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Netflix: Silverlight 3 could help with glitches

Online video rental giant says the next version of Silverlight should work better on slower machines that have had some trouble streaming videos.

Netflix said on Wednesday that the next version of Silverlight shows some promise in helping ease recent issues that some users have had while trying to stream videos on lower-end computers.

"There are test configurations in our lab where we are seeing an improvement," said Kevin McEntee, vice president of Web development for Netflix. McEntee told CNET News that the company went out and bought computers such as an Asus Netbook that users had said were causing problems. In some cases, the low-end machines weren't able to keep up with the video and were dropping frames, McEntee said.

The next version of Silverlight holds promise, McEntee said, by allowing the load to be shared by the graphics and main processors, whereas the current version puts all the strain on the CPU.

"There was a significant improvement using Silverlight 3," McEntee said. "We think we can run on a wide range of lower-end machines that we don't run (well) on today."

However, those experiencing problems will have to wait a bit. Silverlight 3 just entered beta, with a final release not expected until sometime before the end of the year. A Silverlight 3-based Netflix player would come sometime after that, he said.

"I don't anticipate we would do it until Silverlight 3 is released as a final (version)," he said.

McEntee said that Netflix originally planned to use Silverlight only to create a Mac version of its streaming player, but decided to shift entirely to Silverlight because it lets them offer a single player that works on multiple platforms and on multiple browsers.

The biggest downside, he said, is that many people still don't have Silverlight, meaning customers have to download the program before they can watch their first movie.

"We're waiting for Silverlight to have more and more penetration," McEntee said. "We would love to be able to have (customers) push the blue play button and it just plays."

For now, Netflix is focused on offering streaming video for the PC and television rather than actively working on an option that would also get the content onto cell phones and iPods.

"We don't have any imminent plans for phones or iPods or anything with a smaller screen," said company spokesman Steve Swasey. "At some point--and we haven't said when--we would be interested in getting into other devices."

Microsoft has had a mixed track record with big-name customers for Silverlight. NBC used Silverlight to offer on-demand and live video from the Beijing Olympics. On Wednesday, NBC's Perkins Miller announced at Mix that the network would also be using Microsoft's technology for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver.

Major League Baseball, meanwhile, recently said it was dropping Silverlight for its video service and going with Adobe's Flash.