Jessica Jones

How Netflix plans to curb its massive thirst for bandwidth

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Jessica Jones. Image: Netflix

16 December 2015

Online audio and video streaming now takes up more than 70% of downstream bandwidth during peak periods in North America and a big chunk of that belongs to Netflix.

Now engineers at the streaming service are looking to reduce the service’s bandwidth footprint by as much as 20% while drastically improving the image quality for some users.

The standard way for a streaming service to deliver video is to have various pre-set image qualities and bandwidth rates for all titles. On a deathly slow connection, a 235Kb/s stream delivers an image with 320×240 resolution, while a 1080p image would need nearly 25 times that at 5800Kb/s.

For the past four years, Netflix has been working on a new approach. Instead of trying a one-size-fits all method, the streaming service is tailoring the bandwidth needs on a title-by-title basis.

This makes a lot of sense. A cartoon with a static background and simple character drawings isn’t particularly difficult for a computer to encode. Compare that to a superhero flick like The Avengers or Captain America with a constantly fluid background, explosions, and complex fight scenes. A computer processor needs to do far more crunching to deal with such highly detailed images.

The difference could be quite significant. Under the new scheme, a simple cartoon can stream a 1080p image at 1.5Mb/s, and even TV shows like Orange is the New Black or Jessica Jones (pictured) can see bandwidth reductions for 1080p images by as much as 20% without a noticeable loss in quality, according to Variety.

While reducing bandwidth needs will help people with slower connections have a better experience, it also helps Netflix in a big way. The company hopes to expand to far more countries in 2016 including places where fat bandwidth pipes are not as readily available as in North America and Europe. Less bandwidth, if it’s a significant enough reduction, could also presumably save Netflix some cash on interconnection payments it makes to US Internet service providers.

Netflix plans to bring its new streaming quality scheme to its entire catalog by the end of March 2016.

IDG News Service

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