Your Netflix videos are about to look way better – here’s why

The video quality of Netflix shows streamed over mobile internet is about to improve massively, TrustedReviews can now reveal.

During a private briefing on the outskirts of Barcelona, Netflix VP of Product Innovation Todd Yellin confirmed that it was planning to roll out new encoding technology for mobile Netflix viewers, boosting the quality of content streamed over cellular internet.

“Mobile is becoming increasingly important for Netflix,” explained Yellin, who said that one-third of Netflix content is now viewed on mobile.

So what’s changing? Well, usually when you stream video, you need a certain bitrate – the amount of data transferred per second – to make it happen. So if you’re streaming HD video, you’ll need a higher bitrate transfer than if you’re watching something in standard definition.

But Netflix realised that the number of bits required to render a simple cartoon like Bojack Horseman was far lower than you’d need for, say, Daredevil, where there’s lots of detail and action. That realisation prompted Netflix to introduce variable bitrates, so if you’re watching Bojack Horseman in HD, you won’t need as impressive a download speed as if you’re watching Daredevil in HD.

Now Netflix wants to go one step further than title-level variable bitrates, and introduce shot-by-shot variable bitrates.

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“In one scene of this Barbie piece of content we have, in this animated world, she spreads all this shiny glitter around,” Yellin told TrustedReviews, describing why shot-level variable bitrates are important. “And that shiny glitter happens to take a lot of bits to render that. So one little scene, we had to take something that should’ve only been this many bits to get Barbie done, like Bojack, and made it like Daredevil. And that was ridiculous.”

And so to get Barbie in HD or SD or whatever your bandwidth was, we had to use a lot more, and that was a shame,” he continued.

So in the future, Netflix will require a different bitrate for every single shot. This means two things; (1) if you have a bad connection, you’ll get better quality video for a given bitrate, and (2) you’ll need a lower bitrate for the highest-quality content, which should save data in the long run.

“We had to move to a new codec, a new type of technology it’s built on top of,” explained Yellin. “So we use this Google open-source codec called VP9 which we’re moving to on a lot of devices. And with that, with VP9, now we can do every scene, we use a different number of bits.”

Yellin says that the new changes will roll out in the “next couple of months” across both iOS and Android devices.

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