Netflix is rolling out a new feature today that will offer a serious audio upgrade to some of your favorite shows.
The feature, simply called high-quality audio, will upgrade 5.1 audio streams from 192 kbps up to 640 kbps, and Dolby Atmos streams from 448 kbps up to 768 kbps.
The goal for the feature is to restore some of the details that are lost in translation between the Netflix master file and the version that reaches your TV after getting compressed and decompressed over the web.
According to a blog post on Netflix's website, the company believes high-quality audio encoding will be able to restore some missing details (think of sounds like squealing tires, ringing telephones, crumbling debris) that you've been missing.
Importantly, like 4K video streaming, Netflix says that high-quality streaming will be adaptive - meaning, if you don’t have a great connection right at the moment, you’ll hear lower-quality audio to avoid buffering and, when your connection improves, you’ll go back to hearing the more pristine-sounding audio.
What's important to understand here is that the upgrade is coming to the Netflix player itself - meaning all shows will get the upgrade as long as you're getting the 5.1 or Dolby Atmos audio file. (The latter, remember, is only available to folks who pay extra for the Netflix Premier plan.)
While this will be a big upgrade for some, we’re being careful not to oversell the new feature - there’s a big difference between 192 kbps and 640 kbps for folks who know what they’re listening for, but it’s not always easy for the average viewer to hear a massive difference. (Not sure which category you fall into? Take this audio bitrate streaming quiz from NPR to find out.)
That being said, this feature is really for the cinephile crowd who has Dolby Atmos or serious surround sound setups and can really benefit from the extra bandwidth and who are a bit more... particular about sound quality.
According to Netflix, the audio quality will continue to improve over time as the company modifies and enhances its audio compression algorithm.