Netflix confirms AV1 format streaming is available for TVs

Netflix is one of the most popular video streaming platforms in the world and has tens of thousands of subscribers globally. The streaming giant has announced that it will soon allow subscribers to stream AV1 video content directly to their TVs. AV1 is a high-efficiency video codec that has a royalty-free license from the Alliance of Open Media. Netflix points out that the royalty-free video codec was made possible by the members of the Alliance of Open Media, which it is a founding member of.

AV1 was first published as a specification in 2018, and Netflix has worked since then to bring AV1 streaming to its customers. In February 2020, the first Netflix users to gain access to streaming in the new format were Android mobile app users. To launch the new codec on the Android app, Netflix utilized an open-source software decoder called dav1d from VideoLAN, VOC, and FFmpeg communities, which the Alliance of Open Media sponsored.

By utilizing AV1, Netflix says user experience improved, particularly when network conditions were less than ideal. Netflix is only now set to begin bringing streams in the new format to TVs because streaming to TV requires hardware solutions that it says take longer to deploy. Last year, lots of progress was made on hardware to support AV1 streaming, with semiconductor manufacturers announcing decoder SoCs for various consumer electronic devices.

Television manufacturers have also been releasing TVs that are ready to support AV1 streaming. A partnership between Netflix and YouTube for developing an open-source solution for AV1 decoding on game consoles using the power of GPUs is also underway. T

As of November 9, Netflix says it has begun streaming AV1 to TVs, and it says utilizing the new format will allow us to deliver an improved experience to members.

While the new format is now streaming to TVs, Netflix is talking about challenges that had to be overcome to make streaming possible. Netflix points out that AV1 is designed to target a wide range of applications with numerous encoding tools defined in the specification. That provides unlimited possibilities for encoding recipes, and it had to find one that works best for its needs.

Netflix will always encode AV1 streaming content using the highest available source resolution and frame rate. That means, when available, it will produce AV1 streaming content in 4K and HFR (high frame rate). All AV1 streams are encoded with 10-bit depth even if the main profile for the codec allows both eight and 10-bit depth. Netflix says virtually all of its movies and TV shows are delivered at 10 bit or higher depth.

Dynamic optimization is critical for a streaming service, allowing streams to adapt to allocate bits as needed intelligently at the shot level. Utilizing dynamic optimization, Netflix can allocate more bits to more complicated shots, maintaining high visual quality. Conversely, in simple shots, the same high quality is delivered utilizing fewer bits.

To guarantee smooth playback on TVs, Netflix embedded a stream analyzer in its encoding pipeline, ensuring that all AV1 streams are compliant with the specification. TVs featuring an AV1 decoder are required to have decoding capabilities meeting specifications to guarantee smooth playback. Netflix's encoding technologies team created special certification streams to allow them to evaluate decoder capabilities on devices.

Another challenge was rolling AV1 out at the scale Netflix encounters. The scale required its encoding technologies team to fine-tune their recipe utilizing different tools to optimize the compromise between compression efficiency and computational efficiency. Ultimately, the team developed a recipe able to speed up encoding with little impact to compression efficiency. The goal with the new format is to enable streaming at the highest possible resolution with fewer noticeable drops in quality during playback. Netflix says in some TVs, it reduced drops in quality by as much as 38 percent.