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NAB Day 1: Smooth Streaming released, Partners, 1080p in SL3, new VC-1

So, it's the end of Monday here in Las Vegas, and I've already got Thursday voice. I wish I could explain with a great Vegas story involving cigars and bourbon, but it's actually a nasty virus from my three year old that's been hammering me for a couple of weeks. So I'm skipping the Akamai shindig to rest my voice and get some blogging done.

There's lots of big news from Microsoft and our partners around Silverlight that I wanted to link to. This is just the highlights - there's tons more in the press release: "Microsoft Smooth Streaming Provides True High-Definition Video Delivery." The Silverlight Team Blog has a more nerd-friendly take as well.

So, highlights so far?

Smooth Streaming is released!
The release-to-world out-of-beta version of the IIS7 module for on-demand. Smooth Streaming is now available for download. Live Smooth Streaming remains in beta, with release planned for later this year.

Broad CDN support
And with the full release of the server, we have a bunch more CDNs joining Akamai with Smooth Streaming support. Today we have announcements from
Needless to say, those five added to Akamai are a very broad swath of the CDN industry.

Compression Tool Vendor support
We've also got a bunch more support announcements from encoding tool vendors for both live and on-demand Smooth Streaming, including:

Which is a huge swath of the professional compression tools market.

DRM service provider support
And we've had a bunch of support for Silverlight DRM powered by PlayReady from DRM service providers. Since Silverlight encryption is applied during content creation, not during content distribution, using DRM has no real impact on the server side; access to a DRM license server to provide licenses to the Silverlight client is the only big difference from a service perspective.

I haven't had a chance to drop by everyone's booth yet, but will be highlighting some of their demos and cool announcements throughout the week when I find out which of the many projects we've been collaborating on are public now.

Silverlight 3: we're 1080p24
So, we had that whole HD on the web discussion a few weeks ago which spun out into many threads on different forums. A few die-hards said that only 720p60 and 1080p24 should count as full HD, based on the original ATSC definition.

It'll keep on being discussed, but that won't keep anyone from calling Silverlight HD, because we've now got 1080p24 working in Silverlight 3. This represents a huge amount of media playback tuning and testing by the Silverlight team, and it's really paid off. Much of the improvements have been since the public Silverlight 3 beta, so those not at NAB will have to take my word for it for the moment, but we're showing off:

  • 1920x1080p24 VC-1 at 6 Mbps
  • On a Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz system
  • With smooth playback at any size using GPU scaling

And it is glorious.

On the same system we're also showing off H.264 720p24 2.5 Mbps with similarly smooth playback.

While those specs are obviously beyond what many home PCs can do due to screen size or network speed, with Smooth Streaming we can offer that as the highest-end experience while offering further bitrate bands as low as required.

And of course, optimization that enables 1080p on the high end makes 480p work on lower-end machines than Silverlight 2 could support, due to both media pipeline improvemetnts and offloading scaling and compositing to the GPU. The gains on single-core machines are particularly notable; we've got a quite nice Smooth Streaming experience even on NetBooks now.

The public release of Silverlight 3 will be later this year.

New Smooth-Streaming VC-1 implementation
We're working with the encoder tool vendors to integrate a new VC-1 implementation that's specifically tuned for Smooth Streaming. You may recall Expression Encoder's  Smooth Streaming mode uses the VC-1 Encoder SDK in 1-pass CBR mode with a fixed GOP size. While that certainly can produce good video that's Smooth Streaming compliant, in the end that's really the kind of settings used for live broadcasting. With on-demand content, we can do an analysis pass to figure out a variety of better ways to optimize the bitrate. In particular, we can dramatically reduce the incidence of frames compressed to the point where visible blocky artifacts appear.

What it does are awesome in so many ways that it makes my compression nerd soul twinkle with delight. But those details will have to wait for a long and Excel-chart laden blog post of its own.

