In the latest round of coronavirus-induced tech news, YouTube, AppleTV+, and Amazon Prime video have all begun to reduce default streaming bitrates in Europe, following a similar move by Netflix. The actions came about after EU Commissioner Thierry Breton called on streaming services to restrict image quality to lessen the burden on Europe‘s internet infrastructure.
In a statement provided to Reuters, YouTube said “we are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” or 480P. The company clarified this includes Britain despite Brexit, and that the slowdown will be for 30 days initially. Luckily, it seems users still have the option to switch to a higher resolution if they’re concerned about the missing pixels.
Amazon issued a similar statement to Variety, saying it was cutting bit rates in Europe without much in the way of technical details:
We support the need for careful management of telecom services to ensure they can handle the increased internet demand with so many people now at home full-time due to COVID-19. Prime Video is working with local authorities and internet service providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in Europe where we’ve already begun the effort to reduce streaming bit rates while maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers.
Apple has so far not issued an official statement on the matter, but multiple sources have reported a blatant reduction in image quality.
9to5Mac says “Apple appears to be serving video streams with resolutions as low as 670 pixels tall. In addition to lower resolution, the streams appear heavily compressed with visibly blocky artifacts.” CultOfMac cites a couple of AppleTV users in Europe, claiming the differences are “primarily fast-moving content that is slower to refresh, heavily compressed, and more pixelated.”
This degradation is particularly noticeable since AppleTV+ has flaunted its 4K HDR content since its inception.
Netflix, Apple, and Amazon have not provided specifics on how much they are reducing quality, other than Netflix claiming it could reduce data usage in Europe by 25 percent.
Fortunately for me, the companies have not issued similar restrictions on US networks this far. Now excuse me while I go watch another 12 episodes of Chopped Junior.