Netflix to cut its 4K streaming bitrate

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Netflix is changing the way that it encodes films and TV shows in 4K – although concerns have already been raised it’ll lead to a drop in quality.

You might recall that over the summer, streaming services such as Netflix and Prime Video were asked to reduce the default picture quality of their streams, to help manage the surge in demand on the broadband infrastructure. Turns out that lots of us being asked to stay at home led to a lot more of us on the internet.


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Whilst those streams have now been restored to their original levels, Netflix has now announced that it’s changing the way it encodes its 4K streams. That it’s rolling out for its 4K material per-shot encoding, that takes into account just what kind of scene is playing out when doing its encodes. It’s used this on its lower quality streams for a year or two now, but it’s now announced it’s set to use it on its premium ones too.

It argues, in an extensive blog post, that this won’t affect the quality of the end result. In fact, it states that “computing the Bjøntegaard Delta (BD) rate shows 50% gains on average over the fixed-bitrate ladder. Meaning, on average we need 50% less bitrate to achieve the same quality with the optimized ladder”.

You can read the full post here.

Netflix also argues that we’ll not get as many drops in quality during streaming as a consequence of the changes that it’s making.

The work on re-encoding its catalogue is already underway and being rolled out. Whether users notice the change remains to be seen, although a few grumbles have started to surface. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more…

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