Netflix for Android switches to new AV1 codec to save data

While streaming has become the norm for both audio and especially video, the infrastructure and capabilities that enable smooth streaming experience isn't yet available everywhere. With the promise of 5G still months away or years for certain markets, everyone else has to contend with 4G cellular data that may not always be up to snuff. To ensure it doesn't lose customers over such inconveniences, Netflix is rolling out support for a new data-saving AV1 codec but only for a select number of users.

Streaming naturally consumes data, which is why most services recommend streaming or downloading on Wi-Fi networks. Of course, that nullifies the advantages of being able to stream media from anywhere. The best that streaming services can do is to use a coder and decoder format, a.k.a. a codec, to minimize the data used during transmission.

That is exactly what the new AV1, short for AOMedia Video 1, codec promises. Developed by the Alliance for Open Media (the AOMedia part of the name), the coded is advertised to improve the compression of data by 20% compared to VP9, the codec widely used by the likes of YouTube and still partly by Netflix. Compressing data to a smaller size means less data used which translates to faster transfers and less costs for users.

Netflix isn't yet switching to AV1 wholesale, though. It is starting with its Android app and that only works if you enable the Save Data option in settings. No word on when Netflix will extend it to other cases and platforms and that may have something to do with how AV1 currently works.

For all its compression benefits, The AV1 codec requires a more powerful device on the receiving side to decompress the data. That's why Google recommends AV1 only for SD (480p) videos on YouTube and why Netflix has to continue working with device and chipset makers on supporting the relatively young video codec.