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COVID-19 – YouTube Cuts Video Stream Quality to Standard Def

Friday, March 20th, 2020 (10:42 am) - Score 3,419
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Internet video streaming giant YouTube has today announced that it will follow Netflix (here) by reducing the quality of their streams across the EU in order to help broadband ISPs deal with rising levels of network use. But unlike Netflix they’ve “temporarily” switched “all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default.”

We should point out that, so far in the United Kingdom, this hasn’t caused any particular problems and providers say they’re well prepared for any increase in data traffic from residential connections (we’ve covered this here). Indeed most ISPs will cache (Content Delivery Network) such video content closer to their end-users, which significantly eases the normal burden on their networks.

However the move by YouTube to drop their video quality to Standard Definition (SD) by default, which usually means a resolution of just 480p or lower, would look terrible on modern high resolution monitors or large screen 4K TVs. The change will last for at least the next 30 days.

Nevertheless it remains unclear whether this change has been introduced for the UK yet, although YouTube confirmed that it will. We just did a quick test, which showed that full HD, 2K and 4K videos were continuing to stream as normal (i.e. SD could become the “default” but at present you can still manually access higher detail levels).

We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” said YouTube (Reuters).

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar Kevin says:

    So is this an issue in other European countries or just a precaution?

    1. Avatar joe says:

      Most EU countries seem fine. Its Italy and one or two others suffering. I wonder if the EU wide thing is legal issues.

    2. Avatar Kevin says:

      Thanks for the reply Joe.

  2. Avatar CarlT says:

    ‘Default’. Clever. Leaves HD and UHD still available and, I assume, clients will ramp up to these accordingly depending on the viewport.

    What this might mean is that those people who set HD by default even when they’re looking at a 640×480 viewport will only get a 480p stream now.

    Better move than Netflix. Hopefully people will stop and think about this rather than assuming YouTube have just switched off everything at or above 720p.

    1. Avatar blueacid says:

      Default might mean that the auto-bitrate feature will not exceed 480p, but if you manually per-video change it to a higher quality then that’ll still be available.

      My presumption is that if you don’t notice, you don’t touch anything, you use 480p and save lots of bandwidth. If you do notice, you turn the quality up & you’re satisfied.

    2. Avatar joe says:

      No looking at those places under stain would be clever. Lumping all of Europe as one certainly isn’t

  3. Avatar Herve Shango says:

    So essentially continental europe is the one suffering the most, not northwest Europe (Uk and scandanivian countries)

    1. Avatar joe says:

      The evidence anywhere is suffering is very thin on the ground. (Compare peaks now to say peak holiday data usages) The spike is higher in Italy and the Spanish telcos are grumbling but nothing to demand the action taken Europe wide…

  4. Avatar Mike says:

    Doesn’t seem to affect VPN’s.

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