purchase? From SD to HD to 4K

In our wonderful world of digital entertainment, streaming movies have become the go-to choice for many cinephiles and casual viewers alike. Google Play Movies & TV or YouTube Movies are both premier platforms for online film purchases, offers a vast selection of titles that can be enjoyed in different resolutions: Standard Definition (SD), High Definition (HD), and the ultra-crisp 4K Ultra High Definition (4K UHD). However what if you initially purchased a movie in SD or HD and retroactively want to elevate your viewing experience to the next level? Can you?

Upgrading Your YouTube Movie from SD to HD (or HD to 4K) After Purchase

In short: No, you cannot officially upgrade your Google Play/YouTube movie post-purchase from SD to HD or from HD to 4K after purchase.

Unfortunately, we assumed (including me) that because the movie is digital, it’s a matter of going back and paying an extra dollar or three  so we can view the movie in better quality. However it’s more complicated than that. This isn’t because Google simply doesn’t allow it, but it falls under a “content owner restriction.” We can write our own little description of it, but this response from GothamNY in this Google Support Forum thread sums it up really well:

“This isn’t a Google restriction it’s a content owner restriction. Think of it this way, if you walked into Walmart and purchased an SD DVD a year ago and a year later the HD version was made available, would Walmart let you trade-in-trade-up because you wanted the HD version? I don’t believe so. It’s a common misconception that because things are digital or in the cloud it’s a simple switch, it isn’t. It’s treated exactly as physical content license purchase is treated.”

So in the future you want to put more thought into your viewing experience before choosing the cheaper option.

For example, the other evening we were watching videos on blackjack for beginners and decided we wanted a movie night. My agreed on the film Showing Up  and bought it through YouTube in SD for $4.99. We grabbed some snacks and as soon as we started watching, my partner wasn’t happy about the quality of the movie.

Not even 30 seconds into the movie, we immediately stopped the film and looked to upgrade from SD to HD, but couldn’t find that option; experiencing the hurdle mentioned above.  Make sure you’re taking into consideration the permanence of pressing Buy on YouTube or Google Play.

That said, there is a way to watch it in higher quality after purchase; you would have to do a little work. If I had my bearings the other night, I would have just asked for a refund for the SD version of Showing Up, and re-purchased it in HD. That process may take a little time and you’re taking the risk of Google/YouTube not giving you a refund (unlikely if in my experience – they’re always quick to refund), but if your enjoyment of the film is very much linked to the video quality; it’s probably worth it.

Google Giving Free 4K Upgrades Previous Purchases

There’s some good news. Google sometimes will automatically upgrade your past SD or HD movie purchases to 4K for free, if a 4K version of the movie you purchased previously is available in the Play Store. This includes movies that you purchased in SD or HD before 4K was even an option. It’s important to note that not all movies have an upgrade option available, and the availability might vary based on your location and studio agreements. Furthermore, ensure you have a stable and fast internet connection to enjoy smooth streaming in HD or 4K.

Remember, the key to maximizing your cinematic experience is to keep an eye out for the upgrade option and embrace the improved quality with open arms (and perhaps some popcorn). Happy movie watching!