LoveFilm, the European disc rental and video streaming service now wholly owned by Amazon, is launching on Microsoft XBox Live in the United Kingdom. Coincidentally, perhaps, LoveFilm has also announced that it is switching from Adobe Flash to Microsoft Silverlight for users viewing on the web through personal computer platforms. The company claims Silverlight is more secure. However, the future of Silverlight seems far from clear. The long-term future of streaming video may be MPEG DASH.
Paul Thompson, who manages streaming projects at LoveFilm, says they have been asked to make the change by movie studios, which see Silverlight as more secure than Flash. “Simply put: without meeting their requirements, we’d suddenly have next-to-no films to stream online,” he wrote.
The change does not affect other devices, such as the Apple iPad, Sony PS3 or internet-enabled televisions. It only applies to Windows and Mac computers. Those with older Macs without Intel processors, or computers using Linux or Unix operating systems will no longer be supported.
Although HTML 5 was considered, LoveFilm says “there are simply no security protections available within HTML 5 that would allow us to stream content securely.” Which is true, as it stands.
The announcement provoked predictably caustic comments on the LoveFilm web site. Some questioned the assumption that Silverlight is any more secure than Flash. Some asked how they planned to support Android devices, or noted that many connected televisions run embedded versions of Linux. Others noted that LoveFilm sends out DVDs in the mail, which can be easily copied in any case, or argued that digital rights management schemes are ultimately futile.
Coincidentally, or not, LoveFilm is launching on Microsoft Xbox 360, having previously been available on the Sony PS3. Simon Calver, the chief executive of LoveFilm, said: “Launching LoveFilm Instant on Xbox 360 and Kinect means bringing the service to a million more living rooms — a huge achievement”.
With a Microsoft Kinect controller, Xbox Live users will be able to control LoveFilm using voice commands or gestures, which will apparently enhance the movie-viewing experience.
Ironically, having created Silverlight as an alternative to Flash, Microsoft is reported to be winding down its development, or at least rolling the technology into future versions of its operating system.
The new Metro interface for Microsoft Windows 8 is based on Windows Runtime, or WinRT, which has some similarities with Silverlight, and will be used across mobile and touchscreen devices. The Metro version of the IE 10 browser will not support plugins, such as Silverlight or Flash, leading developers towards either HTML5 or native Windows apps. It seems that Microsoft is now almost as keen as Apple to reduce the dominance of Adobe Flash in online video.
LoveFilm is simply following the lead of Netflix, its successful American counterpart, which is due to launch in the United Kingdom in 2012. Netflix was an early adopter of Silverlight. Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix has been on the Microsoft board since 2007.
However, we understand that Netflix is still looking at other options. Netflix is a proponent of the use of HTML5 and has been actively participating in the development of MPEG DASH, or Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP, which will allow the integration of various digital rights management technologies.
The DECE UltraViolet initiative that is backed by most of the major movie studios is also backing a similar approach.
Meanwhile, the LoveFilm decision appears to be commercial, pragmatic and political, rather than technical.
We can live in hope that one day it will be possible to use a standard compression scheme and container format that will transparently interoperate with a wide range of digital rights management technologies and be supported within a standards based HTML5 environment. One day.