Netflix now encodes its entire library to use less data and look better

Netflix has reportedly spent years reworking the method it uses to stream movies and television to your home. The result is a new adaptive streaming method called “per-title encode optimization” that utilizes 20 percent less bandwidth, and actually ensures content looks crisper, at least according to Netflix’s own claims.

The way the company accomplishes this is by sending out different stream bitrate limits based on the type of content users are watching. With Netflix’s new technology, bandwidth requirements to watch Bojack Horseman or My Little Pony in 1080p, are very different from the ones used to watch The Hurt Locker at the same resolution. Animated content is less detailed and features solid colours, which means it doesn’t require as much bandwidth.

Since animated content doesn’t call for the same amount of bandwidth as a standard blockbuster, Netflix is lowering the 1080p bitrate for the former to just 1.5Mbs. This actually allows more people to watch animated films in full 1080p HD since high-resolution content was previously locked in at 5.8Mbps. This means that those with slower internet connections would see their video downgraded to 720p or lower.

While a lower bitrate often affects the amount of detail obvious to the eye at a given resolution, Netflix says it has also made optimizations in terms of how the content looks. In Variety’s story about Netflix’s new streaming technique, the company says it performed side-by-side tests and tasked employees with figuring out which video was streaming at 5.8Mbps, and which one was utilizing the newer 4.64Mbps quality that saves 20 percent more bandwidth. While this is far from an unbiased or scientific test, no one was able to tell the difference.

In Canada, where restrictive internet caps are still unfortunately an issue for many broadband users, especially in rural areas of the country, using less bandwidth is always a good thing.

Netflix says that its new variable bitrate approaches content on a case by case basis. This means that multiple episodes in one television series could actually end up streaming with different encoding settings.

While it’s still unclear if Netflix’s claims regarding per-title optimization are true, one thing is for sure: a re-encoded stream won’t make Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous 6 a good movie.

Per-title encoding will affect streaming across every platform Netflix is available, including mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.