July 01, 2013

Netflix Makes Partial Drop of Silverlight – If You Use IE11

A bit of backhanded good news arrived recently, especially for those who enjoy streaming video content from Netflix to a PC. Netflix has reportedly made the move to HTML5 for video streaming instead of using the Microsoft (News Alert)-based Silverlight plug-in. The bad news here is that only certain devices will be able to take advantage of the format shift, and said devices will be running Internet Explorer 11 only.

The good news here is abundant for those users which can actually take advantage of the shift. Testing indicates that the switch to HTML5 means a huge drop in CPU usage when it comes to streaming video, accounting for around one third less CPU usage in HTML5 than the equivalent video streamed with Silverlight. With a drop in CPU usage also comes the potential for battery life savings that can’t be ignored.

Image via Shutterstock

The problem, of course, is that only IE11 has the necessary support for the HTML5 extensions in question to run the change to HTML5 from Silverlight. Firefox and Chrome users, as yet, can’t get in on this particular action, but likely will be able to join the fray soon.

Perhaps one of the biggest points that slowed the advancement from Silverlight to HTML5 is the lack of digital rights management (DRM) systems in HTML5. Most have opinions when it comes to DRM, and most of those aren’t strictly complimentary, but rights holders preferred DRM as it provided at least some assurance that the content put up couldn’t be easily copied by just anyone. This would seem to make HTML5 the last choice in such a venture—after all, HTML5 video commonly involves putting up an entire video file, no encryption, on a video page—but that’s something Netflix has managed to work around by dint of “Premium Video Extensions.” Premium Video Extensions are a Netflix / Microsoft co-development and number three total: Media Source (NewsAlert) Extensions (MSE), Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) and the Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto).

These extensions—which also feature help from Google (News Alert) and Mozilla in the initial drafting, suggesting a move to Firefox and Chrome in the near-term—offer a variety of different protections for content and for the operation of video. For instance, MSE allows specific elements of a file to be handled, as opposed to just loading a complete video file or audio file. Both EME and WebCrypto, meanwhile, step in to protect the content put on HTML5: EME allows for DRM measures to be applied, and WebCrypto allows for security in sending data between browsers and servers.

There’s a lot of benefit associated with using HTML5 over Silverlight, and undoubtedly, viewers using mobile devices would welcome the chance to extend battery life and reduce CPU wear while still enjoying the content found on online streaming sources like Netflix. The move to HTML5 will likely prove helpful on that front, and will hopefully arrive directly on other browsers soon.

Edited by Alisen Downey


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