In the interim, let me offer you a sample encoded in a not-quite-final version of what we're doing here. This is our favorite Big Buck Bunny content, encoded to these specs

  • 1080p24 4 Mbps video with a 5 second buffer
  • Smooth Streaming compatible VC-1 and WMA 10 Pro
  • In a WMV wrapper, so you can play it in WMP

This is what the top end Smooth Streaming bitrate can look like once Silverlight 3 is released later this year. And as mentioned above, we're now doing 6 Mbps on a Core 2 Duo, we've got some further headroom for more challenging content.

Here's the file (hosted by Silverlight Streaming):
http://silverlight.services.live.com/31260/Big%20Buck%20Bunny%201080p24%204%20Mbps%20Smooth%20Streaming/video.wmv

Remember, Windows Media Player can Save As progressive download content without DRM if you want to make a local copy.

If you're here at NAB, Inlet is showing off the new VC-1 implementation as implemented in their Armada product, with a bunch of other output samples. Check it out.

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  • phil77phil77

    Sonds all great, but when will the New Smooth-Streaming VC-1 implementation goodness become available for Expression Encoder users? Do yo have some beta VC1 Encoder SDK with sample code that you can make available for MSDN Premium subscribers?

    Thanks,
    Phil

  • phil77phil77

    Sonds all great, but when will the New Smooth-Streaming VC-1 implementation goodness become available for Expression Encoder users? Do yo have some beta VC1 Encoder SDK with sample code that you can make available for MSDN Premium subscribers?

    Thanks,
    Phil

  • Phil,

    There's not a beta of Expression Encoder 3 available at this point.

    We'll certainly be looking to make these improvements widely available, but this is just an advance taste of what's going to be coming down the road a bit.

    -Ben
  • AndreasAndreas

    @Ben,
    What is the time frame for making it the encoding narrowly and/or widely available?
    Will you allow encoding cloud services to provide encoding (like flix cloud) so that we will be able to have a one stop shop for our encoding needs? Smiley

  • AndreasAndreas

    @Ben,
    What is the time frame for making it the encoding narrowly and/or widely available?
    Will you allow encoding cloud services to provide encoding (like flix cloud) so that we will be able to have a one stop shop for our encoding needs? Smiley

  • Andreas,

    We've got a number of vendors demonstrating Smooth Streaming encoder at the show right now. So support will be widely available this year.

    We'd be happy to see cloud encoding services using Smooth Streaming, of course. I'm not aware of anyone announcing that yet, but I think we're got a very compelling technology for cloud-based delivery among others. Being http based makes things much easier in that market.

    -Ben
  • hoyty76hoyty76

    I had a quick quality question on the 1080p24 stuff.  For right now the maximum bit rate consumer media is Blu-Ray at 15-30 Mbps for 1080p24, that is 3-5 times the 6 Mbps you mention above.  Is the Silverlight VC-1 the same as Blu-Ray VC1, meaning is the quality for streaming much lower?  Alternatively are you taking advantage of the much higher CPU / GPU power in a PC to enable higher compression and higher quality at lower bit rates?  Thanks for any info or pointers.

  • hoyty76hoyty76

    I had a quick quality question on the 1080p24 stuff.  For right now the maximum bit rate consumer media is Blu-Ray at 15-30 Mbps for 1080p24, that is 3-5 times the 6 Mbps you mention above.  Is the Silverlight VC-1 the same as Blu-Ray VC1, meaning is the quality for streaming much lower?  Alternatively are you taking advantage of the much higher CPU / GPU power in a PC to enable higher compression and higher quality at lower bit rates?  Thanks for any info or pointers.

  • hoyty76,

    It's an evolulution of the work we did for HD DVD/Blu-ray but with some further enhancements since then. Smooth Streaming can use a longer Group of Pictures (distance between keyframes) than Blu-ray, which offers some encoding advantage. But we could get roughly the same quality in a Blu-ray encode if needed at the same bitrate using the same new techiques. There's nothing about this stream that would be harder to decode than a Blu-ray stream; it's actually a lot lighter-weight given its much lower bitrate.

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