Netflix has unveiled a new feature that lets mobile users change their video quality as a way to manage how much bandwidth they use under their mobile data plans.
The feature, called simply "Manage Video Quality," is specifically aimed at 3G and 4G users concerned about bumping into the caps on their data plans.
Since March, the feature has been available universally in Canada, where the data caps tend to be lower. Over the past week or so, Netflix has rolled out the feature in the United States, but only on a limited test basis, so many members in the U.S. may not yet have it.
For those who can access the new feature, log in to Netflix and click on the link in the upper right called Your Account & Help. Scroll down to the "Watching Instantly On Your TV or Computer" section and click on the link for Manage Video Quality.
From there, you have three options to choose from for video settings: 1) Good (up to 0.3GB per hour), Better (up to 0.7GB per hour), or Best (up to 1GB per hour, or up to 2.3GB per hour for HD).
Checking streaming content on my iPad, I noticed a slight difference in quality among the three settings, but even under the Good option, the video still looked fine. The setting is account-specific, however, so if you stream Netflix content on both a 3G or 4G device and a PC or Wi-Fi device, you'll need to change the video quality back and forth depending on where you're watching.
Netflix promises that no matter which level you pick, your subscription price stays the same.
In the days of unlimited mobile data usage, such a feature wouldn't be necessary. But with AT&T and now Verizon Wireless making the move to tiered plans, mobile users need to be more cautious about their limits, especially when streaming bandwidth-heavy videos.