Netflix To Wave Bye Bye to Microsoft Silverlight

Netflix has set the stage for a migration to HTML5 for video playback on to PCs and Macs as it prepares to ditch Microsoft Silverlight a bit further down the road.

Netflix isn’t exactly in a huge rush to make the switch, as it’s got an eight-year window to do it.  But, as it outlined on its technology blog Monday, it’s making decisions now to keep the company well ahead of the technology curve.

Netflix, noted director of engineering Anthony Park and director of streaming standards Mark Watson, relies on Silverlight today to deliver adaptive bit rate video streams to Web browsers. They like the quality just fine, “[b]ut since Microsoft announced the end of life of Silverlight 5 in 2021, we need to find a replacement some time within the next 8 years.”   

A move to HTML5 will also help do away with browser plugins, which Netflix isn’t wild about because they require customers to install them before they can begin to stream away. And plugins can be exposed to security and privacy risks if safeguards are disabled, the engineers noted. Another bugaboo: not all browsers support plugins, the engineers wrote, pointing the finger at Safari on iOS, and Internet Explorer in Metro mode on Windows 8. 

“[S]o the ability to  use [plugins] across a wide range of devices and browsers is becoming increasingly limited,” they added.

Netflix’s answer will be HTML5, and it’s already proposing extensions to HTML5 video for the secure playback of premium video on browsers without the annoyances that come with third-party browser plugins.

The proposal, they noted, includes Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) Media Source Extensions to make it possible for Netflix to download audio and video content from its content delivery networks and feed it into the video tag for playback, and Encrypted Media Extensions to control playback of protected content and provide a standardized way to integrate with a range of digital rights management (DRM) systems that might be used by the browser.  The proposal also calls for the W3C Web Cryptography API, which will allow Netflix to decrypt and decrypt communications between its JavaScript code – the programming language it’s using in web browsers -- and the Netflix servers.  

And real world implementation is underway. Netflix, they added, has been working with Google to implement the first two proposed HTML5 Premium Video Extensions in the Chrome browser, and have already deployed the technology on the Samsung  Chromebook. 

Netflix is far from alone when it comes to giving HTML5 video playback the vote. In January, Comcast-owned video publishing unit thePlatform released a video player service that uses HTML5, rather than Adobe Systems Flash, as the default setting.