created over 4 years ago | Tagged:
I noticed about 3 weeks ago my streaming video performance from Netflix has become unbearably slow. I’m on a 7 mbps Qwest DSL line in Tucson, AZ and my previous experience with Netflix “Watch Instantly” service had generally been excellent, almost never showing the buffering screen for a movie on either my PC or Xbox 360 and playing at the highest quality.
On the Xbox 360 for the last few weeks I can get playback to start quickly but everything I’ve tried to watch will stop 10 seconds into the playback and “adjust the quality” for about 5 mins, before resuming playback in the absolutely lowest quality setting — the quality approximately looks like a 320×200 resolution image is being upscaled on my 65″ TV — it’s so muddy every scene almost looks like it’s shot with a fuzzy “Dream” filter or something.
The odd part is that if I stop the playback on the Xbox 360, go to my computer and try and play the same media, I get presented with a “Your connection is not fast enough to start playback immediately…” notice and usually a wait time of 1hr or more. The overall slow down combined with the huge discrepency between the two experiences (Netflix-enabled device and my PC) made me decide to start Googling and see if I could figure out what was going on — I smelled shenanigans…
Now we have confirmed that Netflix is throttling instant streaming PC-users to a rediculous 50 or 60 KB/sec cap… I was about to make the qualification of “at peak times” but after seeing my ability to easily increase my download speed from the Netflix streaming server by a factor of 14, I have to imagine the servers have quite a bit of room to grow at the moment and could offer me better performance than this.
To further clarify, I think throttling is likely a valid strategy for Netflix to employee to stop servers from maxing out and crashing — the problem here is the 50-60 KB/sec cap that produces unusable results with a “Watch Instantly” service — you could easily drive down the street to a video store, take your time choosing, and have it back in your house before your video were done buffering with the Netflix Watch Instantly service — and view it at a higher resolution as well. This is the core of the problem, Netflix is throttling PC viewers (And likely others) so aggressively they aren’t delivering the service they advertise. And when we work around this trottle manually (with DTA) we see that the servers scale bandwidth (and potentially video streaming performance) without a problem — so what’s going on here?
Netflix already has a reputation for silently throttling their customers, but what would cause them to throttle performance so hard that the service is basically unusable for any customers that are either watching “too much” instantly streaming video from the Netflix service (as determined by Netflix of course) or just trying to watching movies at times of very heavy server loads?
My guess is that Netflix didn’t have the infrastructure to support the rollout of the Xbox 360 Netflix streaming dashboard update that went out a few months ago. I’d also further a guess that due to contractual obligations with Microsoft, Netflix had to guarantee a certain level of service to the Xbox 360 users above and beyond what the PC-streaming viewers got, making the Xbox 360 a prioritized device when it came to throttling instant video streaming requests from one of the Netflix servers.