Netflix on a Raspberry Pi is not as easy as it it sounds
Being new to the Open Source community and with Netflix recently launching in South Africa, I naively thought that streaming Netflix on a Pi would be a breeze. I tried running it on Raspbian OS, OpenELEC with Kodi, Chromium OS and even Raspbian with the Chromium browser installed. Nothing worked, which led me to to do some research on the topic and make a few interesting discoveries.
Why won’t it work?
It turns out that Netflix requires DRM (Digital Rights Management). Windows, Android or Mac operating systems don’t have this problem due to the fact that they have built in DRM licensing on your behalf.
In other words, Netflix doesn’t like open source software and, until recently, it has even been tricky to run Netflix on Linux operating systems. Luckily, in late 2015 Netflix partnered up with Linux developers and pushed out a stable solution for it to run natively on Google Chrome for Ubuntu.
If this sounds encouraging to Pi users, it really isn’t, seeing as a full version of Ubuntu and Google Chrome simply does not exist for the Raspberry Pi’s feisty, but small 1.2GHz ARM processor.
Pay for licensing
Using the awesome media streaming system called OpenELEC and by paying for a plug-in called PlayOn, for an annual or lifetime fee, you can get the necessary DRM licensing that will allow Netflix to stream on your Pi. There are two downsides to this method: Firstly, you’ll be paying for an extra subscription over and above your monthly Netflix fee; and secondly, the user interface for Netflix with this method is, frankly, terrible. Absolutely no meta data gets pulled through and you’re left with a bland Netflix menu with no pictures, previews, descriptions or ratings which are some of the reasons we love Netflix so much! Not worth the extra dollars.
If you’re still interested in this, check out the awesome guys from DIY Tryin chatting about OpenELEC with PlayOn.tv in this video:
Don’t get too excited, besides the fact that this probably goes against a whole list of terms and conditions and licensing agreements, this is an absolute headache of a method and has since been made obsolete due to updates. However, it used to be possible to run some sort of resemblance of Netflix by grabbing a specific file from a Google Chrome image, uploading it onto the the Raspberry Pi version of Chromium, adding a specific user agent string and setting up a user agent switcher. If you ever managed to get this far, you would have been able to load up Netflix and start streaming frustratingly choppy, low frame rate videos on the browser. Not worth the trouble even if you have a super fast internet connection!
For all you hackers out there, check out this video demonstrating the process on a Pi 2 (made by a South African!)
The solution is to wait.
In May 2016 it was announced that Google may be considering offering full Android support for Raspberry Pi which has gotten me more excited than I should probably admit. The implications of this is huge and it basically means that you would be able to convert your Pi into an Android TV with a world of Google Play Store Apps at your fingertips – Including Netflix…
In the meantime, it’s probably best to take advantage of all the other projects that can be attempted with this awesome little device!