Silverlight’s Twilight, and the Dawn of HTML5 Video
Netflix announced last month that it is finally moving towards its goal of ditching the Silverlight plugin, with a little help from Microsoft.
Background: Netflix currently uses Silverlight (a Microsoft product) plugin to deliver streaming video to most web browsers. Netflix announced their intent to move away from Silverlight in favor of HTML5 in a blog post back in April, after Microsoft listed only 8 more years on Silverlight’s lifecycle.
And that wasn’t the only reason: Not all browsers support plugins, particularly on mobile devices. And even on supported devices, some consumers view plugins as a security risk and avoid installing them.
So for the past couple years, Netflix has been involved with three W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) initiatives, collectively known as the “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions.” The general goal is to develop specifications that will make it possible to play premium video directly in a web browser, without the need for consumers to download proprietary plugins such as Silverlight or Flash.
The W3C initiatives involve three key areas: Playback and Adaptive Streaming, Digital Rights Management (DRM), and Encryption.
Meanwhile, the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) initiative covers DRM implementation by providing standardized support for various DRM systems. (Notably, Leslie adds, the DRM-protected HTML5 stream is an area where multichannel video providers, steeped in how to satisfy contractual agreements with the program networks they offer, consistently grumble about monkey wrenches.)
One of the main hurdles for Netflix is getting these Premium Video Extensions implemented on all browsers – Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. And this is where we’re finally starting to see some progress.
Back in April, with Google’s help, the Premium Video Extensions were implemented for the first time on the Samsung ARM-Based Chromebook. This isn’t a complete implementation; WebCrypto hasn’t yet been implemented in Chrome so a Netflix-developed API handles those operations for now. But once Google’s WebCrypto implementation is complete, testing can begin for Chrome on Windows and OS X.
Notably, and to the “with a little help from Microsoft” in the title of this post, Internet Explorer 11 is the first to implement all three of the Premium Video Extensions. If you’re running the preview of Windows 8.1, you can now watch Netflix using HTML5. If not, or if you prefer Firefox or Safari, you’ve still got some waiting to do. But if the current uptick is any indication, maybe it won’t be long.
Regardless, HTML5 is a hot topic and a big, big deal across the video ecosystem. Netflix’s moves are noteworthy, but not an isolated achievement by any stretch.