Ahead of Hemlock Grove debut Friday, Netflix sounds the death knell for Silverlight

17 Apr 2013

As Netflix gears up for the worldwide debut of Eli Roth’s Hemlock Grove on Friday, the video-streaming platform is working towards a shift away from Microsoft’s Silverlight in favour of HTML5 extensions.

Based on a novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy, Hemlock Grove is a murder mystery unfolding across hour-long episodes, the first of which is directed by master of horror Eli Roth. Roth is also an executive producer on the series, as is McGreevy.

All 13 episodes of Hemlock Grove will be available to Netflix viewers across all markets this Friday, 19 April. Starring Famke Janssen and Bill Skarsgård, the series is made for the mature audience and certainly not for the faint of heart, promising plenty of sex, blood and terror – just what you’d expect from the director of Hostel and Cabin Fever.


Moving away from Silverlight

As well as working hard on developing original content such as Hemlock Grove, House of Cards and a new series of Arrested Development, Netflix is also preparing for a shift away from Microsoft’s Silverlight media player plug-in towards HTML5 extensions.

Currently, Netflix relies on Silverlight for in-browser video streaming on Mac and Windows computers, but a number of issues mean this method is not viable in the long term. Firstly, there’s the fact that plug-ins are becoming increasingly unpopular in the browser ecosystem. Some browsers don’t support plug-ins at all, while others restrict them for security reasons, making installation of Silverlight and playback on Netflix far less seamless than the process ought to be.

On top of this, there are signs that Microsoft has stopped development on Silverlight. Silverlight 5, which was released in 2011, will be supported up to 2021, according to Microsoft Support, but putting a time limit on the technology doesn’t inspire Netflix’s confidence in the plug-in, particularly when there has been no indication of a sixth edition from Microsoft.

Instead, Netflix is planning to switch to three HTML5 extensions for in-browser video streaming. “Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plug-ins, such as Silverlight,” explained director of engineering Anthony Park and director of streaming standards Mark Watson on The Netflix Tech Blog.

These HTML5 Premium Video Extensions will first be implemented in Chrome OS, followed by Windows and OS X.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.