It's been discussed for a while, but the time is now - Netflix has just announced Silverlight 2 will power their streaming video service, which had been Windows-only until now. Silverlight 2 adds support for PlayReady DRM, so we now have the same DRM support on Mac and Windows. The service will be available on Xbox 360 as well.
You have to be a Netflix subscriber of course, but the content is commercial-free and much higher quality than the various free video services. They encode up to a full 720x480, in proper 4:3 or 16:9, at a range of bitrates. The higher rates definitely outperform standard def cable and satellite in video quality.
Lots of good stuff in the press release, but I had a couple of things I wanted to call out (bolding mine).
Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX), the world's largest online movie rental service, today announced it has begun the deployment of Microsoft Silverlight to enhance the instant watching component of the Netflix service and to allow subscribers for the first time to watch movies and TV episodes instantly on their Intel-based Apple Macintosh computers. The deployment, which will initially touch a small percentage of new Netflix subscribers, is the first step in an anticipated roll-out of the new platform to all Netflix subscribers by the end of the year.
Note that this won’t be immediately available to all customers.
Silverlight is designed for delivery of cross-platform, cross-browser media experiences inside a Web browser. It is expected that Netflix members who watch movies and TV episodes instantly on their computers will enjoy a faster, easier connection and a more robust viewing experience with Silverlight, due to the quality built directly into the player. Among the viewing enhancements with the new player is a breakthrough in timeline navigation that vastly improves the use of fast-forwarding and rewinding. The new Netflix player takes advantage of PlayReady DRM, which is built into Silverlight, for the playback of protected content on both Windows-based PCs and on Macs. That had not been possible with previous generation technologies.
This is one of the first big rollouts of PlayReady with Silverlight in the USA. When you see the new navigation, it’s a real testament to the difference between a media player plugin like the WMP OCX, and a rich application runtime that plays media well like Silverlight.
The rich user experience support and DRM, what else does Silverlight bring to the equation? One big thing is that PlayReady DRM supports http delivery of pre-encrypted content, unlike other platforms that require a proprietary streaming server and protocol be used to deliver protected content, applying DRM on the fly. Pre-encrypted content is both more scalable (since the encryption processing is only done once, not per user), and more secure (since an in-the-clear media file doesn’t need to be transmitted and stored on the server).
There’s been two big technical challenges in web video for the last dozen years or so.
- How do we deliver the best experience to each user, in a world of variable bandwidth and hardware power
- How do we deliver that experience as cost effectively as possible, enabling new business models in video distribution.
We’re at the point now where a user with a fast connection and a decent computer should have a darn good video and audio experience. Netflix is a testament to what’s possible as the cost to deliver a MB of video gets low enough, from a business perspective. While finally delivering a user experience better than VideoCD.