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Netflix to ditch Silverlight in favour of HTML5

Netflix will drop Silverlight in favour of HTML5 for its browser-based streaming service, in part because Microsoft is ending support for its video plugin in 2021.

In a blog post, Netflix said Silverlight "provides a high-quality streaming experience and lets us easily experiment with improvements to our adaptive streaming algorithms." But with Microsoft ending Silverlight support in the next eight years, "we need to find a replacement."

But even if Silverlight was sticking around, the platform has its drawbacks, Netflix said. Customers are required to install a browser plugin in order to watch Netflix content via Silverlight, and some people are hesitant to do so amidst security concerns. Silverlight is also not compatible on certain browsers, like Safari on iOS or the Windows 8 "metro" mode.

As a result, "the ability to use [plugins] across a wide range of devices and browsers is becoming increasingly limited," Netflix said.

For the last year, Netflix has been collaborating with industry partners in order to find the best way to play premium content in the browser. One of those partners is Google, and Netflix has started using the HTML5 Premium Video Extensions in Chrome on the ARM-based Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

Netflix has been experimenting with three specific technologies: Media Source Extensions, which lets Netflix download audio and video content from its content delivery networks and feed it into the video tag for playback; Encrypted Media Extensions, which lets Netflix play protected video content in the browser; and Web Cryptography API, which lets Netflix encrypt and decrypt communication between our JavaScript and the Netflix servers.

"Our player on this Chromebook device uses the Media Source Extensions and Encrypted Media Extensions to adaptively stream protected content," Netflix said. "WebCrypto hasn't been implemented in Chrome yet, so we're using a Netflix-developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plugin which provides these cryptographic operations for now. We will remove this last remaining browser plugin as soon as WebCrypto is available directly in the Chrome browser. At that point, we can begin testing our new HTML5 video player on Windows and OS X."