Netflix brings AV1 streaming to TVs at last

Mike Wheatley

Netflix is now streaming movies and TV shows in the AV1 codec to its customers TVs, enabling enhanced streaming experiences and improved image quality, the company said.


Developed by the Alliance of Open Media, a consortium of tech firms including Netflix and also Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, AV1 is a royalty-free video codec for SD, HD, 4K, HDR and 8K streaming that many believe will eventually succeed the older h.264 and HEVC coding formats used today.

The Alliance is hoping to get AV1 accepted as the industry standard for video streaming and cites several benefits. As well as being royalty-free, which means no licensing requirements, it also provides reduced bandwidth and boosts the power efficiency of the video systems using it by as much as 60% to 70%. It also enables smooth streaming experiences for applications such as real-time video calls.

Netflix, which rolled out AV1 on Android devices that stream its content last year, has been working since 2018 to bring the benefits of the high efficiency codec to TV users. But applying it to TVs is tricky as it requires hardware support. These days though, most new TVs do support AV1, and Netflix believes adoption has now reached a point where it can begin streaming some of its content via the codec to supported TVs.

Only a limited selection of Netflix content will be available through AV1 at first, because encoding in the AV1 format takes a little longer than with other codes. So Netflix said it will start with more popular titles first such as Squid Games, so more people can enjoy it earlier.

In a blog post, Netflix said all AV1 stream are encoded with 10 but-depth and at the highest available source resolution and frame rate, so the content will be presented exactly as its creator intended. The company is also employing something called Dynamic Optimisation to allocate more bits to complex scenes to ensure they meet its visual quality standards.

Netflix will keep track of things to ensure the AV1 rollout goes smoothly by measuring the quality of its streams. It has already seen significant compression efficiency improvements with AV1 that result in superior visual quality at the same bitrate compared to other codecs. It adds that AV1 has also shown more ability to handle poor network conditions.

The biggest benefit is that the bandwidth needed for streaming is reduced, so it’s easier for playback to reach the highest possible resolution. It also means the TV hardware is able to sustain its video quality for a longer period of time before needing to switch to a lower bitrate. Netflix said in its evaluation period, it saw noticeable drops in quality fall by as much as 38% on some TVs. It also said TVs that support AV1 are able to reach the target buffer level sooner than others, so playback can begin faster on those devices.

Netflix subscribers whose TV does not support AV1 will continue to receive streams encoded using the HEVC or MPEG4 AVC standards, the company said.