The image quality of almost all large streaming services has dropped since the European Union called for it through the European Commission. Given the confinement of many European countries, the community body feared that the networks would become saturated. Given that concern, the big streaming companies agreed to reduce their image quality, without giving exact figures or counting with what quality we would stay during the quarantine.
In Genbeta we have tested the image quality of Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Disney +, FILMIN, Apple TV + and Movistar + to check what their current bitrate is and what resolution they are still emitting, if they are still in 1080p and 4K at most, or if they have reduced the image size instead. Let’s see case by case what is happening with each service first in a table and then individually.
The good news: HBO continues to look just as good (or bad) as ever
AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Apple TV +
Average Bitrate in Full HD
Average Bitrate in 4K
9.53 Mbps (at 2560 x 1440p)
A reasonable period of time has passed to check the bitrate and quality reduction policy of each large streaming service, and there is good and bad news. For the tests, We have used Apple TV 4 and 4K developer menus, Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick 4K, and hidden modes of information from Netflix, both on the web and on Samsung televisions. All this, with good network connections.
Before we continue, let’s define what the bitrate or bit rate. It is the amount of information that is transmitted per second of a video or audio. Thus, an image at a certain resolution, for example, 4K, can look very good, but also very bad, depending on how high its bit rate is, that is, the amount of information that each frame includes. A very compressed image with a very low bitrate will look very bad in 4K or 8K, while a 1080p video with the bitrate of a Blu-Ray has much more information than any video on streaming platforms.
FILMIN image quality
‘Westworld’ on HBO.
As for the relatively good news, At HBO, FILMIN and Movistar + we have not noticed any loss of quality regarding the image quality and bitrate that we enjoyed before the quarantine. We say “relatively” because they are the three services that have the worst image quality in 1080p when there are no quarantine limitations. HBO image quality has not risen in quality in almost three years, since in July 2017, a Game of Thrones chapter was also over 3.4 Mbps with H.264 codec, a low figure similar to the one has released the analysis of the last season of Westworld.
As for Movistar +, the bitrate that we have observed corresponds to that discussed in their forums in September 2019. In the case of FILMIN we have no way of verifying that the quality has not decreased, but as in the other two cases mentioned, the company has not announced any reduction during quarantine. So, the ones that looked worse, at least now they will continue to look the same, and even surpassing other options that previously looked better.
Huge quality reductions on Netflix and Amazon
In the rest of cases there are quality reductions, more or less severe. In the case of Netflix, as I already mentioned in Xataka, the bitrate reduction is 50% in 1080p and 4K. The company stated that with the reduction they would obtain data savings from their network of 25%. It maintains HDR10 and Dolby Vision on several of the devices we have checked it on. In those modes we cannot guarantee the codec, but in 1080p without HDR it is AVC / H.264 (on MacBook Pro, Apple TV 4 and Fire Stick). That is with the same codec of others it is even below the quality of the worst so far: HBO, Movistar + and FILMIN.
The problem with Amazon Prime Video is that in addition to downloading bitrate, we do not exceed 1080p except on one device.
If Netflix stood out for anything in these tests, it was for the audio, with 600 Kbps of bitrate. It doubles the number of its rivals.
In the case of Amazon Prime Video, the company has also talked about quality reduction, but has not specified a figure. In what we have to measure, the bitrate in 1080p right now stands at 5.12 Mbps on average in reference content on the platform, such as ‘Star Trek: Picard’ or ‘The Grand Tour’. We do not know the figures prior to the reduction, but according to the tests of a Reddit user, they reached 8.84 Mbps. In other words, we are talking about a quality loss of 42%. Nothing negligible. As for 4K, we do not have figures because we have not been able to reproduce content in that quality.
Vodafone’s TiVo 4K is the only device of the many we’ve tested where we’ve reached Ultra HD quality with Amazon Prime Video.
Only on a Vodafone decoder has the “Ultra HD” sign appeared, but several Samsung televisions only show “HD” and HD HDR, when before they showed “Ultra HD HDR”. It does not matter if we wait for buffering, the situation does not change. On an Apple TV 4, it does not go up to 720p, and on an Apple TV 4K, Fire Stick and Fire Stick 4K we have not managed to go up to 1080p.
So the bottom line is that while 4K can still be active on Amazon Prime, the reality is that most users are receiving 1080p at most. Of course, there is good news, and that is that the codec used for compression is HEVC or H.265, which implies that at the same bitrate as H.264, the quality is much better. Simply put, Amazon Prime Video right now boasts much higher quality than Netflix in 1080p. Of course, on Apple TV 4, as we will see later with Disney, we do not exceed 720p resolution.
Disney + and Apple TV + are the great benchmarks in image quality, even with reductions
Disney + falls short of the 4K it promises, but still offers high image quality.
And we turn to the cases of the true benchmarks of quality, the newcomers Disney + and Apple TV +. In the case of Disney +, we have not been able to experience 4K resolution on any device: Apple TV 4K or Fire Stick 4K. In the rest of devices we cannot assure the resolution, because there is no way to know it. The most we have been able to enjoy has been ‘The Mandalorian’ and ‘Avengers: Endgame’ at 2560 x 1440 pixels, with an average bitrate of 9.53 Mbps.
Not having done tests before, we cannot know what is its quality in Spain without restrictions, but on Reddit they commented that Endgame reached 17.35 Mbps on average, and ‘The Mandalorian’ about 16.28 Mbps. The good news, despite the fact that there is no 4K, is that Disney continues to send HDR and Dolby Vision, and it does it in formats similar to HEVC on Apple TV. At the same bitrate as the Netflix 1080p we’ve received, the quality is much better. Yes, on devices like the regular Fire Stick or Apple TV 4, the maximum resolution is 720p, somewhat disappointing despite maintaining good bitrate.
Apple TV + quality, the highest today.
Finally, we come to the jewel in the crown in terms of image quality: Apple TV +. Despite the reduction announced by the Cupertino company, the image quality continues to be well above the rest of the competitors, with 6.58 Mbps in 1080p with a codec similar to HEVC (QDH1) and maintaining Dolby Vision. In addition, in 4K, in ‘For all humanity’, we have reached an average of 15.48 Mbps with the same codec.
That is to say, to this day, Apple TV + has, in image quality, a sidereal distance from the rest. Regarding how much you have lost, we can not know either, but on Reddit, with this same series, 4 months ago the average was 22.39 Mbps. In FlatpanelsHD we can see how 29.29 Mbps are reached on average and 41 Mbps peaks in series such as’ See ‘.
How relevant is this to image quality
A quality reduction like the one we’ve experienced on Netflix can cause compression artifacts and macroblocks to appear in some scenes.
As we have seen, various services continue with the same quality as always. This will not impact users. On Apple TV + and Disney +, despite bitrate and resolution reductions, the bitrate is still so high that users who were happy with the quality of Netflix prior to these days will not be a problem.
With Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, however, it does We have come to notice severe reductions in image quality, particularly in dark scenes, where we ourselves (and users on social networks) we have experienced macroblocks in which there is nothing but black detail that has killed the scene. No matter how well the services compress, the reduction is noticeable, since it is in some cases getting below the numbers of services that generate complaints in their normal operation, such as HBO.
That the quality you are receiving bothers you is normal, because the quality reduction is severe, but in no case the services promise us bitrate, and yes resolution. And the only ones that have reduced in that, according to our tests, are Amazon and Disney +, with the second one remaining in very positive values. It only remains to wait for the confinement to pass, but in any case, right now there are much bigger problems than this.