UPDATED 15:12 EST / APRIL 17 2013


Three Things Netflix Needs for its HTML5 Transition

Netflix uses Microsoft’s Silverlight plug-in to deliver high quality videos to PCs and Macs;  however with Silverlight ending in 2021 and Flash dying, Netflix is running out of options for delivering videos to online viewers.  The obvious answer points to HTML5, but for that transition to happen Netflix will need to prepare.

Starting last year, Netflix has been collaborating with other industry leaders to take on three World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) initiatives that would enable a HTML5 transition.  With these efforts came the “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions.”

The HTML5 Premium Video Extensions

Media Source Extensions (MSE)

To start, this specification “extends HTMLMediaElement to allow JavaScript to generate media streams for playback,” which allows Netflix to “download audio and video content from our content delivery networks and feed it into the video tag for playback.”

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME)

Next up, this specification “extends HTMLMediaElement providing APIs to control playback of protected content.”  Content streamed by Netflix is protected with the Digital Rights Management (DRM).  EME allows Netflix to “play protected video content in the browser by providing a standardized way for DRM systems to be used with the media element.”  Because of the licensing agreements in play, Netflix needs to continue to use DRM whether on a browser plugin or HTML5 media element.

Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto)

Finally, this specification defines an API for “basic cryptographic operations in web applications, such as hashing, signature generation and verification, and encryption and decryption.”  This allows Netflix to “encrypt and decrypt communication between our JavaScript and the Netflix servers,” and is required for the privacy of user data and for Netflix to continue to provide its service.

Netflix and Google have been working on implementing the HTML5 Premium Video Extensions on Chrome and has started using the technology on the Samsung ARM-Based Chromebook.  The Chromebook uses EME and MSE to stream protected content, but WebCrypto hasn’t been implemented yet, so Netflix is using its developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plugin to provide cryptographic operations for the meantime.  This plugin will be removed once WebCrypto becomes available.

Netflix will soon start testing its HTML5 efforts on Windows and OS X, but no news yet if Linux will be getting in on the fun.

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