Are you confused by the current state of support Linux users have for video streaming services? Are you curious why some services work in some browsers and not in others while some services don’t work at all? I was confused by this too so I decided to research this issue to find and share what the current state of video streaming services on Linux is.
Video streaming on Linux is currently a mess with some services supporting HTML5, others only supporting Flash and the rare oddball only supporting Silverlight. Despite this, it has actually been improved heavily and continues to improve every day. Just a couple years ago the landscape was vastly different, so I’m very excited because the future looks very promising.
DRM Complicates Media
DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a term that refers to various technologies designed to limit, complicate, the access of content. It is found on many different forms of software but is most commonly experienced with video and gaming. I don’t think DRM is going to ruin the world but it is undeniable that all issues with video streaming on Linux boil down to the insistence of DRM from copyright holders, and the companies that insist Linux isn’t a big enough platform to care about, like Adobe.
DRM is here to stay, for a while at least, but locking content down to specific platforms via DRM is bad for business when your aim is to get as many viewers as possible. The good news is that some companies such as YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, and others have realized this and are adjusting their services accordingly so they work great on Linux. In an ideal world, content would be available to anyone who wants it regardless of the platform.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that video streaming utopia, although we are making progress.
Adobe Continues to Fight Linux Users
Adobe continues the fight against Linux users that they started in Februrary 2012 when they abandoned Flash for Linux. Many video streaming services still hang on to Flash and due to Adobe discontinuing support for Linux it continues to be a thorn in our sides. Flash on Linux is locked at version 11.2 while Windows and OS X users are on version 19. Adobe, or their advocates, might argue that Google stepped up with PepperFlash and that solves the problem with Adobe’s abandonment but that approach but that doesn’t resolve the main issue.
Google’s PepperFlash addresses the issue and with plugins like Freshplayer, even Firefox users can use PepperFlash. But Google’s PepperFlash implementation doesn’t support DRM, leaving some services impossible to use. For years, HAL has been the Linux answer to DRM content using Flash but unfortuantely HAL doesn’t work with PepperFlash, due to the way the this is structured. This means that if a streaming service wants to support Linux using DRM and Flash then they are forced to not go beyond version 11.2.
Flash just needs to die, and soon; Flash is a now widely considered a failure, with weekly security issues. But Flash isn’t the only product Adobe has made that screws Linux users.
Adobe and Mozilla reached an agreement to allow Adobe to create the Adobe Primetime Content Decryption Module (CDM) to play DRM content via HTML5 video in Firefox. That sounds like a good thing doesn’t it? It sounds like they are accepting the failure of Flash and moving on but of course, there’s a catch. Adobe’s Primetime CDM doesn’t support Linux. Directly from Mozilla: “Currently, Adobe Primetime is only available in Windows Vista/7/8 and above when using 32-bit versions of Firefox.”
(Adobe’s Primetime CDM not supporting OS X isn’t an issue for Mac users because Adobe still supports Flash there.)
Netflix decided to end Silverlight’s Reign of Terror, thankfully, by switching over to HTML5 Video; they’re still using DRM via EME (Encrypted Media Extensions), but one step at a time, eh? Netflix on Linux used to be a pipe dream which is why workarounds like Pipelight were created (though they were still a pain to use for most). Now that Netflix has transitioned to the HTML5 video solution, Linux users now have an easy way to watch Netflix natively on Linux.
Netflix on Linux is now as simple and easy as just using Google Chrome, but unfortunately Firefox users, like myself, are still left out of the Netflix goodness thanks to Adobe’s CDM, which I mentioned earlier.
Quick Answer: Netflix works great on Linux via Google Chrome but does not work with Firefox or any other browser.
Hulu does not work in Linux out-of-the-box but it can be made to work thanks to the efforts of the Ubuntu MATE Founder, Martin Wimpress, who packaged a PPA that adds HAL support to your computer for the purpose of fixing DRM Flash services. Once you add the PPA and install the HAL package, you will have access to Hulu.
