Microsoft Announces Silverlight Streaming and More at MIX07

At its MIX07 developer and designer conference in Las Vegas today, Microsoft made several key announcements--including the availability of Silverlight 1.0 beta, the Silverlight 1.1 alpha, and Silverlight Streaming--as well as revealing more about the plugin’s architecture and features. And while the keynote featuring chief software architect Ray Ozzie and developer division manager Scott Guthrie was long on detailed discussions of .NET, dynamic language, and other developer-centric topics, the two-and-a-half hour presentation included demonstrations from CBS Television Stations,, and Netflix demonstrating just how powerful Silverlight is as a tool for delivering rich video experiences online.

After a brief video demo of Silverlight’s capabilities that elicited the kind of enthusiasm more commonly associated with Macworld, Ozzie gave a high-level overview of the developments and trends that pushed Microsoft to develop a cross-platform, cross-browser tool for delivering video and rich interactive applications. Too often, Ozzie said, technology is presented as an either/or proposition. "It’s not just web vs. PC, or PC vs. phone, or software vs. services, or consumer vs. IT," Ozzie said. "The best solutions are integrated solutions." Silverlight, he said, is an example of a technology that offers the best of both software and a services-based approach, and Microsoft announced that it is integrating the .NET framework into Silverlight.

Ozzie even went so far as to redefine "software as a service" (SAAS) as "software and a service." "Even SAAS providers have found the need to expand offerings to include an offline edition," he said. "SAAS 1 meant the web; SAAS 2 has come to embrace the unique value of the client as well."

Silverlight Streaming
So, in addition to the Silverlight plugin itself, which can be utilized with any web server, Microsoft is offering Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live, a cloud-based hosting and streaming solution for delivering both media assets and applications. Silverlight Streaming will host up to 4GB of video (with no single clip to exceed 10 minutes) or other content for free while still in beta; at the end of the beta program, developers can continue to host and stream content and apps using a free, ad-supported model, or can instead opt for an ad-free subscription services. Microsoft has not yet announced the terms of the subscription version of Silverlight Streaming.

Silverlight Streaming supports only VC-1 and other Windows Media formats, with a peak streaming bitrate of 700Kbps. As Microsoft makes clear in its Silverlight FAQ, the service is not designed to compete with commercial CDNs that offer much more robust delivery capabilities.

Expression Studio
Silverlight is also tightly integrated into Microsoft’s Expression Studio, which also shipped today. Wayne Smith, group product manager of Microsoft’s developer division, demonstrated how a developer or content publisher can take video from Expression Media Encoder into Expression Design, then combine it with interactive graphic elements in Expression Blend, and finally deploy it on a standards-based site using Expression Web.

The roundtripping capabilities between those apps (achieved by exporting into XAML, in most cases) were impressive, but it’s Expression Media Encoder that will likely capture most of the Streaming Media readership’s attention. The Encoder is a robust transcoding tool that also offers limited editing and modification capability using filters and overlays. But it’s most dazzling feature was its preview function.

"You don’t want to wait until the encode is finished to see how your video is going to look and all the things you’re going to lose when you degrade the quality," Smith said to more than a few audience cheers. And so he demonstrated the tool’s preview function, which allows users to look at a sample of the degraded video side-by-side (or top-to-bottom) with the original video by splitting the frame down or across the middle, with the original video on one side and the preview video on the other.

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