Firefox 47 adds more support for video copy protection

Mozilla today released Firefox 47, which sports multiple under-the-hood changes, several to its ability to play video, and one user experience (UX) enhancement to the browser's synchronization service.

Users who sync Firefox on Windows and Linux PCs, Macs, and Android smartphones -- but not iOS-powered iPhones or iPads -- now see all open tabs on all devices in the sidebar of the desktop browser. Previously, synced tabs were shown in a separate frame, not the sidebar, which has primarily been for finding saved bookmarks.

The behind-the-scenes improvements were beefier than the change to the sync UX, however.

Tops on that list was support for Google's Widevine CDM (content decryption module) on Windows and OS X. Widevine CDM is a cross-OS platform for distributing and displaying copy-protected content, such as movies, in a browser via a plug-in. (Google acquired Widevine in 2010.)

Like Mozilla's 2015 decision to integrate an Adobe anti-piracy technology for playing protected media in Firefox, the support for Widevine runs counter to the open-source foundation's philosophy of an open web. But last year, Mozilla acknowledged the realities that a browser had to support CDM if it is to survive.

As with the Adobe CDM, Widevine offers a way to play locked-down content without having to rely on the Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight plug-ins, important to Mozilla and other browser makers like Google, which are abandoning the old NAAPI plug-in format. In particular, Widevine allows Firefox to play content using HTML5 from Amazon's video service, including its popular Prime, without having to call on Silverlight.

Firefox 47 also added support for playing YouTube video embedded in other pages without requiring Flash, and enabled the open-source, royalty-free VP9 video codec on systems with powerful multi-processors, such as Intel's Skylake and successor Kaby Lake, and some of Nvidia's GTX GPUs (graphics processor units). YouTube, for instance, relies on VP9 -- another Google creation and linked to its WebM video file format project -- to play video using HTML5.

Firefox is Mozilla's most important product, but the browser has fallen on hard times: In May, analytics firm Net Applications measured Firefox's user share at just 8.9%, its lowest level in 11 years.

Firefox 47 can be downloaded from Mozilla's website for Windows, Linux and Windows, or from Google Play for Android.

The first time Firefox calls up content protected by Google's Widevine CDM, the plug-in is automatically loaded and installed in the browser.

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