Netflix Ditches MS Silverlight For HTML5
April 16, 2013

Netflix Ditches MS Silverlight, Switches To HTML5 For Video Streaming

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Netflix is the favorite movie streaming service that everyone loves to hate. It´s dirt cheap and available just about everywhere, yet you´re more likely to hear complaints about the selection of movies available as opposed to its extreme accessibility. Users can access Netflix on a myriad of devices such as most video game consoles, set-top boxes such as the Apple TV or Roku, Smart TVs and all manner of mobile devices.

Subscribers can also watch movies directly on their computers on the web, but not without the appropriate plugin installed. For nearly five years, Netflix has relied on Microsoft´s Silverlight plugin. But according to a recent blog post, the movie streaming service will be moving away from all plugins and begin using the friendlier HTML 5 to stream their movies to the web.

It seems the Google Chromebook may have had a hand in this change. Last month, the search giant announced they had launched HTML 5 video playback for Samsung Chromebook users with the ARM chip. Previously, there had been a DRM issue with the ARM Chromebooks and Netflix streaming. With the new HTML 5 solution in place, however, users were able to stream videos to their laptops from within their browser.

It´s likely Netflix was already looking for a way to escape from the Silverlight plugin and has simply used the Chromebook as a way to test their new HTML 5 streaming offerings. Last December, even Microsoft said they were giving up on Silverlight when they released the latest version. According to The Verge, Microsoft only plans to keep supporting the plugin for another eight years, suggesting yet another company has realized that the era of the plugin is coming to an end.

In their blog, Netflix weighs the pros and cons of a plugin, noting the main difficulty with them is that the user must first have it installed.

“For some customers, Netflix might be the only service they use which requires the Silverlight browser plugin,” writes Anthony Park and Mark Watson on the Netflix Tech Blog.

“Second, some view browser plugins as a security and privacy risk and choose not to install them or use tools to disable them. Third, not all browsers support plugins (eg: Safari on iOS, Internet Explorer in Metro mode on Windows 8), so the ability to use them across a wide range of devices and browsers is becoming increasingly limited. We're interested to solve these problems as we move to our next generation of video playback on the web.”

Park and Watson say the company has been partnering “with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives” to stream videos the way they´d like to without the use of plugins. To do this, Netflix has created a trio of what they´re calling HTML 5 Premium Video Extensions. These extensions include DRM encryption to prevent piracy, a way to serve up the streams using JavaScript (which is much different from the troubled Java), and a service for JavaScript and the Netflix servers to talk to one another securely.

So far, two of these extensions are being used in Samsung´s ARM Chromebooks. Whenever the final encryption extension is ready to roll out, Netflix will remove the final plugins and begin testing HTML 5 streaming to Mac and Windows PCs, though no definite timeline has been given as to when this switch will take place.