First Look: Microsoft IIS Media Services 4

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For media files, Bit Rate Throttling detects the bit rate for common media formats, sends down a fast-start burst of progressive download content and then settles down to a delivery rate just above the encoded bit rate, meaning that the start is successful and the on-going delivery is within a set range. For other file types, the constrained bandwidth is maintained throughout the download process.

Live Smooth Streaming Publishing Points, the second option, is the one we'll choose for the live streaming, so I'll come back to that after covering the final two options.

Smooth Streaming Presentations is designed for encoding and delivering screencasts. While Microsoft has not pushed this as a feature-it's hard to even find information online about the presentations option-the company is beginning to push this as a way to do multiple-bitrate versions of screen capture that it hopes will provide a definitive answer to entrenched products like Camtasia, which only record in one bitrate.

Web Playlists, the final option, is a URL obfuscation option. To prevent deep-linking directly to content, Web Playlists bridges the gap between blocking mining of client-side playlists, while also eliminating the need for a traditional streaming server for server-side playlists. After all, with the power of IIS Media Services 4, the trend is away from traditional streaming servers in most instances, so Web Playlists brings the best of server-side playlists to traditional web HTTP delivery. In addition to preventing deep-linking, Web Playlists can be used to enforce policies around skip and seek (the "trick modes") and even ad consumption for ad-based revenue models.

For more sophisticated playlist management, Web Playlists also allow creations of two playlists for the same content: one playlist with ads for non-paying viewers and another ad-free playlist for paying customers. This feature can use IIS Manager's User Interface feature, or even custom programming, to create and manage static and dynamic playlists.

While the default output is a familiar .ASX file extension, Web Playlists can be used with any format, including H.264 video content.

What about additional content protection? EE 4 Pro and IIS Media Services 4 are both PlayReady aware, and this digital rights management (DRM) scheme can be added to most content with a single checkbox click. The only limitation at this point is the Pantos specification content delivered to iOS devices, but even this may change in short order.

So, after going through the four options, let's come back to the step-by-step process to get to Live Smooth Streaming.

Once we choose the Live Smooth Streaming Publishing Point option, we need to be sure to check off Push, as push is the the only way to deliver Live Smooth Streaming from EE 4 Pro.

"Live Smooth Streaming in Expression Encoder 4 only supports Push mode on a publishing point," says Microsoft's Jamie Lang. "This means that Encoder will push content to the IIS server (as opposed to Pull mode, where the IIS server will pull video from a support encoder). It is important to make sure that all publishing points you create that you wish to use with Expression Encoder 4 have the Push option selected under the Live source type combo box."

Once the particular publishing point is chosen, I also did a browser confirmation to the particular IP address on which IIS 7 and IIS Media Services 4 resided, to confirm that I could see the IIS 7 splash page prior to going through the process of creating a web page that housed the manifest file.

After confirming through a browser on an iPhone that I could see the particular IP address of the publishing point, the next step was to create a web page.

Once the web page was created, the final step was to click the encode start button.

Over the course of an afternoon, I performed tests viewing content on an iPhone and an iPad, both on a Wi-Fi network, as well as attempts to view on Internet Explorer 9. All of these tests worked as advertised, as did tests to a Silverlight player, meaning that the same content was playing back on Apple and Microsoft products fairly seamlessly.

To push the envelope, I tried to view the Pantos-spec iOS streams via Mac OS X's QuickTime Player. Here I ran into a few problems. The direct manifest file, whether an m3u8 or PublishPoint.isml/manifest(format=m3u8-appl) file, resolved to QuickTimePlayer X on a Mac, but the attempt to view the same content by typing the URL with a .html or .htm extension directly into the URL line in QuickTime Player X generated an odd response: a 20-30 second playback of the HTML code in two-three line segments. This appears to be an Apple issue, as QuickTime Player X is a bit behind the iOS version in terms of content awareness of manifest files and may not be fully compliant to the ever-changing Pantos specification draft.

But Wait, There's More
Rounding out the stack of IIS Media Services 4 are three other services I'll touch briefly on: Smooth Multicast, Advanced Logging and Transform Manager.

While Smooth Multicast won't be part of IIS Media Services 4, it may be part of IIS Media Services 4.5. I can attest to seeing it work, not just in a lab environment, but also in a production environment: The IIS Media Services team used Smooth Multicast for the first time across the Microsoft campus while I was on-site, multicasting the annual employee meeting to those employees who chose not to brave the cold of Safeco field on a nippy September day.

IIS Advanced Logging is a step beyond traditional logging, and is a key feature for Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) or others who engage in billing models based on content consumption.

"Logging is a huge differentiator for monetization and analysis of video content," said IIS program manager Chris Knowlton. "It provides video delivery ROI statistics for enterprises, allows CDN customers to charge end users for bytes consumed, and gives producers real-time feedback on whether content is being consumed completely or ending abruptly-either by user choice or based on an issue with particular content."

Advanced logging can be used for progressive download content, traditional streaming and even for Smooth Streaming content.  IIS 7 provides server-side logs and a logging infrastructure, via a central logging server. Silverlight delivers client-side logs to IIS 7, meaning that customers need not do anything for Silverlight-based content playback to be tracked.

Transform Manager is the newest, and perhaps most intriguing service, short of Live Smooth Streaming. Think of Transform Manager as a server-side transcoding solution that accesses a number of existing transcoding solutions in to an opaque workflow.

When a file is imported in to EE 4 Pro for transcoding, the system automatically analyzes and indexes the file, and reflects this indexing in the "status" location on the media content tab. In order to eliminate the need to open EE 4 Pro to perform transcoding and indexing, though, Transform Manager can do this work behind the scenes via a series of watch folders and profiles. 

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