Netflix is rolling out support for the new AV1 video codec in its Android app, which the company claims compresses video 20 percent more efficiently than the VP9 codec it currently uses. The company says the codec can be enabled now for “selected titles” by enabling the “Save Data” option, although it doesn’t detail exactly which titles are supported. Eventually, Netflix says it plans to roll out AV1 on all its platforms, and is working with device and chipset manufacturers to broaden compatibility.
AV1 is important not just because it consumes less mobile data, but because the royalty-free video coding format has the support of the major tech players. The group behind the standard, the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia), was founded in 2015 by a group of companies including Amazon, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Netflix, and in 2018 Apple joined their efforts. Apple is a particularly significant addition, since its devices don’t currently support the predominant VP9 standard, which is why you can’t watch YouTube in 4K on devices like the Apple TV or iPad Pro.
Although Netflix notes that the plan is to eventually use AV1 across all platforms, it sounds like the codec is still in its early stages. Restricting its use to the “Save Data” option, for example, suggests that it’s not the best choice for picture quality. And, as Engadget notes, enabling the codec for YouTube playback generates a warning that “Streaming AV1 in HD requires a powerful computer.” That makes us wonder how AV1-encoded Netflix videos will impact that battery life of our smartphones. There’s also the question of how many Android devices support the codec, which Netflix’s announcement doesn’t address. We have contacted Netflix to ask for additional detail and will update this article when we hear back.