To help the scientists behind the encoding, Netflix commissioned Université de Nantes in France and University of Southern California in the US to gather feedback from hundreds of people on where they could notice the compression. This data was then used to feed into the algorithms designed by their in-house scientists.
Another advancement made by Netflix recently has been adaptive compression. According to Yellin, the company used to encode everything in the same way, whether it was a real-world drama such as House of Cards, or a more visually basic animation like Bojack Horseman. They figured they should start encoding differently, because the blocks of colour and simple details in Bojack didn’t need the same level of information as the frequently darker scenes in Cards.
This technique didn’t work quite so well with another animation though, Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. What do you mean you've not seen it? Anyway, for the most part it was also made up of simple colours and details, but there was an incredibly detailed credits sequence in each episode that required a more intelligent approach. As a result, Netflix is intelligently and dynamically encoding each piece of content, giving more information over to scenes that need it, and less to scenes that don’t. The company is now even using machine learning based on the Nantes and SoCal feedback to compress shots no-one’s seen.
According to Yellin, it’s more difficult to compress things on the audio side, as the human ear is much more sensitive than the eye when it comes to compression. However, the current 56kpbs rate should be able to be compressed to 40kbps at some point in the future.
Netflix is also investing in HDR content, as HDR-enabled devices are coming out this year in the form of the LG G6 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. This will mean more content coming from Netflix in the form of its own shows, as well as certain shows being 'regraded' into HDR where the creators see fit. Stranger Things will be one show being reissued in HDR, so look out for that if you have a HDR-enabled phone or display. And Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has confirmed that both Dolby Vision and HDR 10 standards will be supported.
One thing that won’t be happening is Netflix’s arrival on Nintendo Switch. Yellin was keen to point out that the company has access to every major device before its release, such as the aforementioned phones. However, there’s no work being done on a Nintendo Switch app, which sadly is in keeping with what we’ve seen of the console’s complete focus on games at this stage.
For more on Netflix, be sure to check out our list of the best shows to watch on Netflix right now, and expect to see the new codec being rolled out in the coming months.