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YouTube TV is testing significant picture quality improvements


Considering how much it costs, YouTube TV is sometimes knocked by customers for offering only so-so picture quality. This can vary depending on your location or the specific feed that YouTube TV is serving you, but if you scan the YouTube TV subreddit, you’ll see picture quality as a common grievance. It wasn’t always this way. Now, the company is doing something about it — for certain content, at least.

In a post to the aforementioned Reddit community yesterday, YouTube TV shared details on recent (and upcoming) enhancements to the app. The change that easily received the most attention was this one:

Picture quality experiments: We’re testing transcoding changes, including a bitrate increase for live 1080p content over the next several weeks. These will target devices that support the VP9 codec with high-speed internet connections. If these go well, we plan to make them permanent by this summer. More info to come!

The majority of YouTube TV’s cable channels are delivered to the service by networks in 720p, so that’s the best that customers get. But certain channels including TBS and TNT provide a 1080i feed that YouTube TV deinterlaces to 1080p. However, when it comes to streaming, bitrate is really the critical element for making the image look good and reducing compression artifacts, pixelation, blocking, etc. — especially in dark scenes. Increasing the bitrate can lead to a substantially better picture.

Hulu with Live TV and DirecTV Stream have a leg up over YouTube TV in picture quality, but when you factor in YouTube TV’s other advantages, like a best-in-class DVR and cleaner UX, the difference isn’t necessarily enough to switch over. Even so, if YouTube can level the playing field with those two, it would make for a noticeable improvement and perhaps reduce churn. With a monthly subscription now priced at over $70 per month, YouTube needs to keep steadily improving the service if it wants live TV customers to stick around.

I’ve asked YouTube for more specifics on the upcoming bitrate changes. I’m most curious about whether there will be upgrades for the service’s many 720p networks or, as the post says, these enhancements will apply only to 1080p content. The Reddit post also outlines numerous recent bug fixes to the YouTube TV app for Apple TV, and YouTube says “we’ve narrowed down the primary cause” of audio / video sync issues when surround sound is enabled.

After debuting its multiview feature for March Madness, the company is continuing to experiment with its presentation before this year’s NFL season gets underway. Once that happens, YouTube will begin streaming its all-important Sunday Ticket package to football fans willing to spend big for it.


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