Netflix has just undergone a significant overhaul - but you won't see it on the menus or even the ever-changing content selection. No, this is all backend tinkering for the streaming service, but it's a pretty significant enhancement.
According to a lengthy blog post on the matter, Netflix has just begun rolling out something it calls pre-title encode optimization. What that means is that Netflix is now using an algorithm to decide the quality at which it encodes each piece of content at each resolution tier, dependent both on the content itself and the device you're using.
Why is this important? Before, the company had a fixed bitrate ladder that produced good results in most instances, but the one-size-fits-all approach meant some content was hurt by that approach. As the blog shows, an animated show like BoJack Horseman was likely to display a fuzzier image than you'd expect at 1080p resolution (below left). With the new encoding process, it looks dramatically crisper (below right).
BoJack Horseman encoding example
And a live-action show like Orange is the New Black looked nearly identical at a lower bitrate range, so with the new system, you get the same image quality while using potentially 20% less bandwidth for streaming. That's right: Netflix has not only made its streams look better overall, but some may even use quite a bit less data to reach your device.
Since Netflix currently accounts for approximately 37% of all North American web traffic, those savings are kind of a big deal. "Our continuous innovation on this front recognizes the importance of providing an optimal viewing experience for our members while simultaneously using less bandwidth and being better stewards of the Internet," reads the Netflix post.
If you're looking for a much more detailed and complex description of the changes, be sure to hit Netflix's blog for the full story.