Is it me, or has Netflix raised its prices yet again? I remember when it was $6.99 a month. Course, with the billions they’re spending on original programming, that price wasn’t going to last forever. But is the $15.99 a month price tag really worth it? Well, Netflix wants you to feel better about it, so they’re improving the sound with better bitrate audio, and support for both Dolby Atmos at Home and 5.1 Surround.
“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,” said Netflix.
Netflix has had Dolby 5.1 surround for awhile now, but with the new “high quality audio,” they are tripling the bit rate from 192kbPS to 640 kbps, and support for Dolby Atmos Sound is up by about 40%, from 448 kbps to 768 kbps. But in order for users to enjoy the Dolby Digital Plus format with Atmos, they have to pay the higher Netflix Premium rate of $15.99. For that, users also get to steam in UltraHD 4K and HD resolution.
Netflix also says that users with a fast enough internet connection, will enjoy the premium level content through their adaptive stream, which will automatically deliver the 4K or HD signal with the improved high quality audio, and then adapt down from there when there’s congestion. There’s no need to adjust any settings to get the best quality image and sound signal. You will, however, need a home theater system that supports Dolby Atmos.
But let’s face facts here. Since you’re steaming, that 4K video bitrate is heavily compressed. Even with the audio improvements, it’s still not going to be a pure 4K UHD experience that you would get from say … a 4K ultra Blu-ray disc. Netflix counters by saying that while the sound is compressed along with the 4K signal, users won’t be able to really tell the difference. “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,” a Netflix spokesman assures. “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.”
And that’s likely true. In a world where people prefer the heavily compressed mp3 format on their mobile devices, rather than paying money for lossless music, it’s likely that most people won’t really notice the compression, like they would with an artifacty compressed image during a congested streaming period.
At the end of the day, streaming requires compression. Otherwise, a lossless Dolby signal would take hours to buffer and download. So it’s probably the best it can be. And you’re going to pay for it.
Hat Tip – FlatPanelsHD