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Netflix Talks Dumping Silverlight for HTML5

On Monday Netflix revealed its long-term plans to dump Microsoft's Internet-based application framework Silverlight for HTML5. Netflix currently uses the Silverlight platform to stream video to web browsers on the PC and Mac, but Microsoft plans to discontinue Silverlight 5 in 2021, thus forcing the popular video streaming company to find an alternative method of content delivery.

Anthony Park, Director of Engineering, and Mark Watson, Director of Streaming Standards, point out on the Netflix tech blog that this move is a good thing. Silverlight is served up as a browser plugin that must be installed prior to streaming Netflix content. This is a two-pronged problem: not only do many people consider plugins as a security and privacy risk, but many browsers don't even support plugins including Safari on iOS and the Modern UI version of Internet Explorer 10.

Thus enter HTML5. It's not a plugin, but rather the next-generation markup language for the World Wide Web. It's capable of delivering audio and video without the need for downloading the content directly to a hard drive, or the need to install a plugin. But because it's still considered as an "emerging technology", not all browsers support HTML5, and means to protect copyrighted content plugin-free like streaming movies and TV shows offered on Netflix are not fully in place. But that's changing.

The blog reports that the company has been collaborating with other "industry leaders" on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve the problems of sending protected content to a plugin-free browser. These "HTML5 Premium Video Extensions"include Media Source Extensions (MSE), Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), and the Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto).

The MSE aspect makes it possible for Netflix to download audio and video content from its content delivery networks and feed it into the HTML5 video tag for playback. EME handles the DRM portion in a streaming format while WebCrypto encrypts and decrypts communication between the company's JavaScript and its servers. Park and Watson said that Netflix has been working with Google to implement support for this trio of HTML5 extensions in the Chrome browser, and on the Samsung ARM-based Chromebook.

"Our player on this Chromebook device uses the Media Source Extensions and Encrypted Media Extensions to adaptively stream protected content," they said. "WebCrypto hasn't been implemented in Chrome yet, so we're using a Netflix-developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plugin which provides these cryptographic operations for now.  We will remove this last remaining browser plugin as soon as WebCrypto is available directly in the Chrome browser.  At that point, we can begin testing our new HTML5 video player on Windows and OS X."

Eventually the end result will mean that Netflix subscribers won't need to install native apps on their smartphones and tablets, nor will they need the Silverlight plugin installed in their desktop browser to watch movies and TV shows on their PC or Mac. As for streaming Netflix via HTML5 on Linux, that's still up in the air. Why? Because of the PlayReady DRM technology Netlfix supposedly uses which only supports Windows and OS X. That of course could change given that Netflix is moving away from Silverlight.

"We're excited about the future of premium video playback on the web, and we look forward to the day that these Premium Video Extensions are implemented in all browsers!" they said.

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