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Netflix Keeping Bandwidth Usage Low By Encoding Its Video With VP9 and H.264/AVC Codecs (slashgear.com) 76

Netflix announced last week that it is getting offline video downloads support. The company has since shared that it is using VP9 video compression codec to ensure that the file sizes don't weigh a lot. An anonymous reader shares an article on Slashgear (edited): For streaming content, Netflix largely relies on H.264/AVC to reduce the bandwidth, but for downloading content, it uses VP9 encoding. VP9 can allow better quality videos for the same amount of data needed to download. The challenge is that VP9 isn't supported by all streaming providers -- it is supported on Android devices and via the Chrome browser. So to get around that lack of support on iOS, Netflix is offering downloads in H.264/AVC High whereas streams are encoded in H.264/AVC Main on such devices. Netflix chooses the optimal encoding format for each title on its service after finding, for instance, that animated films are easier to encode than live-action. Netflix says that H.264 High encoding saves 19% bandwidth compared to other encoding standards while VP9 saves 36%.
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Netflix Keeping Bandwidth Usage Low By Encoding Its Video With VP9 and H.264/AVC Codecs

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  • what about h.265? (Score:4, Informative)

    by anthony_greer ( 2623521 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @11:44AM (#53425517)

    I hear it does great things for 4k, so it seems that it would be really great for HD, and even older 720 or 480 content too.

    • Re:what about h.265? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dwedit ( 232252 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @11:50AM (#53425565) Homepage

      Nobody wants to pay the licensing fees for it, so it's dead in the water.

      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @12:08PM (#53425715)

        I mean the newest devices support it in hardware, but it has to be a very new chip to have H.265 support. The vast majority of devices in use don't. For computers you could do it in software but that isn't ideal, since H.265 decoding is rather heavy so you'd hit the CPU pretty hard, whereas hardware accelerated H.264 would hit it almost not at all. For mobile/embedded devices though it just won't work. Too CPU intensive to do in software, so people need a new device.

        • The newer iphones (and presumedly ipads?) support H.265 in hardware but it's only available in facetime calls .
          • My iPad Air has no problems playing h.265. Been only encoding with H.265 for a few months now and love the small file sizes. 16gb iPad Air.
          • My phone (LG G5) supports it because it has a Snapdragon 820. That's great and all, but there aren't a lot of devices out there that are so new. So no real point in Netflix supporting it. They'd need to wait a few years for enough people to replace their hardware with new units.

        • by Ramze ( 640788 )

          I can play H.265 1080p content on my 3 year old laptop without any issue. VLC barely budges a single core on the cpu. My Nexus 7 2013 can handle H.265 720p files just fine with VLC, but it does hit the CPU really hard. (1080p on it plays audio, but the video is jerky) Almost all ARM chips that were produced in the last year or two support H.265 .

          The only thing I have that probably couldn't handle H.265 is a 6 year old smart TV... but, I could easily get a Roku or something for that.

          I'd say it won't b

        • A lot of newer phones have enough CPU power to do H.265 decoding in software. But it would kill battery life so it's not going to happen.
      • Re:what about h.265? (Score:5, Informative)

        by pavon ( 30274 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @12:56PM (#53426051)

        It's not just about money, either. The licensing situation for H.265 a cluster-fuck, with patent holders having split into 2 licensing pools and several other patent holders that aren't participating in either pool. So even if companies were content with paying the licensing fees (which are significantly higher than H.264), they don't have any easy way of doing so that will cover all the patent holders. Most big players would prefer to pay and use H.265, but the patent holders have gotten too greedy and too splintered.

        Most of the major players have gotten fed up with this shit, and committed to pool their patents and expertise create a royalty free format AV1, in place of H.265. Alliance for Open Media includes: Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Netfix, Amazon, BBC, ARM, Intel, AMD, nVidia, Broadcom, Cisco, Polycom, and more. The only companies that haven't signed on yet and are big enough to prevent wide adoption are Apple and Qualcomm, and Qualcomm has previously supported VP9, so I don't know why they wouldn't support AV1 once it is ready.

      • It's not just a matter of money. h.264 caught on specifically because the entire patent portfolio for is pooled and licensed as a single entity from a single organization. h.265 is not only patent encumbered, but the patent holders have not agreed on terms to form a pool for licensing. If you want to license h.265, you literally need to negotiate with a half dozen different organizations.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      VP9 still seems better, overall, compared to HEVC.

      http://www.streamingmedia.com/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/The-Great-UHD-Codec-Debate-Googles-VP9-Vs.-HEVC-H.265-103577.aspx

    • I hear it does great things for 4k, so it seems that it would be really great for HD, and even older 720 or 480 content too.

      It's supposed to be better than VP9; but is there any hardware support for h.265 yet, though?

      I think of all these codecs, h.264 is the only one where there's any phone hardware available for decoding. I'd be curious to see how the choice of VP9 affects battery life on Android devices (do any of them have h.264 chips, or would that be handled in software too)?

    • by pla ( 258480 )
      Until we have (power) efficient dedicated h.265 playback chips in most mobile devices... Yes, it looks absolutely gorgeous, but it doesn't matter that you can store 10 hours of HQ video when your battery only lasts for half an hour of playback. :)
      • Welcome to 2014 and the Snapdragon 801 (up to 1920x1080).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The H.265 licensing is expensive (both in terms of each download, in terms of there not being per-organization caps, like with H.264) and complex (there are two patent pools you need to negotiate with separately).

    • by haruchai ( 17472 )

      Perhaps VP10?

      http://www.techtimes.com/artic... [techtimes.com]

    • Re:what about h.265? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nadaou ( 535365 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @12:44PM (#53425979) Homepage

      > I hear it does great things

      Only because it has a well funded marketing campaign and VP9 doesn't. At this point VP9 is ahead but perhaps only because they had a bit of a head start as H.265 was delayed due to the member companies squabbling over who's patent protected tech got premier submarine status.

