Netflix streaming quality improves after bitrate reduction lifted

Netflix is working to revert its video streaming bitrates to pre-coronavirus levels, according to a report from FlatpanelsHD.

This follows after the company temporarily lowered bitrates in Europe from mid-March, and later implemented the same measures in Africa.

This was done in an effort to ease the burden of data traffic on networks as the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in people spending more time on the Internet while working from home.

Netflix told MyBroadband the reduction would be effective in Africa and South Africa starting 23:59 on 30 March 2020 and would last for a period of 30 days.

This means that the streaming quality should have reverted to normal levels by the time of writing.

Netflix did not respond to a request for comment on whether South African bitrates had been reverted to normal by the time of publication.

“In the last month alone we have added four times the normal capacity. As conditions improve we will lift these limitations,” Netflix told FlatpanelsHD.

Bitrate changes

The term “bitrate” refers to the number of bits per second transmitted through a network.

In the context of streaming services like Netflix, a higher bitrate accommodates better video quality – as more data is streamed to the viewer per second.

While a lower bitrate usually means lower-quality videos for streaming services, Netflix claimed it had found a way to maintain the quality of its video streams while reducing traffic load by 25%.

“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25% while also maintaining the quality of our service,” Netflix said in its initial statement to MyBroadband.

“So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan – whether it’s Ultra-High, High, or Standard Definition,” Netflix stated.

Changes may be noticeable

While streaming resolutions were not lowered, Netflix may have resorted to changing elements like colour depth, framerate, audio quality, removing HDR support, or using codecs with more aggressive compression, to bring the bitrate down.

In a separate media statement, Netflix acknowledged the changes would be noticeable to discerning viewers.

“In normal circumstances, we have many (sometimes dozens) of different streams for a single title within each resolution,” Netflix said.

For the periods of reduced bitrates, Netflix removed the highest bandwidth streams.

“If you are particularly tuned into video quality you may notice a very slight decrease in quality within each resolution. But you will still get the video quality you paid for.”

How to check your streaming bitrate

There are several methods for checking the bitrate of a video you are streaming.

While there may be ways to open the Netflix debug or info menu on your TV or media player, many standalone devices and browsers do not present this option.

If you are streaming through a browser, you can check the quality of your Netflix content by pressing:

  • Ctrl + Alt + Shift + D on Windows
  • Control + Shift + Option + D on Mac

This brings up a detailed inspection of your current stream, including the video bitrate and resolution.

Now read: What South Africans are watching during lockdown

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Netflix streaming quality improves after bitrate reduction lifted