Netflix, HTML5, Linux and What Else Made Me Sign-Up

There we go, I signed up to Netflix after being on the lookout for years for a video on demand service that would fit my needs! Here's the story:

A video on demand service has to run on Linux for me because that's my OS of choice for all my computers at home. This, together with a 4 year old media center PC, disqualified all VoD services so far because all of them either require the Adobe Flash player plugin or, even worse, Microsoft's Silverlight. I tried Amazon's video service for a while but the Linux version of the Adobe Flash player sooner or later crashes during video playback. I also tried the Linux wrapper for Silverlight, which seems to work fine on newer PCs. On my 4 year old media center PC, however, I never got a smooth video playback that way.

And then Netflix came around the corner with HTML5 video playback support. Unfortunately, but hardly surprising, it uses an HTML5 extension to play back DRM protected media. Yes, I know that's evil from an open source point of view and Mozilla has rejected to put it into their browser so far. On the other hand, however, Google has decided to support this extension in their Chrome browser. I'm about as far away from liking Chrome than being a Microsoft or Adobe fan boy but I can live with a Chrome installation on my Linux system for a specific purpose while continuing to use Firefox for everything but Netflix.

Up until last week a tweak was required to make Netflix use Chrome on Linux, i.e. the user agent needed to be tweaked. I was tempted to install the plugin for the purpose but didn't come around to it before Netflix announced that they now support Chrome on Linux as well now. Having heard that I signed up immediately to give it a try and the video is as smooth on my somewhat older machine than as I could ask for. Well done!

And the second issue I've had with most VoD services, in particular the ones offered by German companies, is that their support of the original English audio of the content is minimal at best. Not so with Netflix, everything I've watched so far has English audio.

So as you can imagine, I was busy over the weekend to check things out. Netflix says on the configuration settings page that full-HD video streaming requires a  bandwidth of up to 6.5 Mbit/s. In practice I've observed that the content I've watched was streamed at around 3.5 Mbit/s or around 1.5 GB per hour on the PC and around 1.5 Mbit/s or around 650 MB per hour via the Netflix App on my smartphone. Let's see how long Netflix can keep me entertained and what kind of impact that will have on my monthly data consumption over my VDSL line at home. So far, my monthly usage has been around 35 GB which already includes a fair amount of audio and video streaming.

And the closing thought for today: Netflix also seems to offer some content in 4k resolution. No I don't have a screen for such high resolution content but I'm mentioning this because of the staggering bandwidth required for that resolution. On the settings page, Netflix says that 4k video requires up to 7.5 GB per hour, i.e. the video streams at over 16 Mbit/s. Now double that for two screens in the household… And now assume two times 2 hours consumption a day which would result in a monthly data usage for Netflix alone of 900 GB. Yes, I know, that's not going to be tomorrow and not for everyone but it shows were we are headed.