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Technology

Netflix's Secrets to Success: Six Cell Towers, Dubbing and More (variety.com) 78

Variety gets access to the people at Netflix who take care of the tech: Netflix has its own cell towers. Netflix wants to test its app running on mobile devices under a variety of conditions available around the world, so the company decided to bring the operating equipment of six cell towers to its Los Gatos offices. "Minus the towers," quipped Scott Ryder, the company's director of mobile streaming. The cell tower equipment is housed in the company's mobile device lab, where they are joined by a number of cabinets that look like fancy Netflix-themed fridges, but in reality are Faraday cage-like boxes to suppress any outside interference, and also make sure that those experimental cell towers don't mess up phone reception on the rest of the campus. Each of these boxes can house dozens of devices, and emulate certain mobile or Wi-Fi conditions. "We can make a box look like India, we can make a box look like the Netherlands," Ryder said. Altogether, Netflix runs over 125,000 tests in its mobile lab every single day.[...]

Netflix just re-encoded its entire catalog, again. To optimize videos for mobile viewing, Netflix recently re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-scene basis. "We segment the videos into shots, we analyze the video per shot," said the company's director of video algorithms Anne Aaron. Now, an action scene in a show may stream at a higher bit rate than a scene featuring a slow monologue -- and users with limited bandwidth are set to save a lot of data. A few years back, 4 GB of mobile data would get you just about 10 hours of Netflix video, said Aaron. Now, members can watch up to 26 hours while consuming the same amount of data. Netflix previously re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-title basis, which already allowed it to stream animated shows at much lower bitrates than action movies with a lot of visual complexity. The next step for the company will be to adopt AV1, an advanced video codec developed by an alliance of companies that also includes Apple, Amazon, and Google. Aaron said Netflix could start streaming in AV1 before the end of this year, with Chrome browsers likely being first in line to receive AV1 streams.

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Netflix's Secrets to Success: Six Cell Towers, Dubbing and More

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  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @08:21PM (#56244695) Homepage Journal
    So they have cell towers, but they don't have cell towers. Nice.
  • How many people will actually be using AV1?

    A few days ago, Netflix said that 70%+ of viewing happens on a TV, which implies a smart TV or a set top box and almost all of them use H.264.

    • Re:AV1? (Score:4, Funny)

      by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @08:33PM (#56244755) Homepage Journal
      I predict around 30%.
      • You assume Apple and Google will allow software decoding of AV1, which is extremely bad for battery life.

        • I do assume that, but I am a moran.
        • It's a good thing Apple, ARM, Broadcom, Intel and Nvidia are backing the codec then, which should accelerate the availability of devices with hardware acceleration.

          • by jonwil ( 467024 )

            But that group doesn't include Qualcomm who make one of the most popular mobile SoCs on the market (Snapdragon) and its Adreno GPU (and whatever hardware video decoding the Snapdragon parts use these days). If Qualcomm doesn't get on board with AV1 then many Android devices simply wont have the support for it in hardware.

          • That still doesn't make the remaining 30% of users magically hardware-accelerated AV1, only new phones will have it.

            In fact, is there any phone available with hardware-accelerated AV1 right now?

        • by roca ( 43122 )

          Google allows software decoding of VP9 in Chrome, so presumably they'd allow AV1.

          A lot of people running browsers are on mains electricity where power consumption is not much of an issue, but bandwidth consumption is.

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          they don't need to care if apple or google "allow" it on mobiles where they deploy their own app and can use whatever sw or hw codecs they want if they want...

          what they would need to worry would be if there's enough power to do it and about the user experience. ...

          and the bit about the mobile towers? pssh. standard thing if you have the money for it and can't think of some other way to simulate a crappy network with high ping times, high ploss but sometimes high bandwidth.

        • You assume Apple and Google will allow software decoding of AV1, which is extremely bad for battery life.

          Apple :
          No, they wont. They have high stake in H265 patents.
          (I am actually surprised that there are part of the alliance)

          Google:
          Yes, they will. AV1 is also designed to be easy to implement in hardware and in GPGPU acceleration.
          Means that, there will be some implementations on whatever is closest to a OpenCL / Vulkan combo available on the hardware.
          So even before AMD, Nvidia, and the other hardware manufacturer of the alliance start shipping dedicated AV1 hardware on their GPU, the GPU will already be able to

          • You assume Apple and Google will allow software decoding of AV1, which is extremely bad for battery life.

