Netflix made a cameo appearance during Apple’s WWDC keynote Monday, with Apple SVP Craig Federighi telling the crowd that the company’s Safari browser is going to be able to play HD Netflix streams without the need to download any plugins in the newly-announced OS X Yosemite. That’s not only less complicated, but also saves up to two hours of battery life when run on a Macbook Air, according to Federighi.
This achievement has been been made possible because Apple has implemented the ability to play video protected with DRM, which Netflix is required to use due to its contracts with rights holders, in this new version of Safari.
Netflix engineers Anthony Park and Mark Watson explained on the company’s tech blog Tuesday that the playback relies on three emerging HTML5 video standards, dubbed the Media Source Extension, the Encrypted Media Extension and the Web Cryptography API. Previously, Netflix had to rely on Microsoft’s Silverlight to facilitate playback in the browser, which users had to download and occasionally update.
Apple isn’t alone in its move to ditch plug-ins and move even DRM-protected video playback to HTML5. Microsoft first started to experiment with plugin-free Netflix playback in IE 11 on Windows 8 last summer, and Google has adopted some of the HTML5 video extensions used by Netflix within Chrome, which has helped to facilitate Netflix playback on the company’s Chromebooks. However, Chrome still doesn’t offer the Web Cryptography API, which is why Netflix still uses a plugin on Chrome for some of it’s technology — it’s just not Silverlight.
The latest browser maker to move towards bringing HTML5 Netflix streaming to the browser is Mozilla, which decided last month to add DRM for HTML5 video to Firefox. In a blog post, Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker wrote that the decision wasn’t an easy one for the browser maker:
“We’ve contemplated not implementing the new iteration of DRM due to its flaws. But video is an important aspect of online life, and a browser that doesn’t enable video would itself be deeply flawed as a consumer product. Firefox users would need to use another browser every time they want to watch a controlled video, and that calls into question the usefulness of Firefox as a product.”
Some free software activists expressed disappointment over the decision, with blogger Cory Doctorow writing that he “could not be more heartsick” about it. However, principal opposition against DRM-protected HTML5 video doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of backing from actual users.
Case in point: Last summer, the Free Software Foundation called for a boycott of Netflix to protest DRM. Since then, Netflix gained roughly 12 million additional members.