Netflix has updated its iOS and Android applications to let customers adjust streaming quality on mobile networks so that users with high data caps or unlimited data can choose higher-quality video.
Netflix sets its default mobile bitrate at 600kbps, limiting resolution to about 360p on AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and most other carriers. This helps customers stay under restrictive data caps, but the one-size-fits-all policy prevented customers from boosting the quality of video. The default setting will remain at 600kbps, but the new controls available to Netflix customers worldwide will boost data usage to as much as 1GB in 20 minutes.
“The default setting will enable you to stream about three hours of TV shows and movies per gigabyte of data. In terms of bitrates, that currently amounts to about 600 Kilobits per second,” Netflix said today. “Our testing found that, on cellular networks, this setting balances good video quality with lower data usage to help avoid exceeding data caps and incurring overage fees. If you have a mobile data plan with a higher data cap, you can adjust this setting to stream at higher bitrates.”
Netflix didn’t say exactly what resolution higher-quality video will stream at, but customers will be able to choose from six settings. “Auto” is the default, allowing three hours of viewing per GB. “Off” will disable streaming on cellular, allowing viewing only on Wi-Fi. “Low” will let customers watch about four hours of video per GB; medium quality will provide two hours of viewing per GB; and high quality will be an hour of viewing per GB. Finally, an option recommended only for customers with unlimited data plans “will stream at the highest possible quality for your device and the content you are viewing,” Netflix said. “This may use 1GB per 20 minutes or more depending on your device and network speeds.”
After updating the app, customers can access the new controls by clicking the menu icon, selecting app settings, and then cellular data usage. The app update with the new controls went live in the Google Play Store yesterday and in Apple’s App Store today.
Netflix already lets customers choose quality settings when viewing on non-mobile devices. The inflexible mobile quality policy came to light recently when T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere boasted that his network’s “Binge On” program—which lets video stream without counting against data caps—delivered Netflix at a higher resolution than AT&T and Verizon. Netflix acknowledged that it had been imposing a bitrate limit for five years and said it did so because “restrictive data caps are bad for consumers and the Internet in general” but promised that it would soon deliver a tool that lets customers adjust quality.
Netflix throttling itself set off a controversy, with the company facing criticism from a cable industry lobby group, AT&T, and Federal Communications Commission member Michael O’Rielly. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler dismissed the idea of investigating Netflix, saying the company didn’t violate net neutrality rules, which apply only to Internet service providers.