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So you want H.264 support in Silverlight?  So do we.  In fact we will be showing a preview of H.264 and AAC support in Silverlight at the International Broadcasting Conference (IBC) this week in Amsterdam.  Scott Guthrie comments on this saying:

At IBC 2008 we will be demonstrating a technology preview of H.264 video and Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) audio playback support in Silverlight, and H.264 authoring using Microsoft Expression Encoder and Windows Server 2008 for delivery. Until now, Silverlight has supported the SMPTE VC-1 and Windows Media formats, as well as MP3 for audio, enabling customers to take advantage of broad support across the Windows Media ecosystem, including third-party tools, service providers and content delivery networks.

We’ve always wanted Silverlight to support a variety of formats, so today we’re announcing that H.264 and AAC support will be available in a future version of Silverlight, which will offer content owners greater flexibility and choice to deliver video and audio.”

One thing that I didn’t know was that Microsoft has been an active member in the standardization of H.264.  Microsoft’s Gary Sullivan was the chairman of the Joint Video Team (JVT) which developed the H.264 standard.

This is exciting news for the future of Silverlight.  I hope that this is good news to the implementers of media and Silverlight.  You can find out more information about the IBC here and a full Q&A with ScottGu here which also gives some great information about the results of viewing at NBCOlympics.com and where other uses of Windows Media Server were implemented (CCTV for example).

UPDATE: To clarify, this support will be in a future version of Silverlight.


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There has been much a news about the use of Flash for Sunday NFL games on the NBC web site.  Some have claimed that NBC “dumped” Silverlight.  Whatever.  Anyone who thinks only one person at a company the size of NBC makes the decision does not understand corporate America in large companies.  NBC is a giant company of companies, probably each operating in their own right and left hands never talking to right hands.  That’s not to diminish the work for the NFL site, just a reality of business.

What is ironic about this implementation is that it proves that no technology is immune to business deals.  What do I mean?  Well, when the NBCOlympics.com site was introduced there were some critics of the actual implementation (not the quality, but the features).  People were upset about no full-screen as well as the inability to see the content outside the US from the NBC site.

Enter NFL on NBC.  Think Flash is immune and could “solve” that?  Think again.  Like most implementations of web applications, the NFL site developed for the lowest common denominator to meet their customers.  First, they target a 1024 screen resolution.  Second, no full-screen capability.  Third, users outside the US cannot view the content.

It is the latter two that I mean with regard to no technology immunity.  Why no full-screen?  Um, you think the advertisers want their ad space to disappear?  I bet not.  I’m pretty sure Spring paid good money to be visible the entire time.  One may be quick to point out overlays and such.  Quite frankly, I agree.  I’m not sure why developers don’t offer up the ability to do overlays on the media much like the experience that we see on regular television.  My guess here is that existing ad platforms are serving up content and the paradigm hasn’t shifted to in-media insertion just yet.  I know that Silverlight Streaming services is experimenting with contextual media advertising and I’m sure others are.  Until then, you won’t be seeing many full-screen applications unless the advertisers are in that full-screen experience…get used to it until this changes.  I bet NFL would have loved to have a full-screen experience.

On to the second one, non-US viewers.  They’ll be greeted with this:

NFL non-US image

Ironically, when the Olympics came out I saw many more “Microsoft you suck” for this more than “NBC you suck.”  So where is the “Adobe you suck” comments?  Anywhoo…you can “blame” nobody but NBC.  Welcome to the world of digital rights.  The broadcast rights for the NFL are probably sold regionally and NBC owns the rights to the US (I’m sure there are other countries licensing the rights to NFL online as well).  So for this particular experience provided by NBC US, they are honoring that license.  “Blame” is such a strong word.  I’m sure NBC and their advertisers would love to have as many eyeballs on the site as possible…but they are honoring their legal agreements.

So it just goes to show that no technology is immune to decisions made by business and as well in the world of media, decisions around content licensing.  Maybe we’ll come to a world of “open source content” but it isn’t there yet and implementers of technology will have to abide by these guidelines.

So my thoughts about the player?  Well, my first introduction was a note on Twitter and I went to check it out.  I was immediately placed into a “virtual waiting room” (with no virtual free drinks or appetizers mind you) with a message that said something to the effect of ‘due to overwhelming demand…’ and stayed at that state for a bit.  I eventually was placed in, but found it strange that they wouldn’t plan for “overwhelming demand.”  I’ve come now to realize that is the default message…hmm, I might consider changing that.

Once I did get in the quality of the game I was watching wasn’t great at all.  This was echoed by some on the Internet as well.  I experienced a very pixelated view that was choppy/buffering.  I didn’t get a chance to tune in tonight (07 SEP) to see the game online, but will compare this week.  In contrast, the recent Amazon implementation is much better quality.  I think the critical difference here is live versus pre-encoded where you have more time over the quality of the encode.  Some would say an outfit the size of NFL/NBC should have the highest quality hardware encoders available to them and that is no excuse, but I’m not privy to the equipment they are using.  For me, it wasn’t a great experience at all on the quality front.

