Netflix debuts adaptive high-quality audio

Improved audio if you’ve got a surround audio setup and the premium package

by Andy Bassett May 2, 2019 at 10:40 AM

  • Recognising that viewers are investing in quality audio systems to enhance their viewing experience, Netflix is improving its audio by introducing, what it calls, ‘high-quality audio.’
    Mirroring the practice of adjusting the video bitrate to match the available bandwidth of the host internet connection, the stream will increase the audio bitrate if there is spare capacity or decrease it (down to a minimum of 192kbps) to help preserve the overall video stream integrity. Previously, once an audio bitrate was set at the start of a programme, it remained constant even when fluctuations in connection speeds and bandwidth occurred.

    Working only for surround sound setups, what this means in practice is that 5.1 audio streams will gain a maximum bitrate of 640kbps and Dolby Atmos streams will increase to 768kbps. Access to Dolby Atmos content requires a subscription to the top end 4K Premium Plan.

    A blog post on the company’s website stated “Today we’re excited to announce a new feature, high-quality audio, which takes our sound quality to another level. We gave it this straightforward name because it fits: high-quality audio delivers audio that sounds closer to what creators hear in the studio, so every little detail is captured for a richer, more intense experience. Additionally, if you have bandwidth or device limitations, we’ve made the feature adaptive so that we will deliver the best possible audio to match your capabilities. This is similar to what we already do for video.”

    Netflix accepts that the newer bitrates still fall below the 24-bit / 48kHz mastering sample frequency but, after testing, they are confident that most non-audiophile listeners will not be able to tell the difference between the master file and the compressed broadcast audio.

    However, they did state, "We expect these bitrates to evolve over time as we get more efficient with our encoding techniques."

    Netflix’s goal is to make the sound crisper and more immersive and to "bring the viewer closer to the story." Apparently, the whole process was initiated when the Stranger Things creators were not happy with the audio during an in-house screening of the second season of the show, They noticed a lack of presence and detail during a car-chase compared to the master audio they had been working with in the studio. Thus, Netflix tasked their engineers with finding a solution.

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