Netflix to re-encode entire library with new algorithms that reduce bandwidth usage


Netflix has been working on a new video encoding algorithm for the past four years and is now ready to put it into action, according to a report by Variety. Currently, Netflix creates several versions of each video at fixed bitrates and delivers the best one your connection can handle. The smallest version is encoded with a bitrate of 235 kbps at a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels. 720p streams were set to a 1,750 kbps bitrate, and the best connections received 1080p files with a bitrate of 5,800 kbps. The new encoding algorithm will determine what bitrate to encode the file in based on the complexity of the content. For example, a simple animated cartoon will be encoded at much less than the old max of 5,800 kbps, since you would not be able to tell the difference, where as a feature film with lots of fast action scenes will be encoded at high bitrates because it can visually benefit from the extra data.

Netflix expects to reduce bandwidth usage by about 20% without any perceptible change in video quality. They’ve been testing videos encoded with the new and old method side-by-side with their employees without anyone being able to tell which video is which. Netflix has also been streaming videos encoded using the new algorithm to random customers while closely tracking completion rates and stream duration.

Netflix says they’ll have a thousand re-encoded titles streaming by the holidays, starting with tier most popular videos first. They say the entire catalogue will be re-encoded by April 2016.


  1. Pete says:

    Maybe they can buy Hulu and apply this, not to mention improve Hulu’s sub-par app performance (all platforms).

  2. clocks says:

    This is a good idea. I was watching Scooby-Doo the other night wondering, if it would looks just as good in 720p, or even 480. I can understand how some types of material do not need the same amount of data for a good picture.

  3. Drumst1x says:

    I wonder if they use H264…. and if they do, wonder why they wouldn’t simply switch to h265, which halves the filesize with imperceptibly diminished quality …. Though of course the boxes that could hardware-decode h264 wouldn’t necessarily be able to hardware-decode h265….

    • Manabi says:

      Most streaming boxes don’t support h265 at all, they have dedicated hardware in them that decodes h264, and their CPUs just aren’t up to doing software h265 decoding. I’m pretty sure Netflix _does_ support h265 for their 4k titles, but that’s it. Until more streaming boxes can decode h265, it’s not going to be used much.

  4. Vulcan195 says:

    Something tells me that this will only deteriorate video quality further especially on fast moving action. I pay extra for 75Mbps pipe – I don’t want any compromise to bitrate.

    • Keith says:

      I get the top tiered speeds as well but this might be useful for people who want to use mobile data to stream some videos. Also, eventhough my isp doesnt enforce it, there is a 250 GB cap (ridiculous btw, some months I triple that with my 2 year old streaming netflix). Should they ever enforce the cap, this tech would be very valuable to me.
      What Im unclear on is you can change the resolution from the netflix website so are they only applying this new encoding to super high res (4k, 1080p)or is it right across the board?
      Doubtful any change would be perceptible to the eye but if it is youd probably have the option to change it back. This is for customers who are being gouged by data providers. Netflix is putting money into it because its obviously becoming an issue. Or maybe ISPs have complained to netflix…

      • AFTVnews says:

        This won’t effect the resolution options on their website. They’ll still have all their videos in the same resolutions as before. What this changes is what bitrate they use when making each resolution version. For example, right now, 720p videos are all 1,750 kbps bitrate, with this change, some 720p videos will be a lower bitrate if it won’t affect picture quality.

  5. Gary says:

    You have to love the spin….the truth is they are reducing the bitrate to save on their bandwidth costs and increase their profits. Quality is going down, not up. Notice the only people who claim their is no difference are Netflix employees? LOL. Just like with Epix, it was all about money. Netflix doesn’t want to pay money for premium content.

    • AFTVnews says:

      Of course the main reason for doing this is for Netflix to save money. But it is also beneficial to those with data cap issues. So it’s win-win in that sense. For people with great internet speeds and unlimited bandwidth, this could be bad because there’s a chance the new algorithm will select a lower bitrate that results in a noticeably poorer picture. One can only hope Netflix’s engineers know what they’re doing. As for only Netflix’s employees being the only ones not to see a difference, that’s because this hasn’t been released into the wild yet.

  6. pmcd says:

    Netflix is a business. Of course they want to increase their profits. In this case it seems that consumers may also benefit, especially people with caps or a slower connection.

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