Netflix Switching From VP9 Codec to the More Efficient AV1

With the claim that the new AV1 video codec much more efficiently compresses video, Netflix plans to introduce it to its Android app. Until now, Netflix has used the VP9 codec but says AV1 is 20 percent more efficient. The AV1 codec is already enabled for “selected titles” — although it didn’t name specifics — when the user activates the Save Data option. The company also stated it plans to introduce AV1 on all its platforms and is working with chip and device manufacturers to increase compatibility.

The Verge reports that, “AV1 is important not just because it consumes less mobile data, but because the royalty-free video coding format has the support of the major tech players.”

The new codec is the result of a collaboration between Amazon, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Netflix, which banded together to create the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) in 2015. In 2018, Apple joined AOMedia, “a particularly significant addition, since its devices don’t currently support the predominant VP9 standard, which is why you can’t watch YouTube in 4K on devices like the Apple TV or iPad Pro.”

The Verge surmises that AV1 is “still in its early stages,” in part because accessing it via the Save Data option “suggests that it’s not the best choice for picture quality.” At question is “how AV1-encoded Netflix videos will impact that battery life of our smartphones” as well as “how many Android devices support the codec.”

Engadget reports that the AOMedia group unveiled AV1 two years ago, which “promised not only freedom from licensing payments they wanted to avoid, but also a saving of up to 30 percent on the amount of data used to stream 4K HDR video.” It adds that “a lack of hardware support … could mean people will use more battery life to watch the same videos,” and notes that enabling AV1 on YouTube videos “warns users that using it for anything above 480p will require a powerful computer.”

Netflix’s use of AV1 to save data “follows its 2016 switch to VP9, and the shot-based encoding technique that improved things so much it re-encoded its entire library in 2018.” “One way or another it’s a huge leap beyond the days of VC1, Silverlight and 720 x 480 res videos that maxed out at 3,400 kbps,” Engadget concludes.

On its blog, Netflix reports that it sees “a good fit for AV1’s compression efficiency in the mobile space where cellular networks can be unreliable, and our members have limited data plans.” “Our AV1 support on Android leverages the open-source dav1d decoder built by the VideoLAN, VLC, and FFmpeg communities and sponsored by the Alliance for Open Media,” it added.

Netflix also revealed it is “sponsoring an open-source effort to optimize 10-bit performance further and make these gains available to all.”