Netflix is stepping up on the quality of its streaming and efficiency of its mobile streaming without increasing any bandwidth, and it is rumoured to better the experience on the popular media streaming service. At the annual briefing of press and other analysts at the Mobile World Congress in a rather large house somewhere in the northwest of the city of Barcelona, Netflix executives let us know about the company’s various plans and projects.
If you go back to the last two years, the company’s strategy on smartphone viewership, to say the very least, was unclear. There was a mobile app for Android and iOS and it was decent too but the focus was clearly not on that – most Netflix connections were limited to TVs and high speed internet connections, and mobile viewing just did not fit into the picture. That has changed though, with Netflix’s foray in over 200 countries and the mobile footprint growing bigger than anybody’s wildest imaginations.
The company saw a growth in mobile video usage after its expansion in 2016 into the Indian market where a huge market with inexpensive 3G connections and smartphone were a market for the taking. The company has had to refactor and redesign elements of its Android app to take this into consideration. Features such as offline watching where you can download content onto the Netflix app to watch later and micro SD slot were solutions for a market that faced erratic internet connection or limited data packs but a great need for the content.
Besides, over in Japan and South Korea, users enjoy some of the fastest LTE connections in the world and also spend much of their time watching content on their phones, although the stuff they stream is of high quality. The delta of 3G users in India using their slow internet connections and in Japan and South Korea watching the high quality content on their phones convinced executives at Netflix of the importance of a smooth mobile video experience.
The new encoding method is going to be called the VP9 controlled and open sourced by Google that gets used on YouTube and, according to Netflix, offers double the video quality for half the bandwidth used. The demonstration is pretty impressive, with a couple of Nexus 6Ps playing the same show albeit one plays on the old codec while the other runs the VP9 on a 100kbps stream. The first phone shows a quality that is barely discernible with 100kbps being the lowest quality there is, but the one running on VP9 shows a drastic improvement in quality even at the worst bit rate.
Next, the two phones were showing the same clip at the same apparent quality but when the bandwidth used by the stream was checked, the VP9 encoded stream used only half – 277 kbps to the 544 kbps of the other phone. Netflix has stated that it is encoding its entire library in VP9, even for high end markets like U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea and parts of Europe, and they should see an improvement in the quality of their stream soon.
Netflix is also working to have HDR enabled on LG’s upcoming G6. The screen unveiled in a recent briefing looked excellent. A lot of shows on Netflix are being encoded in HDR although you can see only a few of them right now. Amazon has taken the lead on this one, rolling out more shows in HDR than Netflix but with LG joining the game in hardware, Netflix seems to be playing catch up.
Netflix says two-thirds of its viewership still uses TV but that number is declining fast. There are also better shows that should be completed while you are on the move. With the unlimited data plan, Netflix users in the US are going to be a lot less worried about surpassing their monthly allotment and enjoying their shows on their TVs as well as their phones.