Some Google Pixel users face issues with HD Netflix playback after recent updates

Some Google Pixel users face issues with HD Netflix playback after recent updates

Update 1 (04/09/2021 @ 05:50 PM ET): Google has confirmed that it is aware of the issue and is actively working on a fix for affected Pixel users. Click here for more information. The article, as published on April 6, 2021, is preserved below.

Following recent updates, many Google Pixel phone owners are reporting issues with the Widevine level downgrading to L3 from L1, resulting in DRM-protected content not playing in HD resolution. For instance, Netflix is now capped at 540p.

Multiple users reached out to us complaining about the issue. Tipsters argruar, HydroPetro, and MSFJarvis on Telegram have said they experienced the issue on the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5. Tipster Devang Chhabria linked a Reddit thread with some Pixel 4a, Pixel 4, and Pixel 5 users reporting the same issue.

Meanwhile, a support thread on the Pixel forums features users complaining about the issue. We looked back a few months on Reddit and actually discovered people have been experiencing the issues with HD Netflix playback for a while. Some users have said they’ve encountered the issue after the April 2021 update, while others are reporting the issue has been happening for months.

When a phone is downgraded to Widevine L3, the DRM-encrypted content is no longer decoded in the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). In most cases, Widevine-protected content will then only play in 480p, which isn’t the most ideal scenario when streaming content.

In order to check the Widevine DRM level, you can follow this guide. As we reported, most premium Android devices that are certified by Google support Widevine L1, sometimes in combination with other DRM methods. Modified phones or uncertified phones, however, may only support L3 or L2. Software updates can also cause Widevine DRM to revert to L2 or L3.

A service like Netflix has certified all Pixel devices for HD, which is Widevine L1, and the Pixel 3 and up are also certified for HDR. It’s unclear what’s causing the issue, and users don’t appear to be getting any concrete answers from Google, whether that includes a future software fix or something the users can do.

Not every owner has encountered the issue. In the same support forums, some Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 owners claim they’re still on L1, so it isn’t affecting everyone. But why some people are encountering the issue and some don’t remain unclear.


Update 1: Google is aware and working on a fix for Pixel phones

Google has confirmed to Android Police that it is aware of users reporting issues with the Widevine DRM level downgrading to L3. The company is actively working on a solution for affected Pixel phones but did not provide an exact schedule for when a fix will be made available. Apparently, the problem may also affect phones from other manufacturers, so it may be more widespread than expected.

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Brandon Russell
Brandon Russell

Brandon's love of technology can be traced back to his childhood, when he would obsessively watch Back to the Future. Since then he's followed the industry and its many innovations, from handheld consoles to powerful smartphones. He's still waiting on a hoverboard.