Amazon Instant Video uses the Flash plug-in, so you might imagine that it would “just work” with Flash on Linux. You’d be wrong, but you can get Amazon Instant Video to work with minimal tweaking.
For the purposes of this article, we used the latest version of Firefox on Ubuntu 14.04. These tricks will also work in other browsers, but not Chrome — Chrome users should use Firefox for this instead.
Update: Amazon’s Instant Video now offers an HTML5 player. It only works with Google Chrome on Linux–not Firefox. Use Google Chrome on Linux and Amazon Instant Video should just work, according to Amazon.
Watch Amazon Instant Video in Firefox
The problem here is with the Flash plug-in itself, which is compiled against an older version of the HAL library. Flash for Linux is no longer being actively updated, but Amazon Instant Video can still be made to work in it.
However, the below trick doesn’t seem to work in Chrome or another browser that uses the Pepper-based Flash plug-in. You’ll just see a black screen when the video tries to play.
Frist, you’ll need to install the Adobe Flash browser plug-in if you haven’t already. Linux distributions don’t typically install this by default. On Ubuntu, click the Ubuntu Software Center icon on the dock, search for “Flash,” and install the Adobe Flash plug-in package.
If you restart your web browser and head back to the Amazon Instant Video page, the video will appear to start playing before you see the message, “An error occurred and your player could not be updated. This is likely because your Flash player or Browser needs to be updated. This update is required to play back this video.”
What’s actually happening here is that the Flash player requires an old version of HAL — now deprecated in favor of the modern udev system — for DRM purposes.
Ubuntu user Michael Blennerhassett hosts a “Zombie HAL” PPA that provides a version of HAL that will install cleanly on modern versions of Ubuntu for just this reason. If you’re using another Linux distribution, you’ll need to hunt down an appropriate version of HAL for your distribution of choice.
To install it, open a Terminal window — click the Ubuntu icon on the Dash, type Terminal, and press Enter — and run the following commands:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mjblenner/ppa-hal
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install hal
Restart your browser after this and head back to the Amazon Instant Video page. The video should now load and play normally in Amazon Instant Video’s Flash-based player.
Unfortunately, this won’t make the videos work in Google Chrome or another browser with the Pepper-based Flash plug-in. The player will remain black.
Get Higher-Quality Videos With the Silverlight Player
Amazon actually recommends using their Silverlight-based player instead of the Flash-based one. As their official help page says, “We recommend using the Silverlight player to watch Amazon Instant Video, as it has been optimized to work with our service and typically provides the best playback experience.”
Microsoft doesn’t support the Silverlight browser plug-in on Linux, and that’s a long and controversial story. However, you can use the “Pipelight” software to run the Windows Silverlight plug-in on a web browser on Linux — this makes use of the Wine Windows compatibility layer in the background. Before Netflix switched to native HTML5 video on Linux, this was a popular solution for Netflix users and could still be a good option for Amazon Instant VIdeo users.
This won’t work in Google Chrome either, as Google Chrome no longer supports NPAPI plug-ins.
Pipelight is fairly easy to install — it will even do the hard work of downloading SIlverlight and installing it in the background for you. All you need to do is open a Terminal and run the following commands in order:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pipelight/stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install pipelight
sudo pipelight-plugin –update
sudo pipelight-plugin –enable silverlight
The next time you open your browser, Pipelight will automatically download and install Silverlight in the background, allowing you to access Silverlight video content on the web.
Before you continue, visit the amazon.com/video/settings page and ensure your account is set to prefer Microsoft Silverlight instead of Flash.
Amazon still won’t serve your Linux browser the Silverlight content, however. It knows you’re using Linux, so it sends you the Flash plug-in content. To get the Silverlight plug-in, you’ll need to modify your web browser’s user agent. This will trick Amazon into thinking you’re using Windows instead of Linux, so they’ll send you the Silverlight player instead of the Flash one.
Assuming you’re using Firefox, you’ll want to install the User Agent Switcher add-on. Click the icon on the toolbar after installing it and select a Windows web browser. A defeault “Internet Explorer” option should work, but something like Firefox on Windows 7 might be preferable. (You’ll probably want to deactivate this option when you’re not using Amazon Instant Video so websites will work properly.)
You can now head to an Amazon Instant Video page and it should serve you the Silverlight content while you have the Windows user agent enabled. Everything should work normally, with WIne being used in the background to run the Silverlight plug-in. However, the Silverlight plugin’s output is “piped” to a native plug-in in your web browser, which means Wine shouldn’t slow down the actual video playback. Many people have reported it works “almost perfectly.”
Amazon should just switch to HTML5 video, like Netflix has! Then these problems will be solved and videos will just playing modern web browsers without any plug-ins required. In the long term, that’s the real solution
For now, these solution should also work with other websites that use old DRM-protected Flash players or Silverlight video players.