Netflix to ditch Silverlight in favor of HTML5

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Netflix is proposing on changing the extensions in which videos stream throughout their website by ditching the Silverlight plugin for the new and more reliable HTML5.

Netflix currently uses Microsoft Silverlight to provide their customers premium content with a subscription because “it provides a high-quality streaming experience and lets [them] easily experiment with improvements to [their] adaptive streaming algorithms”. But until now, it all has changed for the company. Microsoft announced that they were cutting support and development of the product in 2021. While that may seem a long time away, in 8 years, Netflix has to convert the way the whole website works from Silverlight to HTML5.

Netflix agrees that Silverlight had its disadvantages because “customers need to install the browser plugin on their computer prior to streaming video” and browser extensions may cause a higher risk of security threats. Of course, not ever browser supports third-party plugins. By adapting to the use of HTML5, the website can be used widespread on a much broader variety of devices, like iPhones running Safari, or those using the plugin-less Internet Explorer Modern-app. In order to make this happen, they collaborated with many different industry leaders “to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight.”

One extension, Media Source Extensions (MSE) “extends HTMLMediaElement to allow JavaScript to generate media streams for playback” allowing the user to download and stream the videos. A second one, called Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) “extends HTMLMediaElement providing APIs to control playback of protected content.” Because the content they stream is protected under law, this extension must be used to keep videos encrypted. A third one that they are experimenting with is
Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto) which accounts for the “basic cryptographic operations in web applications, such as hashing, signature generation and verification, and encryption and decryption.” This helps verify that users aren’t tampering with the content on the website. All of these extensions are what makes their streaming service on HTML5 more reliable.

Its first implementation was by testing their features out on Google Chrome on Chrome OS, and recently it has been tested out on a Chrome Book. ChromeBooks use ARM based processors, while HTML5 is compatible because it is build into the browser, Silverlight is an x86 plugin and would only be compatible with those kinds of devices. Netflix currently uses some experimental plugins that are needed on Google Chrome, but they state that they should soon be removed and built into the web browser. This leads onto testing the new streaming system “on Windows and OS X”.

In the past two years, YouTube has adapted the website to rely on HTML5, rendering the Flash Plugin useless, but some people are not running operating systems with internet browsers capable of utilizing HTML5 content, hence the reason that in a few years, HTML5 will be the new norm, and will wipe out all of those unnecessary plugins.

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