Netflix is now letting U.S. users dial down the quality of streaming videos to avoid hitting bandwidth caps.
Users can choose from three quality settings by visiting the “Your Account” page on Netflix’s website and looking for the “Manage Video Quality” link. “Good quality” consumes up to 0.3 GB per hour, “Better quality” burns up to 0.7 GB per hour, and “Best quality” consumes up to 1 GB per hour for standard definition or 2.3 GB per hour for HD. The settings apparently apply to computers and televisions.
Netflix isn’t hiding its reason for offering the quality options: “We know that some of you have Internet data caps and we want to make it easier for you to manage how much data you use,” the quality management web page says. Most recently, AT&T instituted a 150 GB cap for DSL subscribers and a 250 GB cap for U-Verse subscribers.
What’s somewhat surprising to me is that Netflix isn’t publicizing the feature. As DSL Reports’ Karl Bode points out, Netflix added the quality management tool quietly, burying it on an account management page with no announcement. Netflix isn’t above shaming Internet service providers — the company publishes a chart of who streams the service fastest — so the fact that Netflix was driven to this point would seem like another way to paint itself as the consumers’ champion.
But Rich Karpinski at Connected Planet has a different take: Netflix “gets and keeps subscribers by delivering a high quality streaming video service,” he writes. “Limiting bandwidth limits its service.” So Netflix doesn’t want to let on that its streaming is anything less than high quality. If your service provider is putting a limit on usage, however, lower quality is a reality you might have to face.