Netflix has started streaming to Android in AV1

Prasad, 06 February 2020

Netflix has started rolling out AV1 encoded content on the Android platform. Users will be able to watch select titles encoded in AV1 by enabling the 'Save Data' feature in the app.

Netflix currently streams its content in a wide variety of codecs, including H.264(AVC), HEVC and VP9. On Android, the default codec currently is VP9 as it's natively supported by the software and the hardware. However, from today, users will be able to choose AV1 as well, as long as the content supports it.

AV1 (not to be confused with AVC or AVC1) is a royalty-free open codec, designed primarily for encoding content for the internet. It is backed by multiple high profile companies, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Mozilla, Facebook, Cisco, Netflix, Samsung, Vimeo, MediaTek and more. It is considered to be the codec that will replace all other codecs in future, at least as far online content is concerned, and should simply things for manufacturers, content creators, and customers.

The main advantage of AV1, apart from being open and royalty-free, is that it is also more efficient than other codecs on the market today. Compared to VP9 (created by Google) that Netflix currently uses on Android, AV1 offers 20% better compression, thereby offering similar image quality at lower data rates.

As of yet, a wider rollout of AV1 is not possible due to limited software and hardware support. On the software side, currently you need a decoder, such as dav1d. Google added support for AV1 decoding in Android but it's only present in Android 10. On the hardware side, currently there are no chipsets on the market that support hardware decoding of AV1. As for upcoming models, only the Dimensity 1000 by MediaTek has announced support, with no AV1 support in the upcoming Qualcomm 865.

As such, Netflix has currently only added AV1 to its app in limited capacity. It is using dav1d to decode the codec within the app itself, thereby not relying on any OS or hardware support. It is also using it for now as an optional data-saving feature, rather than replacing the more widely-supported VP9 outright. The quality should likely be the same as VP9 and Netflix has also worked to enable 10-bit support with AV1 as it does on its other codecs.

In the future, Netflix has plans to make AV1 the default codec on all of its platforms. That is also the general plan for most major streaming platforms backing this service. YouTube currently has a small number of videos in AV1, as does Vimeo. This is certainly a step in the right direction, especially for mobile users.



Reader comments

  • Anonymous

Is it probably because, even if there's a hardware encoder, the phone manufacturer will have to license their devices by themselves if they enable it? The one who are paying for the licenses are not the SoC manufacturer, but the phone makers. I ...

  • Anonym

It's not the default for compatibility reasons, as in wanting to watch the video on older devices or share to platforms that don't support the format. I am having a hard time finding a decent modern smartphone that does not allow recording in HEVC. A...

Please show me how many Android phones use HEVC for their default built in camera App for video recording ? Just a handful, and even those like Huawei don’t enable it by default.

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