T-Mobile Binge On’s gritty little fine print

Chris Davies - Nov 10, 2015
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T-Mobile Binge On’s gritty little fine print

T-Mobile is doing its Uncarrier thing again and this time it’s unlimited streaming video that’s on offer, but your eyes may not thank you. Binge On follows in the footsteps of the carrier’s unlimited streaming music perk, this time around offering video from services like Netflix and Hulu, but there’s a resolution price to pay in return.

Binge On is fairly straightforward. If you use services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, Watch ESPN, or Sling, rather than having the mobile data taken off your monthly allowance, it comes at no extra cost.

The way T-Mobile handles it is similarly straightforward: they’re minimizing traffic across the network by dropping the resolution of your stream.

So, while your fancy new smartphone might have a 1080p or 2k display, Binge On video will play at DVD quality. As T-Mobile says in its small print, that means “480p+”.

That’s most likely 856 x 480, versus the 1280 x 720 of 720p, the 1920 x 1080 of 1080p, or the 2560 x 1440 of displays like the Samsung Galaxy S6.

If you’ve got a smaller phone, then you might not notice too much pixelation. Anything phablet-sized, however, and the pixelation might end up a distraction; that’s before you get to a 4G-connected tablet, which could be blowing streams up to 10-inches.

Meanwhile, even if your streaming platform of choice isn’t among the 20+ providers T-Mobile is launching Binge On with, the quality will still be affected.

Turns out, you can’t activate just the “free” streaming on its own; you also have to agree to “optimization” of all other video streaming. T-Mobile argues that it could mean 3x the amount of viewing for the same hit on your data allowance, but it also means losing access to HD or Full HD content.

It’s possible to toggle Binge On to avoid that drop in resolution, though it will require a visit to T-Mobile’s online customer portal. Customers with 3GB data plans or above will have it activated automatically, the carrier says, and it does leave the door open to higher-than-480p, though there’s no indication of when or indeed if that will ever happen on your device.

How frustrating all this is will depend on what value you place on video quality versus how much data you use. Let us know what you think in the poll below.

[polldaddy poll=9173550]

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