Governments are asking video providers to cut their bandwidth footprint to shore up Internet infrastructure as most people hunker-down at home. However, you can cut your own video bandwidth usage without reducing how much you watch, and you might not notice any difference in quality!
Europe asks Netflix, YouTube to cut bandwidth usage
Last week, European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton called on Netflix to cut its video bandwidth usage:
Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain.
To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 18, 2020
After Sandvine suggested that YouTube was consuming more video bandwidth than Netflix, Mr. Breton called on the social streaming giant to do the same:
I warmly 👍🏻 the initiative that #Google takes to preserve the smooth functioning of the Internet during the #COVID19 crisis by having #YouTube switch all 🇪🇺 traffic to SD by default. @sundarpichai and @SusanWojcicki demonstrate strong responsibility.https://t.co/jMNhFFpsxa
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 20, 2020
It is not clear Mr. Breton was acting on specific requests from ISPs or out of an abundance of caution. Whichever it was, Google and Netflix immediately moved to reduce video quality to standard definition in the region for the next month.
Netflix and YouTube are a start. What about the rest?
Indeed, with people sheltering-in-place, a massive increase in broadband and mobile data usage is only to be expected. Vodafone in Europe reports a 50% increase in broadband usage in some countries, though it gave no hint that it was having trouble meeting the increasing demand. Moreover, video streaming drives the use of more bandwidth than any other application. As the two biggest video streaming companies, YouTube and Netflix’s efforts to reduce usage by 25% or more are sure to make an impression.
However, there are hundreds of other SVOD and AVOD providers. As well, many broadcasters and pay TV operators also stream their content online to viewers. To make a significant impression, all streaming video companies should also cap their video quality.
Take charge of your streaming bandwidth usage!
Rather than relying on Netflix and YouTube to limit their usage, you can take direct control of the amount of bandwidth you consume while streaming.
Streaming stick or box users
If you are using a Roku, Fire TV, or similar device, you can make it think the resolution of your TV is lower than it is. By default, the streaming device talks to the television and automatically sets the resolution. That means if you have a 4K TV when streaming a 4K movie, you will be consuming 7GB of bandwidth per hour. However, you can force the resolution to be much lower. If you set it to 720p, you may consume as little as one-seventh the bandwidth versus 4K. What’s more, all streaming services you watch will stream at the lower resolution, not just Netflix and YouTube.
Smart TV users
Those of you using a smart TV probably won’t be able to control the picture resolution in the same way as a streaming box user can. Luckily, many streaming apps allow you to specify the resolution at which you want to stream. For example, Amazon Prime Video lets you reduce the quality to 720p. Go to the settings menu and look for Display to make the change.
Mobile phone usage
To restrict cellular phone streaming resolution, you will need to go service by service, as with a smart TV. For example, I went to the settings menu for Amazon Prime Video on my phone and restricted streaming to “good” quality. The setting uses seven-times less bandwidth (0.27 GB/hr) than the highest quality. And while you’re at it, reduce the video download quality setting too. I find the picture quality perfectly acceptable on my 5.5” Pixel 3 phone.
Help your neighbor and yourself!
Reducing streaming bandwidth in this way allows you to do your part in helping everyone maintain decent broadband and mobile data connectivity. It will also help keep you under any data caps you have on your service and avoid overage charges. And you may not even notice any difference in picture quality for much of the video you watch.
Why it matters
Europe is asking streaming giants to cut video quality to protect broadband and mobile data connectivity for all.
However, streamers can cut the bandwidth they use across all their video services without reducing viewing time.