Being that I have a soapbox on non-plugin-installed experiences, I checked that as well.  People give Silverlight a lot of crap for the default install badge that lazy developers don’t take the time to change (that’s right, I’m calling you out…fix your install experience).  I realize that Flash is pretty readily available on most machines, but I wanted to check the experience if I didn’t have Flash:

Nice.  Someone might want to take a look.  I assume the “Get Adobe Flash Player” is the default from some of the Flex tools.  For a site like NBC/NFL they should really put some design effort into this.  It tells me nothing about the content.  Say what you want about ubiquity, but it’s lazy.  And yes, if I see a production Microsoft site with the default “install Silverlight” badge, I’d call them out too – they’d be lazy as well.

I hope that over time, old media will meet new media and the online experience will continue to get better.  The Democratic National Convention proved that it is possible to deliver HD quality media live and scalable.  Here’s to hoping more online media gets that way.  I really liked last year watching next-day online episodes on ABC (it enabled me to keep in touch with LOST while traveling) in an HD-experience (that experience was powered by Move networks) and site like Hulu as well give us hope for increasingly better online media.  Now lets get those advertisers inline so we can get features we want as well without being imparied by old media rules/platforms.


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How does 2000+ machines sound?  Transforming a Saturday Night Live recording area into a live commentator section full of workstations and bloggers?  Scoble had a chance to sit down with Eric Schmidt from Microsoft to talk about some of the behind-the-scenes information about the NBCOlympics.com Silverlight experience.  Despite the video quality not being great, the information is very good.  I recently saw a few other partners involved in the NBCOlympics.com project talk about things and kept feeling like they were really missing a great opportunity to talk about one of the key aspects in the implementation.  Eric covers the basics as well as that key aspect…it’s a good video.  Take the 35 minutes to watch it.

I’ve seen a lot of comments on the interwebs both positive and negative about the NBCOlympics.com experience and decisions to choose Silverlight.  I’d like to applaud the NBC team myself as I think this is no small feat regardless of whatever technology was to be decided.  Thousands of hours of live and on-demand Olympic coverage streamed live and encoded for later on-demand instantly, then pushed to the US across the Pacific…add to that all the normal television and data being sent as well.  It’s a technological feat that all partners involved were brave to try.  And for Olympic fans in the US, it’s paying off. 

Angry that it isn’t available in non-US areas?  Well, welcome to media licensing :-).  This isn’t Microsoft’s fault or NBC’s fault or anyone’s ‘fault’ really – it’s economics of business…whether you think it is right or wrong…that’s what it is.  Blackouts happen all the time in sports…all major sports do it.  I hate it too, but it is a reality.  The IOC basically sells the rights to broadcast the Olympics.  Several companies have purchased these rights…NBC was one of them who did it for the US.

Because of the time difference in Beijing, I’ve been able to see some of the amazing finishes some of the teams have been having in medal rounds, not having to worry about setting up TiVo or anything.  Great work to NBC and their partners.

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I’ve had a couple things sitting in my inbox for a week or so and rather than call them out individually and take up your precious aggregation space, I’ll summarize them here.

3rd Party Silverlight Controls

Got a note from Valentin about the roadmap for the Telerik Silverlight controls.  As they’ve previously noted, they are planning a set of controls: Window, Menu, TreeView, TabControl, PanelBar, Cube, ComboBox, Upload, Calendar, DatePicker, NumericUpDown, MediaPlayer, Range Slider, ProgressBar, WrapPanel, DockPanel, UniformGridPanel.  Right now it looks like they are incorporating the feedback provided and doing some polish work like adding Blend tool support for skinning, etc.  They also announced a Grid and Carousel control for Silverlight as well.  I particularly thought their mention of working on something similar to their RadDock for Windows for Silverlight sounded particularly interesting.

Silverlight Sidebar Gadget Template

Microsoft has a program called Student Partners.  These are individuals still in higher education and have shown their enthusiasm toward Microsoft technologies.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting quite a few of these individuals and appreciate their energy around geekness.  Ioan Lazarciuc is one such Student Partner and took one of my previous samples of a Vista Sidebar Gadget Template for Visual Studio and Silverlight-ified it…enabling a template for creating Silverlight content-enabled Vista Sidebar Gadgets.

Ion’s got a great post about the work and the known issues that he still faces and had to get used to.  Go check it out and give some feedback on the work!

Deep Zoom and Mosaics

Creating Deep Zoom applications seem to be all the rage these days :-).  Another tool is making it more fun (and easier) to create some pretty cool visualizations with Deep Zoom and images.  The tool is Andrea Mosaic and is a tool to take a set of images and make a mosaic picture out of the images.  Then taking those mosaic collections and Doom Zoom-ifying them.  One hilarious implementation is the DeepLOL, using the various LOLCat phrases/images.  Take a look at what Rob Burke did (via Silverlight Streaming – hint: move your mouse and zoom in with the scroll wheel):

NBCOlympics.com

Of course you’ve probably heard of the Olympics on NBC.  The NBCOlympics.com by MSN site is serving over 3,600 hours of online content live and on-demand for your viewing pleasure.  If you install Silverlight you’ll get to enjoy the enhanced player experience that will deliver HD-quality content to your computer in the comfort of your own home.  I’m pretty excited to see some of the Olympics this year and will have to check out this experience for some of the live events.  I already like the HD experience I’ve seen so far…check it out!

That’s a few I had in my queue…more to come!

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With the Olympic ceremony only days away and being able to enjoy the Olympic experience online via Silverlight, why not get a little excited and play some casual games, Olympic style.  All of these were build using Silverlight and the Popfly game creator:

I played them and they are pretty fun and amazing what can be done using a non-programming tool for gaming and Silverlight!