Every time that I install a new distro, I have to jump through a few hoops in order to play videos from Netflix in Firefox. Since I just did this for the seventh time yesterday, I decided to record the proper steps for my own future reference.
These steps work on the latest version of Pop!_OS (18.04), and probably also for Ubuntu (18.04).
First, navigate to Netflix in your browser. Sign in to your account, and try to play something. A yellow banner should appear at the top of the page indicating that Netflix requires “DRM” to be enabled in order to play videos.
DRM is a controversial topic. Before you decide to enable it, do some research on what it is, what it means for you as a consumer, and how it impacts your machine.
If you’re okay with DRM, go ahead and enable it in Firefox. This will download the Widevine plugin that allows Firefox to decrypt Netflix’s videos.
If you try to play a video now, it will appear to load the video and then fail with an error about how the “Netflix player” is unavailable. This one is harder to diagnose, but essentially means that your computer is able to decrypt the video, but doesn’t understand how to play the decrypted contents because it’s not an open format. The Netflix videos appear to be
.mp4 media files, and that container format and its codecs are encumbered with patents and licensing concerns that prevent them from being installed by default on most Linux distributions.
To install them anyway, you can run:
$ sudo apt install ubuntu-restricted-extras
This will install a suite of different media codecs with restrictive licenses. For some reason, a dependency of this package is some fonts owned by Microsoft, so the installation will force you to agree to those license terms explicitly.
Once you have this package, Netflix should be able to play properly.
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