Sunday, January 12, 2020

480p is my friend - video streaming when you don't have fiber

I live in a rural area and doubt I will ever get fiber. I have fixed wireless broadband. Maybe low earth orbit satellites will be an option in the future whether that is via Starlink, Amazon or OneWeb.

I get 16Mbps which is shared by 4 people. One user plays online video games and cares about latency. Video streaming can be a challenge as it frequently consumes too much download bandwidth. Upload is usually not an issue except for FaceTime and other video chat apps.

I put video streaming apps into one of 3 classes -- polite, knows better and rude.
  • Polite apps have video quality settings that are sticky. Set the video quality once to 480p and things are good. 
  • Knows better apps know better. Set video quality to 480p today and it resets to auto the next time you use the app. Why? Because the apps knows that HD video makes you happy even if you don't have the network bandwidth to support that.
  • Rude apps have no video quality settings. They use as much bandwidth as they can get.
To make up for the lack of throttling in many of the video streaming apps I have tried traffic shaping with a Gargoyle router. That is a lot of work, must get MAC addresses for all devices, and the results weren't great. I might have to try it again.

I am not a fan of Auto video quality. Maybe that works great when there are not multiple apps coming and going on the network. But I am skeptical about the ability for it to deal with congestion and I doubt it has any concern for the impact on latency sensitive apps (like online video games).

Polite apps are great but you still have to select lower quality for apps X users for web and then apps X devices for phone/tablet. Assume you need to revisit this once per year because apps change. Another thing to do is disable autoplay for as many apps as possible. I won't explain how to do that below.

The Apps

  • Facebook - Video Settings has a Video Default Quality option. AFAIK this setting has no effect for videos in Feed and Watch.  Some might call that a bug. I set the option to SD Only but Watch videos start in 720p or 1080p and Feed videos use a variety, some are HD.
  • YouTube on a browser and iOS
  • YouTube TV on a browser
  • Apple TV - in Settings -> Apps -> iTunes Movies and TV Shows see Limit Purchases and Rentals to SD
  • iTunes - purchase movies and TV shows in SD
  • Netflix on iOS - go to More -> App Settings and set Video Quality to Standard
  • Netflix on web - go to Account -> Playback settings
  • Hulu on iOS - go to Account -> Settings -> Cellular Data Usage and choose Data Saver
  • Hulu on web - start a video, click on the gear -> Quality -> Data Saver
  • Amazon Prime on iOS - select Settings -> Streaming & Downloading
  • Amazon Prime on web - start a video, click the gear
  • Zoom - defaults to non-HD on a Mac (hope others follow this trend)
  • Twitter on web - select Settings -> Data Usage -> Data Saver. The setting doesn't mention whether it changes video quality. While there disable autoplay as well.
  • Twitter on iOS - select Settings -> Data usage to disable autoplay and select lower quality videos and images
Knows Better
  • YouTube TV on iOS
  • FaceTime
  • Chromecast - the only choice is Auto. If you are watching something in 480p on a browser and then start casting the device will try for higher quality.
  • Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok - I will figure this out when my kids get home
  • Facebook Video Chat

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