            Apple : No, they wont. They have high stake in H265 patents. (I am actually surprised that there are part of the alliance)

            Apple don't seem to be a member, see the list of alliance members [aomedia.org]
            (scroll to "ALLIANCE MEMBERS", there's no anchor to link to...)

            • Apple don't seem to be a member

              To quote from the page you linked (emphasis added): "The Alliance for Open Media is governed by founding member companies: Amazon, Apple, ARM, Cisco, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix and NVIDIA."

              The logo isn't on the page but Apple has joined the Alliance for Open Media at the highest membership level which is "founding member" (even though they weren't a member from the start). The membership terminology is poor.

    • This is for mobile viewing. Hence the cell towers that aren't cell towers. The goal is to reduce data usage.
    • Re:AV1? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by theweatherelectric ( 2007596 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @09:44PM (#56244969)

      How many people will actually be using AV1?

      Everyone eventually. AV1 will be the codec of choice for all web video. It outperforms the other options and doesn't have the licensing hassles of H.264 or the licensing mess of H.265. The licensing of H.265 is so bad that even the founder and chairman of MPEG, Leonardo Chiariglione, thinks MPEG probably doesn't have a future [chiariglione.org].

      People will encode to H.264 for legacy devices, VP9 for current devices, and encode to AV1 for current desktops and future devices.

      • Re:AV1? (Score:5, Informative)

        by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Sunday March 11, 2018 @09:56PM (#56245005) Homepage

        The problem is that only high-end devices are just getting H.265 support and even then it's pretty spotty as to actual implementation and performance. If the industry keeps coming out with new codecs at this rate, we are going to have to adapt our chips to be more flexible, perhaps even programmable in the hardware decoder area which brings with it a whole slew of issues, both physical (heat, size and cost) as well as in software (does every piece of software get to upload its own decoders, if so, how, what if we need more or different versions).

        H.264 and VP8 is easy to find these days, VP9 and H265 is slowly but surely coming, releasing a brand new codec today will take 5 years to get it in the majority of high-end chip fabs and another 5-or-so years to go mainstream with at least 15-20y more years of having to have both available.

        • When you have to deal with patent licensing, introducing new codecs is slow and expensive; open codecs can find dominant market penetration very quickly.

          • For mobile you want a codec that is hardware supported. That takes time. Desktops can run software decode and be OK.
            Criteria for hardware support boils down to what you can get OEMs to pay for. You put the bare minimum to keep pace with your competitors (so h.264 and now h.265) or you include codecs that you have to charge a license fee to enable (h.265 has been like this so far). Some things like VP8 and VP9 have made it in as well, mostly due to requirements for some Google devices and the subsequent comp

        • Re:AV1? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by roca ( 43122 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @10:50PM (#56245133) Homepage

          The H265 rollout has been slow because its licensing is such a disaster. Why would you be in a rush to ship H265 when you have no idea how much you will have to pay patent holders for the units you are shipping?

          AV1 does not have this problem. It's a no-brainer to implement and ship it ASAP. Within two years all new chips will have it.

          Soon it will become clear that H265 will see very little usage outside broadcasting. The H265 patent pools will drop any pretense of encouraging broad H265 adoption and focus on extracting maximum revenue from those vendors foolish enough to have shipped H265 in advance of a clear licensing story. As soon as the inevitability aura around H265 dissipates, the non-TV vendors will drop it like a hot potato.

          • by jonwil ( 467024 )

            Why would TV networks, TV equipment (transmitter and receiver makers) and everyone else involved in TV (most of whom currently broadcast in either MPEG2 or MPEG4) want to adopt H.265 given the patent minefield it entails and the costs involved instead of pushing for open codecs like AV1? I dont think any networks (in the US at least) are broadcasting in H265/HEVC yet so there is no reason AV1 couldn't become the codec of choice for the next ATSC standard after MPEG2 and MPEG4... (unless there is either some

          • by guruevi ( 827432 )

            The H264/5 and VP8/9 patents do cover more than just that particular codec. They cover each other and also other codecs, even the open source ones. Releasing any codec these days is rife with patent issues.

