Netflix could be killing the environment as researchers urge users to avoid streaming in HD on smartphones

As the pandemic has pushed many of us into our houses, forcing us to keep ourselves busy, there is no surprise that the popularity of Netflix has grown over the years. In April 2020, over 16 million new subscribers joined the streaming platform. The chart below shows Netflix’s revenue from 2011 to 2020 with a gradual and steep incline, demonstrating how the platform has grown from strength to strength over the years. 

(Source- Statista)

As home entertainment increases, and everyone wants to bring the big screen home to mimic the size, quality and sound of the cinema, the popularity of streaming in HD has grown over the years. TV’s and multimedia smart devices are now capable of offering HD quality entertainment and even streaming services such as Netflix offer HD streaming in their packages. However, recent research has shown that streaming in HD is affecting the environment.

Even on smartphones, HD streaming is creating up to 8 times more carbon emissions than standard definition. Considering smartphones are used primarily to stream and play videos from YouTube most of the time, the impact HD streaming is having on the environment could be huge. Based on the evidence collected from a report carried out by the Royal Society and their findings, they encourage tech giants to consider building digital technologies that can lower carbon emissions. But what is HD, and how does it work?

How HD works and its impact

Most screens are made up of small squares known as pixels (picture elements). The tiny squares, when put together form a bigger picture. Each pixel has a set number which helps the device determine what colour it should be. 

The quality of the screen is determined by the number of pixels it has or can use. For example, according to Smartphone Checker, the iPhone 12 has a resolution of 1284 pixels by 2778 pixels. This means when using the device, all those pixels are at work to bring to life the bright touch screen display, giving users a more detailed image with a higher resolution. Therefore the more pixels, the clearer the image. 

The difference between standard definition and high definition is big. Standard definition uses a technique which is called interacting. This means that odd-numbered rows of pixels illuminate and show up on the screen before even-numbered rows. This helps to move the image more quickly than if all the pixels come up on the screen simultaneously. 

However, advancements in technology, more specifically pixels, have meant that pixels can now show up together simultaneously. This makes watching a quick-moving image much more detailed adding depth, and which is why HD is preferred by most sports enthusiasts. The Piccadilly Circus big screen recently went under renovation and is thought to be Europe’s largest single display screen with a mammoth 5,490 x 2,160 pixels. 

How to be greener and being more aware of your digital impact

The survey above has also outlined the fact that digital technology as a whole contributes to almost 1.4 per cent of global emissions which is why it is important to address the issue now. The chart below outlines the level of energy consumption according to use and manufacturing. Although the amount of emissions is less in the manufacturing process than using, it still makes up for a large portion.

(Source- DW)

Here’s a look at some of the changes you can make to help the environment. When streaming and watching video on your smart devices, especially your phones, defaulting the stream to standard definition rather than the high definition will make a big difference to the environment but not much of a difference to the picture quality, especially when viewing on such a small screen. 

If you are listening to music accompanied by a video, it might be best practice to turn off the video and listen only to the sound, this will help as the video will not be playing in the background. YouTube and Spotify are the most used platforms for streaming music and so being mindful when on them can help lower carbon emissions. 

The report also outlines what the chart above represents and how technology production does result in high levels of carbon emissions which means, moving into the future, not only will consumers need to make the changes listed above, but as technology continues to become increasingly popular, there will need to be a shift in the way technology is made. 

On the flip side, technology itself could be the solution to the problem. Britain is one of the largest net importers of emissions per capita globally due to the fact that most products are imported. The government is working to change this with the aim of reaching ‘net zero’ emissions in the future. Therefore technology could help make technology production greener. 

6 thoughts on “Netflix could be killing the environment as researchers urge users to avoid streaming in HD on smartphones”

  1. Thanks for the article, Emily. We never think about the power we use on our devices as impacting carbon emissions, and this article brings it to the fore. I wonder what impact does use of renewable energy sources has on this?

  2. thanks for sharing, it has helped me to find the latest movie that is in the waiting that is captain America civil war. in many similar local sites,


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