The Netflix mobile app for Android and iOS includes a unique feature which reduces data consumption when streaming using mobile data.
This is accomplished without a noticeable reduction in video quality by dynamically altering content bit rate depending on the motion in each segment of a video.
We previously tested the effect of this mobile data optimisation, finding that it can reduce data usage compared to streaming over Wi-Fi.
Showmax, the biggest competitor to Netflix in South Africa, also offers a mobile app for streaming to your smartphone.
To see how their data usage compares, we streamed identical shows across both platforms using mobile data and measured the results.
We used a Nokia 5 smartphone for this test, which has a screen resolution of 720 x 1,280 and LTE support.
The mobile data usage was monitored using the My Data Manager app for Android, which delivers data consumption readouts for applications.
The Netflix and Showmax apps used for this test were also set to their default settings.
For Netflix, this means automatically adjusting streaming quality when using mobile data, and for Showmax it meant no hard cap on mobile data usage – as this amounts to a limiting of the streaming resolution.
At the time of the test, the Nokia 5 we used to compare data usage recorded the following speeds:
- Download Speed – 41.82Mbps
- Upload Speed – 19.73Mbps
We played the first two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix, monitoring data usage for each episode.
After these results were recorded, we played the same two episodes on Showmax and monitored the data usage for each one, before comparing the results.
Streaming quality on both applications during the test was relatively smooth, and there was no buffering or skipping for the duration of our test.
The amount of mobile data used to stream the first two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Showmax using default settings was as follows:
- Episode 1 – 506MB
- Episode 2 –482MB
These amounts are extremely inflated and likely reflect a higher-quality stream than Netflix, so we tested the data usage with the Showmax Bandwidth Capping setting on “Low”, which produced results more similar to Netflix’s data usage.
The comparison between Netflix’s consumption with automatic cellular data usage enabled and Showmax’s Bandwidth Capping set to Low is shown below.
|Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Episode 1 (22 minutes)||87.3MB||132MB|
|Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Episode 2 (21 minutes)||80.7MB||121MB|
We found that there was little difference in the quality of the two streams when both had their respective data saving features enabled.
Of course, difference in quality is more difficult to notice on a small screen, especially if the bitrate and resolution are being dynamically altered.
Even when streaming over a 30Mbps Wi-Fi connection without any data-saving features enabled, Netflix only used 119MB to stream the first episode – which is still lower than the amount of mobile data consumed by Showmax with Bandwidth Capping enabled.
However, Showmax told MyBroadband that it is rolling out to new codecs which would greatly reduce data usage – and the streaming service gave MyBroadband the opportunity to test the new technology.
To test the new HEVC codec Showmax is rolling out, we used an Apple iPhone X to play the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes on Showmax.
Below are the results of the same shows on Showmax with HEVC enabled compared to the previous results.
|Episode||Showmax||Showmax – New Codec|
|Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Episode 1 (22 minutes)||132MB||103MB|
|Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Episode 2 (21 minutes)||121MB||93.7MB|
As can be seen from the results, the addition of the HEVC codec greatly reduces data consumption on compatible devices and brings the result more in line with Netflix’s mobile data usage.
The mobile data usage on Showmax is still slightly higher than the equivalent data usage on Netflix, however, which could be attributed to Netflix’s mobile data saving tool.
This tool detects when the user is streaming over a cellular connection and attempts to save as much data as possible.
Showmax told MyBroadband that it is making changes to its platform to reduce data usage when streaming on mobile data through the introduction of new codecs and bandwidth capping by default.
“To explain how we manage video resolution and how this affects data usage, first we encode our content across a range of different profiles, starting at 360p resolution with 200k bitrate and ending at 720p resolution with 2,200k bitrate,” Showmax said.
“Using the default settings, the streaming profile served to a device during playback is determined by the Internet speed of the customer, and is fully automated adaptive streaming).”
Users have the option to set bandwidth capping to change this, which throttles the maximum bandwidth the customer is allowed to receive from Showmax.
“We’re implementing two key changes which will result in significant data savings for customers,” Showmax said.
“The first is that we’re in the process of switching to next-gen codecs (H.265 and VP9), which we estimate will reduce data consumption for an equivalent video quality stream by as much as 30%.”
“The second is that we’ll be implementing bandwidth capping as a default setting when mobile data is being used.”