Some Pixel owners still can’t play Netflix in HD, months after Google promised a fix
Earlier this year, many Google Pixel device owners reported that their Widevine DRM level had dropped to L3. This means that DRM-protected content such as Netflix can’t be played in HD, with Netflix capping playback to 540p. It seemed that pretty much any device from the Google Pixel 3 and up could be affected, and Google in April 2021 acknowledged the problem and promised that it was working on a fix. It’s now eight months later and we’re nearly entering 2022, but there’s still no sign of a fix. Worse still is that users are still reporting problems, and the Google Pixel 3 only has one more end of life update left in the tank.
One user on Reddit compiled a list of complaints across the internet, with many users recently complaining about the problem too. While there are obviously complaints made from earlier this year, there are users as recently as 21 days ago complaining that the problem still exists. Many users report that upgrading to Android 12 hasn’t fixed the problem either. Given that Google told Android Police that it was working on a fix, many users held out hope that their phones would eventually work as normal again for content consumption. Google never gave a timeline for that fix, but eight months is a long time without hearing any more information.
The problem arises when a phone is downgraded to Widevine L3, as 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. Google told Android Police at the time that the problem also affects some other devices too, and we’ve seen evidence of that on our own forums, for example with the Xiaomi Mi Pad 5.
In order to check the Widevine DRM level on your Pixel, you can follow this guide. 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 never did appear to get a concrete answer from Google, such as if it would need a future software fix or if it was something that users can do to fix.
This issue doesn’t appear to affect all users, and both my Google Pixel 5 and my Google Pixel 6 Pro are unaffected. Even still, it affects a significant number of device owners, and we hope that Google can provide more information about the fix that it’s working on soon.