When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
And that’s just the case with T-Mobile’s latest promotion, dubbed Uncarrier X.
T-Mobile said on Tuesday that its customers will now be able to stream video from two dozen services — Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, Sling TV, and more, are all on the list (YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook aren’t) — and it won’t count it against their data plans.
At first, this sounds great — you can stream as much Netflix as you’d like on your smartphone, and you don’t have to worry about blowing through your data and getting charged overage fees.
But there’s a huge caveat: T-Mobile limits the streamed video to standard definition (specifically, 480p).
This “DVD quality,” as T-Mobile says, is a far cry from the HD quality many are used to in this day and age, especially when most new smartphones come with screens that can show HD video.
The Verge’s Dan Seifert was one of the many who quickly pointed this out on Twitter:
a Note 5’s display has *more than 10x* as many pixels as a 480p video stream. if you don’t think you’d notice that, you’re high.
— dan-ksgiving parade (@dcseifert) November 10, 2015
Streaming the video in 480p is likely an effort on T-Mobile’s part to limit the impact of the promotion on T-Mobile’s network and make sure that people can stream uninterrupted.
After all, one hour of Netflix video in standard definition uses about 1 gigabyte of data, while one hour in HD uses about 3 gigabytes, according to Netflix.
Customers can choose to opt out of T-Mobile’s new service, called BingeOn, if they want to stream at higher quality. But when they do, streaming video will count against their data caps.
Jan Dawson, the chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, an independent technology research and advisory firm, wrote that even though 480p “would have been fine on most smartphones a couple of years ago, [it] will look subpar on today’s devices, many of which support 1080p HD or higher resolutions.”
“It sounds like T-Mobile will improve the quality of the video provided through the BingeOn program over time, but it may have to do that sooner rather than later to keep customers happy,” Dawson wrote.
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