Netflix’s algorithms get the job done, but they’re not nearly as efficient as they could be. The algorithms currently in place determine the quality of the video you receive based on the available bandwidth, but don’t discriminate between different movies or shows. This can be rather wasteful when Netflix chooses to stream something simple like My Little Pony at the same quality level as something complex like The Avengers, which is exactly why the company is completely reworking its algorithms to be able to determine what needs the highest quality available, and what can make due with decent quality. With these new algorithms, the company claims it can increase the quality of its streams while consuming less data.
It sounds like a brainteaser for the modern age: how do you make things look better on the screen with less data? To solve it, all you need is four years, a team of coders that know video inside and out and a business like Netflix that takes up about one-third of North American bandwidth during peak hours. That concoction proved to be enough today when the company announced its plans to re-encode its entire catalog of movies and TV shows to fit a new and improved “recipe.” So just what the heck is a recipe and how did Netflix learn to do more with less? A recipe is Netflix’s word to describe how you watch its content. If you’re watching on a slow DSL connection, for example, Netflix is smart enough to deliver you low-resolution video stemming from a lower bitrate. Netflix has always had a few settings that could dynamically change while watching a video. (If you’ve ever noticed a sudden drop in quality, it’s the recipe changing to match your current available bandwidth.) The big realization came, though, when engineers discovered that not all content is created equal. “You shouldn’t allocate the same amount of bits for ‘My Little Pony’ as for ‘The Avengers,'” explained Netflix video algorithms manager Anne Aaron to Variety.