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How Netflix Pioneered Per-Title Video Encoding Optimization

By Jan Ozer

The Netflix blog post entitled Per-Title Encode Optimization boldly declares that “to deliver the best quality video to our members, each title should receive a unique bitrate ladder, tailored to its specific complexity characteristics.” In a world where many companies simply deploy Apple’s recommendations from TN2224 without modification, it’s a breath of fresh air. The blog post goes on to detail how Netflix creates its per-title encoding ladders.

While the Netflix post provides some valuable universal truths, since Netflix is a subscription service there are some caveats that should be considered by companies that aren’t in similar businesses. After a quick overview, I’ll discuss these truths and caveats.

As you’ll read at the end of this post, on January 26, 2016, at 2:00 PM EST I’ll be hosting a webinar detailing lessons learned from the Netflix post, and describing a procedure companies can use to implement the content-aware encoding that Netflix so strongly advocates. You can read more about the webinar here.

Overview: Per-Title Optimization

The encoding world has long been dominated by one-size-fits all encoding “ladders,” or resolution/bitrate pairs. In its blog post, Netflix shared that it had previously used the following combinations to produce “good quality encodes” for most content.

Table 1. Netflix’s traditional one-size-fits-all bitrate ladder.

Netflix then described the problem with this approach, which is that for some challenging videos, “the highest 5800kbps stream would still exhibit blockiness.” At the other end of the spectrum, “for simple content like cartoons, 5800 kbps is far more than needed to produce excellent 1080p encodes. In addition, a customer whose network bandwidth is constrained to 1750 kbps might be able to watch the cartoon at HD resolution, instead of the SD resolution specified by the ladder above.” In short, each video has a unique complexity, and a single encoding ladder can’t optimize the efficiency or viewing experience for all viewers.

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