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Google Drops Chromecast Ambient Mode Quality To Squeeze Out Bandwidth

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Google is looking to deliver even more bandwidth savings with quality changes to Chromecast Ambient Mode in a bid to address overworked internet infrastructure. That’s according to various reports citing an announcement from Google and related support materials. That doesn’t just apply to Chromecast devices either but to all devices supporting a related Ambient Mode.

For clarity, the Ambient Mode in question is showcased on Google Assistant-based smart displays and Chromecast devices when those go into standby. Conversely, that also typically shows when Chromecast devices are first fired up.

The mode showcases information about the date and time as well as a background image pulled from user accounts, art galleries, and Google’s own archives. The images cycle to provide a kind of live wallpaper for those gadgets when they aren’t in use.

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Now, those photos will not only be cycled slower — with no indication as to whether that will just be a default setting or entirely unchangeable for now. The images will also be presented at a lower quality over the ‘coming weeks’. There aren’t any details at how significant a drop that will be.

What’s the real-world impact of this seemingly minor Chromecast Ambient Mode change?

Now, the data usage of a Chromecast device while in standby is arguably negligible. But the source has performed tests to determine whether or not a real difference can be delivered by the change. Prior to Google’s decision, the device in question used as much as 200MB on a daily basis. That totals to around 6GB of usage in a month. With Chromecast Ambient Mode quality reduced and the slideshow changes more spaced out, that reportedly dropped to as little as 1.5GB per month.

Google says that most users shouldn’t notice a change in quality at all but that still represents a comparatively significant drop. Alongside other changes that have been made to Google products and others’ services, that should add up.

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The underlying goal, according to a related support page, is to reduce overall internet usage. The result, the company says, should be better internet speed for end-users and their local communities. Once the use of that infrastructure returns to normal, quality and the slideshow change rate will be returned to normal. There’s still no indication as to when that would be.

Google has made some other quality changes too and it isn’t alone

Google has also reduced the available default quality of YouTube videos, Nest security camera video, and Hangouts.  The overall impact of those services’ reduced quality on the infrastructure has not been measured. But Google also doesn’t stand alone in its decision. So that’s not the only bandwidth savings that have been seen in recent weeks.

Companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram are reducing video playback quality as well. The reduction in quality there stacks on top of widespread changes to address increased usage that continues to strain networks globally.

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The changes here represent relatively large savings, compared to changes that have been implemented elsewhere. But they will have a minimal impact individually. Spread across all of the devices that Google has sold that utilize Ambient Mode, the impact should be significant.