December 16, 2015
Netflix is changing how it streams video, the first such effort since the company launched in 2007. Beginning in 2011, Netflix has been working on a new streaming algorithm that will not only improve image quality but also save up to 20 percent of data. Netflix currently accounts for nearly 40 percent of all data consumed during peak Internet viewing hours. As Netflix focuses on entering more international territories, including nations with less developed Internet capabilities, streaming quality and data usage are critical.
Variety states that Netflix now relies on several “recipes” to make multiple versions, from a low bitrate of 235kbps that works on slow connections but delivers a 320×240 pixel image, to a 5800kbps version for stellar 1080p. The new technology will, instead, focus on show content.
“You shouldn’t allocate the same amount of bits for ‘My Little Pony’ as for ‘The Avengers,’” says Netflix video algorithms manager Anne Aaron, who notes that an animated show can be streamed with relatively little data, while an action film with explosions requires quite a bit more.
In the proposed change, each title will get its own set of rules, resulting in better imagery for all titles as well as the data savings. Netflix has partnered with researchers at USC, the University of Nantes and the UT Austin to develop technology to automate the process.
The company is also looking into WebTorrent, says TorrentFreak, a project of Stanford University grad Feross Aboukhadijeh. WebTorrent is a BitTorrent client for the Web; the more people use a WebTorrent-powered website, the faster and more robust it becomes.
TorrentFreak reports that Netflix has already contacted Aboukhadijeh to discuss his technology and, “a few months ago Netflix specifically mentioned WebTorrent in a job application, which shows that the video giant is serious about P2P-assisted delivery.”
None too soon. In the near future, 4K, higher frame rates and high dynamic range will tax bandwidth to its limits, requiring, perhaps, yet another re-coding.