Silverlight: A week on

At NAB last week Microsoft announced Silverlight, a cross platfrom, cross browser plug-in for enabling rich media and rich interactive applications. Previously during it’s Community Technology Preview (CTP) Silverlight was known as “WPF/e”.

Looking back to the announcement at NAB I think we really achieved two things. Firstly it stuck a stake in the ground and said – “yes this is real, it is being released, here’s the story so far and here’s an impressive list of partners already commited to the platform.” (MLB, CBS, Brightcove, Universal Music Group, Akamai, BuyDRM, Limelight, Rhozet, Skinkers, Synccast, Telestream, Sonic Solutions, Verisign/Kontiki, Avid/Pinnacle, Eyeblaster, AvenueA | Razorfish, AKQA, Frog, Schematic, and Blitz) and secondly it raises the bar for the quality of video people should expect to recieve via the web.

The broader Silverlight story is going to be shared at the MIX conference in Las Vegas next week (check out the keynote at www.visitmix.com). This splitting of the announcement worked well as it allowed us to concentrate on the video side of Silverlight at NAB, which is what you’d expect for a broadcasting conference πŸ™‚

We focussed in on three areas: the fact that Silverlight provides the best quality video today via a browser (720p HD), the cost of deployment which is considerably lower than other video platforms, the superior tooling available for the windows media video eco-system, and finally when you read the notes carefully that Silverlight provides the usual Windows Media DRM protection if the content provider requests it. I guess that makes four areas πŸ˜‰

Of course it goes without saying that this all this runs on both Windows and the Mac, Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox.

The quality of the video is simply stunning. One of the demos from NAB uses the trailer for the upcoming Fantastic 4 movie, you can view the trailer here: http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/fantasticfourriseofthesilversurfer/hd/ . It contains all of the major culprits for tripping up your video codecs, smoke, fire, reflective surfaces, huge variances across the frame from dark to light, fast moving action scenes etc – everything you’d need to really test your system – and it played back flawlessly, both within the browser chrome and full screen. Video has never looked so good πŸ™‚

Not everyone will have the bandwidth needed to recieve HD video via the browser so how to deal with multiple bit rates, files sizes and video versions raises it’s head and that’s one of the areas where having great tooling comes into play. The Expression Suite includes Expression Media Encoder and Sean Alexander has a good post covering 10 typical questions asked about the product: http://www.seanalexander.com/2007/04/19/Top10QuestionsAboutExpressionMediaEncoder.aspx and while we’re considering the encoding of video it’s worth remembering that not only can WMV be encoded up to 15x faster using one of the available hardware accelerators such as the Tarari Accelerator board but this can easily be spread across a server farm.

Buried amongst the annoucements was news of a new media pack due for release for IIS7 which will allow bit rate throttling as well as active streaming (more on this in another post) and the latest version of Windows Server (Codename “Longhorn”) which has up to 2x the scalability in regards streaming when compared to Windows Server 2003, which is roughly 3x over the competition. Even the actual cost of streaming is lower to at around 50% of the total cost of other solutions.

So at first glance was seemed like a simple name change announcement provided quite a lot of meat on the video bone.


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