Netflix closes the gap on Blu-ray with High Quality Audio upgrade for DD 5.1 and Atmos

posted on Thursday, 2nd May 2019 by Steve May

home cinema  Streaming  Dolby Atmos 

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Netflix is closing the quality gap on physical media, with the introduction of a new High Quality Audio mode to improve the sound of its streams. The OTT giant will now stream Dolby Digital 5.1 up to 640kbps, a 10:1 compression ratio compared to the studio master, a big leap on its previous 192 kbps supply. Dolby Atmos encodes will benefit from bit-rates from 448 kbps up to 768 kbps.

The company says the improvements will offer audio quality indistinguishable, or “perceptually transparent”, from 24-bit studio recordings.

"Based on internal listening tests, listening test results provided by Dolby, and scientific studies, we determined that for Dolby Digital Plus at and above 640 kbps, the audio coding quality is perceptually transparent. Beyond that, we would be sending you files that have a higher bitrate (and take up more bandwidth) without bringing any additional value to the listening experience," it notes on its blog.

Sara Huddleston, director of post production for original series, says the upgrade began following a review of the opening episode of Stranger Things 2, with creators the Duffer brothers, who noted that the streamed mix wasn’t as crisp as it sounded on the mixing stage, and that sonic placement wasn't as accurate. 

Using techniques learnt from adaptive video encoding, audio streams of lower quality will adjust when network speeds are low. The company says that it expects bitrate efficiency to evolve over time as it gets more proficient with encoding techniques.

This development should significantly elevate Netflix as a quality sound source. Until now, Blu-ray has been demonstrably better in terms of both audio and video. However key issues with Netflix as a home cinema source remain. Its various apps deliver inconsistent levels of performance, dictated by their implementation in hardware. Currently Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos is only available through integrated TV and games console apps from certain hardware vendors.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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