The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we all do business, take classes, and meet our family members. Many of our streaming apps have had to lower the video quality to spare some bandwidth for the more important stuff. Following Netflix’s lead, YouTube also began capping the video resolution to standard definition on mobile phones. What was supposed to be a temporary restriction for Indian users has now been in place for three months, affecting hundreds of millions, and there's no sign that Google will ease it anytime soon.

It all started when India entered a nationwide lockdown in late March, triggering a mass shift towards digital communication for everything from work and study to virtual family get-togethers. YouTube, along with a handful of local and international players like Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+ Hotstar, tweaked their bandwidth demands to help decongest strained cellular networks. The Google-owned streamer capped the video resolution to 480p on mobile phones, although you were free to pick a higher resolution on desktop and tablets.

It’s been almost three months since YouTube put the limitation in place, and those in India still can’t watch videos in high definition on their phones. In the US, Europe, and most other regions, the default is still 480p but you can increase the resolution if you want to. The situation is even worse for paid Premium subscribers who are forced to stick with the lower resolutions, which look downright appalling on a QHD screen. The restriction sounded reasonable back when most of us were simply trying to adjust to the new normal, but it’s high time YouTube lifted the cap now, especially since Netflix has already done so.

In the meantime, people are using inventive ways to bypass the limit — such as changing their phone’s model number in YouTube Vanced to that of a tablet (since they’re exempt) — but using an alternate app isn’t a solution for many, particularly for those who pay for the Premium subscription. Using a VPN is another possible way around the cap. YouTube did briefly flick the switch for one Twitter user last week but turned it back off within hours. With any luck, that could signify that a widespread easing of the restriction in India might be just around the corner.

HD options are back, sort of

The YouTube mobile app has started doing away with the SD resolution cap in India and isn't defaulting to 480p anymore. Users are seeing higher definition options once again, including 720p and 1080p — even 2K if their phone supports it. Now here’s the catch: This is only the case when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. The moment you switch to mobile data, videos fall back to 480p with no higher-res options to pick.

Left: HD resolutions when on Wi-Fi. Right: Topping at 480p on LTE.

Considering a large majority of Indians still use 4G as their only internet connection, this move won’t change anything for most. Still, YouTube is seemingly taking baby steps in the right direction after much public outcry, and the changes should hopefully go live for mobile data users sooner rather than later.

Developer: Google LLC
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