Binge watchers with data caps rejoice: Netflix is making a major change to its streaming technology that will result in higher-quality video while using less data, the company announced on Monday, as it aims to curb its prodigious use of bandwidth.
Netflix is re-encoding its entire library of using a new technique that automatically identifies what kind of video a given movie or show is—whether it’s a cartoon or live-action movie, for example—and uses that information to intelligently shrink its file size, resulting in bandwidth savings up to 20%.
The technique can reduce data usage because cartoons are significantly easier to shrink than live-action movies with a lot of fast motion. Netflix calls its new technique per-title encode optimization: “Imagine having very involved action scenes that need more bits to encapsulate the information versus unchanging landscape scenes or animation that need less. This allows us to deliver the same or better experience while using less bandwidth,” the company wrote on its technical blog.
Netflix expects to have its entire streaming catalog re-encoded by early next year, Variety reported on Monday.
The takeaway for users is that they will be able to stream higher-quality video using less data. For example, visually simple shows and movies, like BoJack Horseman, will be able to stream in high-definition over a slower connection such as DSL or wireless 3G.
For Netflix, the new technology is a huge step in reducing the overall amount of traffic it drives. Netflix accounts for 37.1% of downloaded web traffic in North America during primetime hours, according to a recent study by Canadian researcher Sandvine, so a tweak like this one could end up reducing a major amount of data transferred on the Internet.
As Variety’s Janko Roettgers points out, Netflix’s new encoding scheme is also important for the company as it hopes to break into new countries where fast and reliable Internet connections might be hard to find or expensive.
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Netflix previously encoded its shows using a “one-size-fits-all” model, which used the same compression algorithms on all videos across its deep catalog. The new approach applies different encoding settings to each individual video, whether it’s a movie or a single episode of a TV show.
In the future, Netflix could encode each individual scene with different settings to reduce its bandwidth footprint even more.
For users worried that they will be able to notice a difference in video quality under the new scheme, Netflix (NFLX) has been testing it with random customers and company staffers, and reportedly, even Netflix employees couldn’t tell the difference.
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