While most of the world is on a collective vacation watching the World Cup, media teams at Microsoft have been busy at work. And watching the World Cup.
Released this month:
- Expression Studio 4, which of course includes Expression Encoder 4.
- IIS Media Services 4.0 Beta
- Smooth Streaming Format SDK 1.0 Beta 2
- IIS Smooth Streaming Client 1.0, also known as Smooth Streaming Media Element (SSME), formerly known as IIS Smooth Streaming Player Development Kit
- Silverlight Media Framework 2.0 RC1
Before I dive into more details about those products, I’d also like to highlight a few case studies we recently published, all of them focused on the Silverlight-based 2010 Winter Olympics experiences built for NBC, CTV and NRK:
Some of the statistics are quite impressive, such as the number of peak concurrent users (181 thousand Americans, 134 thousand Canadians), total amount of video consumed (7.2 million hours in Canada), or the average minutes viewed over the 2 weeks of Olympics (nearly 2 hours per unique user in Canada). If you’re interested in the business side of video streaming, the value proposition of Silverlight and Smooth Streaming, and monetization data – I recommend you check out these case studies.
Expression Encoder 4
First change you might notice is that the pay version of the product is now called Expression Encoder 4 Pro, to differentiate it from the free version available for download. The good news is that the basic free version now includes Smooth Streaming (VOD) encoding, but you’ll still need to shell out $49.95 to get:
- H.264/AAC encoding (now courtesy of MainConcept H.264 SDK)
- Additional decoders for input types (MPEG2, MPEG/TS Splitter, Dolby Digital AC3, MP4 and H.264/AAC)
- Live IIS Smooth Streaming support
- Unlimited screen capture
- Digital Rights Management (PlayReady) integration
In case you missed it hidden there in the middle of the list, let me repeat: Expression Encoder 4 Pro supports LIVE Smooth Streaming! That was by far the feature most frequently requested by users, and the Encoder team listened and delivered. Live encoding in EE4 works and scales remarkably well, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to run it on any computer with less than 8 CPU cores. Video encoding is a CPU intensive process and when you have to encode multiple bitrates in realtime there’s no such thing as too much CPU. With 2 cores you can probably manage to churn out 1 bitrate up to SD resolution; with 4 cores about 2 bitrates up to SD; with 8 cores about 3-4 bitrates up to SD or 720p; with 16 cores about 7-8 bitrates up to 720p, etc.
The question I expect I’ll get asked most frequently about EE4 is: “OK, now that EE4 can encode Live Smooth Streaming for $49.95 on any PC hardware, why would I pay thousands of dollars for professional products like Digital Rapids Stream, Inlet Spinnaker or Envivio 4Caster?” My answer would go something like this: EE4, while fully capable of encoding Live Smooth Streaming, is an entry-level encoding product. It’s to professional encoding products what Windows Movie Maker is to Adobe Premiere Pro. Is it good enough for encoding a high school basketball game once a week? Absolutely. But would I use Expression Encoder to deliver 2 weeks of Olympics live video to hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world? Probably not. To use yet another analogy: Anybody can buy a stock PC, install Windows Server 2008 on it and call it a server. But does that make industry standard HP ProLiant servers obsolete? Hardly. Companies like Inlet, DR and Envivio have invested years and millions in building reliable professional encoding products which are designed and tested to run 24/7 in broadcast-type environments. So when you pay top dollar for their products, you’re not so much paying for raw codecs as you’re paying for guaranteed uptime and professional support. They cost a lot of money because they do what they do very well.
IIS Media Services 4.0 Beta
Though only a beta, this new release of IIS MS 4.0 delivers one particularly awesome feature: it can deliver Smooth Streaming H.264/AAC content to Apple “iDevices” such as the iPhone and iPad. How does it do that? Both formats support H.264 video and AAC audio; Smooth Streaming is based on MP4 (ISO Base Media) file format, while Apple Live HTTP Streaming is based on MPEG-2 TS file format. Smooth Streaming tends to use short GOP chunks (2 seconds), while Apple HTTP streaming uses long GOP (10 second) chunks. Therefore, converting between the 2 formats merely requires transmuxing A/V streams from one format to another, and this is exactly what IISMS 4.0 does: it dynamically transmuxes Smooth Streaming format into Apple’s Live HTTP Streaming format. No re-encoding.
Associated with this release are also 2 other IIS media releases:
- Smooth Streaming Format SDK 1.0 Beta 2 – provides documentation, tools, and samples you can use to multiplex video and audio bitstreams into on-demand and live Smooth Streaming output. In addition, the SDK supports the encryption of content using Microsoft PlayReady DRM. Note that this SDK doesn’t include video/audio codecs – it expects already compressed A/V samples.
- Transform Manager 1.0 Alpha – provides simple integrated video encoding and batch conversion of video files to the IIS Smooth Streaming format and the MPEG-2 TS streaming format supported by Apple devices.
For more information check out the following blog posts:
Smooth Streaming Client 1.0 and Silverlight Media Framework 2.0 RC1
The Smooth Streaming component of SMF is known as the Smooth Streaming Media Element (pronounced “Smee”, like that pirate from Peter Pan). SSME previously shipped as beta under the name “Smooth Streaming Player Development Kit” but has since been renamed to just Smooth Streaming Client. The 1.0 release (compatible with SMF 2.0) comes with rich online documentation and code samples.