Netflix Rolls Out High-Quality Audio For All Streams: Here’s What That Means, Exactly


Netflix is rolling out studio-quality audio for all subscribers. The streaming service now provides an audio experience that features higher bitrates for TVs and devices that support either 5.1 or Dolby Atmos.

Netflix says that depending on the user's bandwidth, they might get somewhere around 192 kbps up to 640 kbps for 5.1, and around 448 kbps up to 768 kbps for Dolby Atmos, which is available to Premium plan subscribers. Bitrates will evolve over time as Netflix gets more efficient with its audio encoding techniques.

Netflix Rolls Out Better Audio

It's used this adaptive approach before for its video streams, which adjust dynamically to prevent them from stopping if the connection dips. However, until now, the audio bitrate has been determined at the beginning of a stream, with virtually no option to adjust it once it's started. That could mean being stuck with bad audio even if the connection gets better eventually.

What triggered Netflix to buff up its audio streaming was the opening scene of Stranger Things' second season, which features a chaotic, high-octane car chase. Internal sound technicians noticed that while the scene looked great, it didn't sound great. There was an issue with the mix, according to sound technology manager Scott Kramer, as Wired reports, that made the audio "mushy."

Words such as "mushy" and "smeared" were used to describe audio on Netflix that wasn't crisp as they could be. It led Netflix to spend the past several months working on a solution that would make audio on both its original programming and licensed content sound a lot better.

Not Lossless, Though

In its tech blog, Netflix gets into more detail about the techniques and adjustments it had to implement to achieve better sound. While the audio isn't lossless — the highest-quality audio possible — it's "perceptually transparent," which means even though the audio itself is compressed, it's indistinguishable from the original source, claims Netflix.

"Often the subtlety of sound may go unnoticed, but it can have a profound impact on the atmosphere of a scene and fundamentally change how a viewer responds to it," Netflix said in an announcement. "Supporting and delivering on the vision of our creative partners has always been incredibly important to us, and sound is something we've been really focused on."

Better audio is now available for all TV viewers. Are you noticing a difference yet? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!

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