Like a real-life Pied Piper, Netflix has been quietly testing a new way to deliver all the streaming content on its servers. After a few months of testing these re-encoded clips on employees, Netflix has landed on a method that it says could use 20 percent less data without any noticeable reduction in video quality.
Beginning in earnest next year, Netflix will soon send you very (technologically) different streams for Gone in 60 Seconds versus BoJack Horseman. Animated content doesn’t typically require the dedicated visual consistency of a big-budget war movie or the lush worlds of Avatar, so Netflix devised a way so that visually simpler content uses less bandwidth.
Everything will remain in 1080p, the company said, but the bitrate could be scaled back to 1.5Mbps from a current maximum of 5.8Mbps. Their hope is that this will use less data and will cause less interruption and quality reduction for users overall.
Variety has the full story on the four-year process, but it works like this: From the beginning, Netflix has delivered you video in a quality that could shift depending on your available bandwidth. Each episode of The Office was encoded at several different qualities that could shift according to variations in a customer’s connection. That’s why your videos hiccup and seem to temporarily reduce overall definition, especially during peak hours.
(Netflix accounts for more than 35 percent of all U.S. Internet consumption during peak hours. A 20 percent reduction in a number that huge would be, well, huge.)
So, since 2011, Netflix has been working on it. They developed a system that analyzes video files title by title, so even two episodes of the same TV season might be encoded with different settings. Netflix makes use of idle server space during off-peak hours by automatically re-encoding its massive library with this new technology.
We don’t know for sure whether these reduced bitrates will be noticed or if this fully automated process needs a more careful human eye. However, Netflix claims it A/B tested this on employees using side-by-side screens. Nobody has yet won the prize — a bottle of champagne — for detecting the difference.
Will these re-encoded streams make Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous 6 funny? Probably not.