Netflix to improve picture quality on select TVs and PS4 Pro

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After Android mobile devices, Netflix is ​​starting to roll out the AV1 video codec on many TVs and the PlayStation 4 Pro. An important step that promises to improve the viewing experience, even with a slow internet connection.

Picture quality is one of the key arguments when it comes to comparing different streaming video on demand services. The main players in the sector range from SD (low definition) to Ultra HD 4K (ultra-high definition), such as Netflix, which offers various subscriptions. The streaming giant wants to keep its crown and this requires improvements, such as support for the AV1 codec. The subject is not new to Los Gatos offices which have been interested in this open source codec for many months, but its deployment is taking time. In February 2020, Netflix started streaming AV1 content on the Android mobile app.

A conclusive experience if we are to believe the entertainment giant. “We were very pleased to see that AV1 streaming has improved the viewing experience for members, especially when conditions are tough on the network.”, specifies Netflix on its blog. Almost two years later, the platform announced the deployment of the AV1 codec on televisions. “With this advanced encoding format, we are confident that Netflix can provide an even more incredible experience for our members. […] The initial launch includes a number of AV1-compatible TVs, as well as TVs connected to the PS4 Pro. “

If the firm does not detail the compatible devices on its blog, it discussed with The Verge the models supporting the AV1 codec. This list includes Android TV devices running at least Android 10, the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro, many Samsung TVs and even Fire TV devices. Here is the full list:

  • Select 2020 Samsung UHD TVs
  • Select 2020 Samsung QLED UHD TVs
  • Select 2020 Samsung QLED 8K TVs
  • Samsung The Frame TVs of 2020
  • Samsung The Serif TVs of 2020
  • Samsung The Terrace TVs of 2020
  • Any TV connected to a PS4 Pro with the Netflix app
  • Select Amazon Fire TV devices with Fire OS 7 or newer
  • Some Android TV devices with Android OS 10 or later

Netflix adds on its blog that its teams are working “With external partners to activate more and more devices for AV1 streaming”. The company also states that it “Explore” the possibility of offering AV1 streams with HDR. For the moment, we observe that few televisions support the decoding of videos in AV1 on Netflix – only Samsung is concerned -, but more and more devices are compatible. TV makers can also be expected to make efforts in the years to come, due to the importance of this format for 8K. Some video streaming services such as YouTube broadcast 8K and AV1 content to compatible televisions, such as the Samsung Q950TS or models from LG or Sony.

The Q950TS, a borderless 8K QLED TV, is one of the compatible models. © Samsung

What does the AV1 codec change on Netflix?

The adoption of the AV1 codec is advancing in the media industry and this is due to its efficiency, but not only. It is developed by the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia), a non-profit consortium that brings together many digital giants. Its founding members are Amazon, Apple, ARM, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia, Samsung Electronics and Tencent. These heavyweights had the ambition to develop a new open and free video codec, in order to oppose HEVC (H.265). The AV1 opts for a different philosophy, since it is open and free of rights, unlike H.264, H.265 or H.266. Its use therefore does not require the payment of royalties to the Alliance for Open Media. In addition to this advantage, the alliance ensures that its solution allows a gain of 30% on average compared to a video encoded in H.265 or in VP9 (its predecessor). The gain would be a little less important in practice, but Netflix had nonetheless noticed a gain in bandwidth of around 20%. Concretely, this means that the SVàD service is able to offer better quality video at an equivalent bit rate.

Netflix claims that AV1 streaming can cut quality drops by up to 38%. The start of playback is improved by 2% with this codec. “We have compared AV1 to other codecs on thousands of Netflix titles and have seen significant improvements in compression efficiency.”, adds the platform.

Why does its deployment take time?

Despite its qualities, the AV1 is not yet available on all TV models. Netflix, which recalls that the majority of its subscribers watch videos on a television, explains that the AV1 streaming platforms “Relies on material solutions”, whose deployment “Is generally longer”. As we mentioned earlier, however, progress has been noted in recent months.

The company also says that the launch of a new format “Is not an easy task” and that she is faced with a “Certain number of challenges”. Netflix is ​​currently re-encoding its entire catalog, but this takes time and the AV1 is slower than its competitor. In addition, all titles are not housed in the same boat. The platform takes into account the popularity of certain content such as La Casa de papel to ensure that AV1 streaming reaches more users. Netflix believes that “Tens of millions” subscribers will be affected by this deployment on televisions.

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