Disclaimer: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by the various authors (including me) do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Neoseeker.
Twitch.tv recently announced significant changes coming to the service as it transitions from a RTMP video format to more modern technology. Today part of the specifics of that transition became clear, as the transcode labels for streams switched from 240p/360p/480p/720p to Low/Medium/High/Source. What's not immediately apparent is that the transition effectively lowers the average quality of stream watching, but also of note is the dubious manner with which Twitch has made the changes.
While it may be unclear looking at the new transcode labels (Low/Medium/High and the streamer's Source quality), 480p is no longer a default option on the platform. Medium to 360p and High somewhere above (hopefully 720p), though there are technical variances in quality between the label and the resolution it replaces. However, many 480p viewers may not realize why their quality dropped, because Twitch never officially announced the change.
Earlier today, in reply to a confused viewer's question about 480p's seeming removal, Twitch's support Twitter account did admit the resolution's absence. Please note this tweet and another, the only two recognizing 480p's removal, have since been deleted:
"480p was out all night carousing, actin a fool, so we had to put it in The Chokey. Medium is a high quality 360p now, think 360p+."
Things become even more questionable when considering how large streams like some professional game tournaments are watched and broadcast. Some major partners require subscriptions to view their streams at 720p. This new change forces non-subscribers to view these channels at lower quality, a quality where details and text can become quite unclear.
The changes will have significant effects across the spectrum of Twitch's streaming. 720p is a streaming resolution widely considered to require broadband internet speeds to watch smoothly, though often times even that isn't enough. The average broadband speed, as of April this year, is just above 7Mbps. Perhaps good enough for DVD quality, but 720p? Hardly. It's then reasonable to assume the average stream viewer then watches at 480p. With these changes, considering it's unlikely viewers can simply begin watching 720p, all of these average viewers will be forced down to 360p -- often referred to as "Low Definition Television."
Now for the question -- is Twitch's decision to remove 480p a technical one, or a business one? Twitch has announced technical changes behind their platform, though how or why those changes require the removal of 480 is unclear. As for the business side, less average bandwidth usage is clearly a profitable venture, not to mention the incentive of "encouraging" subscriptions to premium services for 720p.
Twitch being the leading platform for game streaming and stream viewing on the Internet, as well as the fact that Twitch will be bringing streaming to both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is there any any way these changes can be considered a positive?
Update: Twitch has since announced that they reverting some of the changes, bringing back 480p as the new "Medium" setting. See the official tweet as follows:
Starting right now, transcodes for new broadcasts are: Low (360p) Med (480p) High (720p). Thank you all for the valuable feedback!— Twitch (@TwitchTV) August 29, 2013
While it's commendable that Twitch so quickly reacted to the community's response to the changes, there's still an air of uncertainty around the entire situation. The labels shall remain, "Low" "Medium" and "High" and as such their definitions and resolutions (along with the adjustments they make behind the scenes) are solely known by Twitch technicians. A switch back to the previously labels would restore the confidence in my eyes, as it'd be a sign they're dedicated to retaining those resolutions.
However, despite some reservations, it's great news for the interim that Twitch has brought back 480p. For those who watch as many streams as I do, the difference between 360 and 480 is as night and day. To Twitch: cheers for the quick response. To the community: stay watchful.
Thanks to Sindrak for the tip.