Netflix has announced that it will offer AV1 streaming for compatible Smart TV models and Sony PlayStation 4 Pro. AV1 is an open and free codec that has many advantages compared to the ubiquitous AVC codec. AVC is also known as H.264 and is currently used by all major streaming services. One of the main advantages of the AV1 is that it is more efficient in compression. This allows obtaining similar image quality at lower bit rates, which reduces data consumption.
In tests, Netflix was able to identify a picture quality drop of up to 38% with the AV1 on slow internet connections. The start-up delay can be reduced by 2%. At the same time, the average playback time of 4K streams increased by about 5%.
AV1 streams from Netflix use 10-bit encoding for all content. This will reduce distortions that are common with streaming media. AV1 streams are available in 4K and possibly higher frame rates. Netflix uses a variable bit rate that can be adjusted dynamically for each individual frame depending on the shot. However, Netflix does not currently offer HDR content in the AV1. It will initially continue to be streamed in HEVC.
AV1 broadcasts are now being rolled out to all compatible Smart TVs. These include, in particular, TVs with MediaTek chipsets that have hardware-accelerated AV1 decoding. These chipsets are currently only found in high-end 4K and 8K TVs. Oddly enough, Netflix also offers AV1 streaming for the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro. PS4 does not decode AV1 natively. Instead, Netflix uses a GPU-accelerated AV1 decoder co-developed with YouTube. This set-top box was first announced for the Xbox One last year, but it doesn’t seem to be in use at the moment.