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.