Streaming giant Netflix has just announced the rollout of the AV1 codec on TVs. But what exactly is AV1 and what improvements will it bring to users of the American streaming service?
What is AV1?
Created in 2018 by the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), which includes partners such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Google, Microsoft and Netflix, AV1 is the first open-source, royalty-free high-performance video codec. AV1 cuts bandwidth usage in half compared to more common video codecs. And because it’s an open codec, it can be used by anyone.
AV1: what improvements does it bring?
After launching AV1 streaming on Android portable devices in February 2020, Netflix is finally catching up with YouTube and rolling out the codec to TVs. YouTube has provided 8K streams encoded in AV1 for 8K televisions since May 2020.
“Today we are excited to announce that Netflix has started streaming AV1 to TVs. With this advanced encoding format, we are confident that Netflix can deliver an even more amazing experience to our members,” said Netflix in an article. “We compared AV1 to other codecs over thousands of Netflix titles, and saw significant compression efficiency improvements from AV1.” The company claims that this codec not only improves launch time by 2%, but also reduces drops in quality during playback by 38%.
Netflix explained that all AV1 streams are encoded at 10 bits and in the highest resolution and frame rate available, which reduces the risk of artifacts. The streaming giant has yet to mention specific video bitrates, simply stating that “AV1 delivers videos with improved visual quality at the same bitrate as MPEG4 and HEVC.” The American company also explains that “With dynamic optimization, we allocate more bits to more complex shots to meet Netflix’s high bar of visual quality, while encoding simple shots at the same high quality but with much fewer bits.” According to the AOM, the AV1 codec can display more vivid images, deeper colors, brighter highlights and darker shadows.
AV1: the future of 8K technology?
At the moment, few televisions can decode content in AV1. For non-compatible TVs, Netflix will continue to use HEVC and MPEG4 AVC. However, some Samsung TVs from 2020 and 2021 are already compatible, as well as the Amazon Fire Stick 4K Max AV network player. It is also very likely that the use of the AV1 codec will become more widespread with the development of 8K streaming. Because this codec is designed to improve streaming efficiency without affecting quality, it is an important milestone in the transition to 8K technology, given the higher data requirements of this high-resolution format.
The devices currently compatible with AV1 are therefore the following:
- Select 2020 Samsung UHD TVs
- Select 2020 Samsung UHD QLED TVs
- Select 2020 Samsung 8K QLED TVs
- Select 2020 LG 8K TVs
- Samsung The Frame 2020 TVs
- Samsung The Serif 2020 TVs
- Samsung The Terrace 2020 TVs
- Any TV connected to a PS4 Pro with the Netflix app
- Select Amazon Fire TV devices with Fire OS 7 and above
- Select Android TV devices with Android OS 10 and above
Since AV1 encoding takes a long time, Netflix will first re-encode its most popular titles, like Money Heist, for example. Nonetheless, with this launch, AV1 streaming is expected to be available to tens of millions of users.