        • The problem is that only high-end devices are just getting H.265 support

          H.265 support is irrelevant at this point. Twice as many devices can decode VP9 [ngcodec.com] than can decode H.265 and AV1 outperforms H.265. So the straightforward encoding approach is to use H.264 and VP9 now and look to AV1 in future.

          we are going to have to adapt our chips to be more flexible

          Maybe. Or maybe there's a good opportunity for special purpose USB or Thunderbolt devices that offer accelerated video encoding and decoding. I'd quite like a small, cheap device that could give me accelerated AV1 encoding.

          releasing a brand new codec today will take 5 years to get it in the majority of high-end chip fabs

          Not so for AV1. Hardware manufacturers have been involved in [aomedia.org]

        • The problem is that only high-end devices are just getting H.265 support

          (which is also due to the patent mess and thus nobody being in a hurry to jump into the bandwagon)

          If the industry keeps coming out with new codecs at this rate,

          If you look, "the industry" is more or less grouping around two entities :
          - the MPEG which still tend to design codecs the old way (file patents and monetize through licensing)
          - and the Alliance for Open Media, where basically any industry member that has anything to do with video in their business is represented (the whole chain from the camera to the mobile device receiving the stream seem to be represented)

        • H264 was approved in 2003, that's 15 years ago. I don't think it's too bad. H265 is much newer but AV1 is essentially a response to h265's horrible licensing requeriments.
          In addtiion, eventually making substantial improvements on existing codecs will get so hard that major codecs will be current for a long time so I don't think we're going to see many major codecs in the coming years. Also, with the backers AV1 has it looks like it'll be the dominant codec in the years to come
        • Soon it will become clear that H265 will see very little use outside the broadcast. H265 focuses on patent pools, encouraging adoption of comprehensive H.265 adoptions, and obtaining maximum revenue from those vendors who send H 265 before the obvious licensing story. As soon as H-265 indispensability halo is destroyed, non-tv vendors will leave it like a hot potato. Google Support [babasupport.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    StingRay.

  • They are either orders of magnitude better at encoding than everyone else on the face of the planet, of their quality must be shit.

  • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Sunday March 11, 2018 @11:10PM (#56245191) Homepage

    I've heard a mixed bag coming out of Netflix re: developer experience, but one thing I admire is their effort toward a reliable user experience.

    From testing everything down to minutiae, to designing things so that failure is simply another regular and expected state to move forward from... most companies do not commit the time/funds to do this sort of thing.

    This practical engineering is much cooler to me than Facebook/Google's latest me-too Javascript libraries that iteratively steal the next good established idea from desktop coding and call it innovation.

    "We segment the videos into shots, we analyze the video per shot," said the company's director of video algorithms Anne Aaron. Now, an action scene in a show may stream at a higher bit rate than a scene featuring a slow monologue

    Video encoders have supported constant quality modes for quite a while that already do this very effectively. I'm guessing they don't do this out of some need for precise control or for hardware compatibility. It's obviously not a wasted effort, but it's unfortunate that Netflix is needing to reinvent the wheel here.

  • even though all my equipment is capable of 1080P, I don't have the "approved by Netflix" devices.
  • Netflix could start streaming in AV1 before the end of this year, with Chrome browsers likely being first in line to receive AV1 streams.

    But Chrome is a famously poor choice for Netflix - it only supports 720P, [netflix.com] despite that it's apparently possible to force 1080P playback with tweaks. [github.com]

    (To be clear, the 720P limitation appears to be Netflix's doing, not Chrome's.)

    • But Chrome is a famously poor choice for Netflix - it only supports 720P, [netflix.com] despite that it's apparently possible to force 1080P playback with tweaks. [github.com] (To be clear, the 720P limitation appears to be Netflix's doing, not Chrome's.)

      Firefox also. Edge will support 4K. IE and Safari will support 1080. I'm not sure if it is a Netflix thing or a Silverlight/DRM stardards thing. Or some combination. For my laptop, it doesn't matter.

      • Very unlikely to involve Silverlight. Netflix in IE/Edge doesn't use Silverlight, it uses HTML5/EME. Same goes for their Windows app.

  • Does Netflix do any similar optimizing for streaming to TVs? TV/non-mobile streaming is typically not subject to data caps or paying per amount of data, like mobile data, so the financial incentives to optimize the streams are different. Just wondering...

    • Likely yes. Your home connection may not be metered but they have to pay for bandwidth no matter where you watch the content so they have the incentive to reduce bandwith usage in every case
      • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

        OK... So, Netflix streams are metered on their side, right? (I think you inferred that, but didn't say it outright. I don't mean to be pedantic; I just don't want assume anything.)

        • Yes (I think). I mean, I'm not 100% sure how bandwidth works for a company like Netflix but I believe they pay by volume so it makes sense to reduce usage as much as possible

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