      We'll have to wait for H.265 to be properly tuned before we can make a real comparison between it and VP9. VP9 has already won on the licensing front. H.265 might be faster at the initial encode but as mentioned it isn't entirely finished yet and new features could easily make the final product bloatier.

      You do not want to use either of these codecs without dedicated hardware support. They aren't too different from H.264 and VP8, the primary change is trading disk space now for CPU cycles later. Think gzip vs. bzip2 - each has their place but different compromises are made.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Bullshit. H.265 is a superior encoding method, what it has though is a clusterfuck for licensing, if it wasn't for licensing bullshit they created then H.265 would have easily dominated the market already.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I hear it does great things for 4k, so it seems that it would be really great for HD, and even older 720 or 480 content too.

      The main reason it does great on 4k/UHD is that the fixed 16x16 macroblocks in H.264 are too small, HEVC brings flexible coding tree units (CTUs) that vary from 64x64 to 16x16 which obviously has the most effect for the highest resolutions. If you restrict it to 16x16 CTUs you get a ~37% penalty on 2160p, ~19% on 1080p and ~9% penalty on 480p. So not as big a deal for older content as you might think.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    netflix uses multiple codecs and depending on the platform you are requesting content on, netflix will send content encoded with the best codec and best compression profile for that said platform... The rest of this article only concerns use of the high profile vs main with h264 for downloads and that android devices receive vp9 files since the codec is supported by the android os. The rest of the entire article seems to be filler much like its inclusion on slashdot.....

    Sorry, I'm British, we point out suc

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Being British, he speaks The Queen's English, where "sorry" means "fuck off."

      Sorry, I'm Canadian. We have long experience with translating The Queen's English to 'Murrican.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, I'm Canadian.

        Canadians...always apologizing for something, eh?

        • No, I think he was using the "Queen's English" he spoke of.

          In the South in the USA we have the phrase "Bless your heart" which means the same thing.

    • by gsslay ( 807818 )
      We should all be using VP9 video compression, because it doesn't "weigh a lot". Must be it uses mostly zeros with empty centres. Although this does make it particularly ideal for android phones. Who wants heavy videos weighing down their pockets?
      • by tsqr ( 808554 )

        We should all be using VP9 video compression, because it doesn't "weigh a lot". Must be it uses mostly zeros with empty centres. Although this does make it particularly ideal for android phones. Who wants heavy videos weighing down their pockets?

        Obviously you didn't read TFS carefully. It's the file SIZES that don't weigh a lot, not the files themselves. Sheesh.

  • Bad luck if you're watching a film that has a sand storm or fog in it. The banding artifacts caused by compression make those scenes nearly unwatchable

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      This seems like all streamed content. A night scene at the ocean in last night's Westworld finale looked awful, full of banding artifacts. What's the point of a panel with good black levels when the content looks like a VideoCD?

    • Bad luck if you're watching a film that has a sand storm or fog in it. The banding artifacts caused by compression make those scenes nearly unwatchable

      This. I'm not sure whether it's the fault of Netflix or the ISP (throttle much?) but any scene that has a background with a smooth gradient of intensity or color shows those banding artifacts. It's incredibly distracting and annoying.

  • by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @12:29PM (#53425889)

    h.265 is where it's at, excerpt a lot of devices don't support it yet.

    Still, at a quarter the bandwidth for the same quality, it should be the target, if supported.

    As for savings using h.264... what the hell were they using as a codec before?

  • Couldn't the Netflix app check the available hardware accelerated codecs, and choose the best one?

  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Monday December 05, 2016 @01:10PM (#53426137) Journal

    Codecs (such as H.264 or VP9) describe a bit stream, and how to decode the bit stream. They basically provide a kit of tools that can be be used by encoders.

    The quality of video encoding is mainly due to the technical knowledge and artistry of the encoder manufacturer and how the use that took kit. I can show you great H.264 encoders and horrible H.264 encoders, but they both emit valid H.264 bit streams.

    In particular, the biggest challenge is rate control. If you don't care about the details of a variable bit rate, almost anyone can write a great H.264 or VP9 encoder, with the bit rate jumping up and down all over the place. However if you expect a bit rate to be held within say +/- 100 kbps, only a few vendors have the expertise to make a more constant bit rate look good.

    I'll also add that I've seen no good data that shows that VP9 encoders perform better over a wide range of content than H.264.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'll also add that I've seen no good data that shows that VP9 encoders perform better over a wide range of content than H.264.

      Don't worry. Netflix has [netflix.com] and YouTube has [googleblog.com]

  • I tried watching a movie on a plane last night. The sound was so full of pops that it sounded like a very scratched vinyl record.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    with the way these video services always adopt the newest and most bandwidth-efficient codecs, it also means nobody ever has hardware support for them; it takes longer for the market to get wide hardware support, than it takes for the next generation of codecs to become available.

    The consequence is that we're doing heavier and heavier CPU decoding for online video, and never get any use of the hardware support in our video chips, because it effectively lags behind.

  • Because their streaming catalog still sucks.

  • The last report I saw said that they were using 36% of all Internet traffic, and that was in early 2016 before they had a bunch of 4K offerings:

    http://fortune.com/2015/10/08/... [fortune.com]

  • Really? That's absurd. Any device they support should be able to handle High Profile.
    I wonder if they're using CABAC -- it took Apple a little while to start using it.

  • Netflix says that H.264 High encoding saves 19% bandwidth compared to other encoding standards while VP9 saves 36%.

    So the advantage is everyone in the internet "slow lanes" can currently enjoy the same experience as those in the fast lanes?

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