Netflix begins streaming video using AV1 codec to Fire TV devices

Netflix has announced that it will begin streaming video using the AV1 video codec to certain TV devices. The list of devices to get the newly supported video codec from Netlfix is short, but Netlfix tells The Verge that the list includes “select Amazon Fire TV devices with Fire OS 7.” The exact Fire TV models in Netflix’s trial, among those that can support the AV1 codec like the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, is unknown, but your device may be among them.

The AV1 video codec is shaping up to be a royalty-free replacement to the HEVC (H.265) video codec, which requires companies that use it to pay a fee to its patent holders, the MPEG Licensing Administration. HEVC is the current industry standard for most streaming video, along with the AVC (H.264) video codec, and practically the only codec used for 4K streams. That may not be the case for long if the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia), which includes Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Samsung, has its way and continues to push the use of AV1 encoded video.

The list of Fire TV models that support AV1 encoding is currently quite small. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the only stand-alone Fire TV device that supports the codec. Other Fire TV devices that support it mainly include 2021 4K Fire TV Smart TVs and a few of the 2020 Fire TV Smart TV models. That’s not to say that Fire TVs that don’t support the format will stop working with Netflix or other streaming services.

When the streaming industry began adopting HEVC over AVC codecs, it really didn’t affect older devices that only supported AVC encoded video. All Fire TV models except the 1st-gen Fire TV and 1st-gen Fire TV Stick support HEVC encoded video, however, those 1st-gen devices are still fully capable of streaming video from all major streaming services just fine using the older AVC format.

The switch from AVC to HEVC was primarily for saving bandwidth, since a video with the same image quality will be a far smaller file using HEVC compared to AVC. That permitted 4K streams to work for devices with limited bandwidth, like phones on mobile networks. The switch from HEVC to AV1 is more about cost-saving by the streaming companies and device manufacturers, due to not having to pay for codec licensing fees. There is evidence that AV1 is a more efficient codec than HEVC, but not by nearly as much as the improvements seen between HEVC and AVC.

3 comments
  1. Ujn Hunter says:

    Pass the savings on to the customer… oh… wait.

  2. cag says:

    But isn’t it true the streaming companies will not see much if any cost savings because they must still send out the streams using HEVC for all the devices out there now.
    Perhaps in a decade or so they will stop HVEC, then the cost savings.
    Am I wrong??

    • Yes, all the non-AV1 devices requiring HEVC or AVC streams will still require licensing fees to be paid. But each new AV1 device will reduce that by a little and eventually make a big difference when most devices support AV1. As I understand it, this will save the streaming services the most, not the device manufacturers, because even new devices will likely still need to support older codecs for a very long time to be compatible with all streaming services.

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