What if Netflix could offer the same selection of streaming content but only use half the bandwidth to stream it? If nothing else, the possibility that subscribers won’t be bumping up against monthly caps because they want to catch up on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an attractive one.
But if you’re concerned that decreasing bandwidth means decreasing quality, ask yourself if you’ve seen any drop in Netflix’s streaming quality recently — testing began months ago.
The technology to be able to halve bandwidth without significantly affecting quality comes from a new partner company, EyeIO, which has created a system for encoding video that, it claims, can reduce the average Netflix high-definition stream of 3.8 megabits per second to 1.8 megabits without a viewer being able to notice the difference. That’s less than even the current standard-definition bitrate of 2.2 megabits per second.
The issue of reducing bandwidth is a serious one for Netflix as it continues to launch its service internationally. PaidContent points out that current caps in some of the lower-priced internet service plans in Canada would make streaming one high-definition movie from Netflix come perilously close to using up an entire month’s worth of bandwidth. Lower bandwidth in markets such as Latin America making the problem even more pressing.
In the announcement of the EyeIO/Netflix partnership earlier this week, Netflix’s VP of product development Greg Peters called EyeIO’s system “an important part of the technology we use to improve video quality and overcome bandwidth challenges presented by internet infrastructure.” The system was quietly deployed last summer.
EyeIO isn’t limiting itself to Netflix, however. The company’s chairman Charles Steinberg has said that this is “not in an exclusive relationship [with Netlfix], and we have discussions under way with companies in similar fields,” teasing announcements of similar partnerships in upcoming months. Finally, the chance to stream all of Law & Order without going over your monthly limit may be within your grasp.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.