I mentioned earlier that HAL does not work with PepperFlash so if you are a Google Chrome user then unfortunately this HAL fix will not work for you, only Firefox is able to utilize this solution.
Quick Answer: Hulu works on Linux after you install the HAL + Flash Fix but only for Firefox; Google Chrome’s PepperFlash doesn’t support HAL, and thus doesn’t support Hulu.
Amazon Instant Video
Amazon Instant Video has recently changed for the better in some cases but also for the worse in another. Ir previously supported Firefox with the HAL + Flash Fix but at the time of writing Amazon has transitioned to HTML5 Video, so right now their implementation only works in Google Chrome. Another caveat to the new service implementation is that the HTML5 streaming in Google Chrome doesn’t support HD content, it shows an HD icon on the player but they aren’t HD streams.
Amazon used to offer the Flash based service to Firefox users and while using the HAL + Flash Fix you could get HD content streams via Firefox. Unfortunately, that support seems to be gone so until Adobe stops fighting Linux, Firefox is no longer an option for Amazon Instant Video.
Quick Answer: Amazon Instant Video works out of the box via Google Chrome but doesn’t have HD content. Flash support has been deprecated so Firefox users are left out.
Anime fans will be happy to know that Crunchyroll supports Linux via the HAL + Flash Fix described above.
Quick Answer: Crunchyroll is supported on Linux via Firefox with the HAL + Flash Fix but does not work with Google Chrome.
NBA League Pass
NBA League Pass is a streaming service provided by NBA.com streaming games live or pre-recorded. NBA League Pass enforces game blackouts so if your team is blacked out then the League Pass may not be worth it. NBA League Pass utilizes Flash to play content, including the 4 games simultaneous streaming. NBA’s streaming service just requires a recent version of Flash which Google Chrome provides via PepperFlash so NBA fans will be able to enjoy many games on Linux. Google Chrome has out of the box support for PepperFlash but Firefox also works thanks to the Freshplayerplugin.
Once you have the Freshplayerplugin installed, Firefox will be able to use PepperFlash and be able to use the NBA League Pass.
Quick Answer: The NBA League Pass is available on Linux with Google Chrome and Firefox, via PepperFlash and the Freshplayerplugin respectively.
Crackle is an example of how Adobe has screwed over Linux users via Flash abandonment. Crackle actually made a fairly understandable decision to increase the minimum requirement of Flash for their services admist the Flash zero-day debacle. Unfortunately though, Crackle’s new minimum requirement is now higher than what we have on Linux.
Quick Answer: Crackle doesn’t work and unfortunately for us Linux users, there aren’t any solutions that I could find to make it work.
Linux Users Across the Pond (UK)
I am not able to test personally as I’m outside of the UK but I have had others test for me. BBC iPlayer supports HTML5 video so it works via Google Chrome out of the box but requires EME so no support for Firefox. Channel4 works with the HAL + Flash Fix but doesn’t work in Google Chrome. ITV Player and TVCatchup work in both Google Chrome and Firefox with the HAL + Flash Fix. Channel 5 (Demand 5) & Acorn TV have the “Crackle Problem” in that the minimum requirement for Flash plus DRM makes it not possible to play on Linux.
If you have any information for other services please let us know in the comments below.
Video Streaming Services on Linux Are a Mess
It may seem that the state of Video Streaming Services on Linux is a mess, well that’s because it is. The good news is that we are making a lot of progress in this space thanks to effort from Netflix, Amazon, BBC, & etc in transitioning to the superior solution of HTML5. In the meantime, I’d also like to thank Martin Wimpress of Ubuntu MATE for providing the HAL + Flash Fix that makes all of the Flash based services continue to work on Linux.
What do you think of the current state of video streaming on Linux? Are you an optimist, like me, looking forward to the future? Let us know in the comments below.