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Netflix’s re-encoding means less bandwidth, better streaming

Netflix has been quietly testing a new way to get its streaming content to its servers. After a few months of testing their re-encoded clips on employees, the company has found a way to use 20 percent less data without any change in video quality.

Variety details the whole four-year process, but here’s the gist.

The project to cut the data usage by 20 percent began in 2011 and the team has collaborated with university researchers to automate the process, Mashable reports.

When the video streaming service was first established, Netflix’s video algorithms team came up with several encoding levels based on users’ internet speeds. That meant that HD copies of The Avengers and My Little Pony, for instance, were encoded at the same bitrate.

The team realized that this wasn’t logical because an animated show like My Little Pony does not require the same amount of data to stream it in HD as a visually complex film like The Avengers. But under their former system, they required the same amount, according to Mashable.

So Netflix engineers found that they could optimize viewers’ experiences and its data usage by re-encoding each piece of its library content. This means even two episodes of the same series could be encoded with different settings.

Netflix has given its users video in a quality that shifts depending on their current bandwidths. For example, each episode of Friends was encoded at different qualities which could change according to customers’ connections.

That’s why the video can sort of skip or temporarily reduce overall video definition, particularly during the peak hours.

Netflix uses idle server space during off-peak hours by automatically re-encoding its library with their new technology.

And to boost efficiency even more, the streaming service chops up its videos into shorter segments so that multiple servers can process the content simultaneously.

Netflix is responsible for more than 35 percent of all U.S. internet consumption during those peak hours; a 20 percent reduction in data usage would make a HUGE difference.

Everything will still be in 1080p, Netflix says, but the bitrate could be scaled back to 1.5Mbps from its current max of 5.8Mbps. The company hopes this will use less data an will cause less quality reduction and interruption for users, Venture Beat reports.

It’s unknown whether these changes will be noticeable or if the new encoding needs to be seen with a more careful human eye. However, the company says they A-B tested it on employees using side-by-side screens.

Complicated? Well, Netflix never fails to impress. I think HBO Go could learn something from Netflix!

And as a bonus, it looks like Netflix is going to save some money with the new encoding process. Since the service uses so much data, internet service providers such as Comcast force the company to pay huge fees. So, less data means less money.

About Meredith Rodefer

Meredith Rodefer
Meredith Rodefer is a freelance writer, who focuses on anything from lifestyle blogging to hard news, and dancer. Beyond Youth Independent, she has written for sites such as Natmonitor.com, CheekyChicago.com and FamilyFocusBlog.com. Contact Meredith: meredith.rodefer@youthindependent.com