A less that speedy internet connection can result in poor quality streaming on Netflix, but that could change with the streaming giant’s adoption of the AV1 codec,
This video coding format, managed by the Alliance for Open Media (opens in new tab) that includes Apple, Netflix and Google as its members, can deliver better compression efficiency when compared to other codecs. That all translates to video streaming requiring less internet bandwidth to deliver high resolution images, as well as reducing the amount of streaming quality drops that can be encountered if your internet connection isn’t particularly stable.
Netflix noted that it has carried out A/B testing to assess the benefits of AV1 and reported that the codec delivers definitive benefits for its streaming service.
“We want our members to have brilliant playback experiences, and our players are designed to adapt to the changing network conditions. When the current condition cannot sustain the current video quality, our players can switch to a lower bitrate stream to reduce the chance of a playback interruption,” Netflix’s blog (opens in new tab) explained. “Given AV1 consumes less bandwidth for any given quality level, our players are able to sustain the video quality for a longer period of time and do not need to switch to a lower bitrate stream as much as before.”
If you have a fast and stable internet connection, the move to AV1 might not be noticeable. But it could be a boon to people like me. I’m on a shoddy ADSL connection that at best offers an 11 megabit connection speed.
I can stream video in 1080p but if it’s during a busy time when many people are using the internet in my area (say evening time around 7 p.m.) or I have other devices on my home network downloading things like updates, I see a drop in streaming quality. Notably, on Netflix, this manifests itself as a difficulty in delivering HDR, with some scenes bouncing between full HDR compositions to dull, washed out visuals. It can go from a mild irritation to becoming remarkably distracting.
Netflix’s adoption of AV1 could be a neat quality-of-life improvement for me and others in my situation. The only caveat is you’ll need to have a TV that’s AV1-capable (you’ll need to check your TVs specs and compatibility) or a PS4 Pro. But Netflix has said it’s looking at bringing AV1 to more devices; it’s currently available on the Android Netflix app.
Either way, more work to make video streaming look better for less bandwidth is promising news. And Netflix's continued work to improve its platform means it's no surprise that Netflix is one of our top picks for the best streaming services.