By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated April 16, 2007.
In the halls of Las Vegas, two software giants are facing off with their new media players. As they head into the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) trade show this week, Adobe and Microsoft each have announced a new generation of software for experiencing media playback and interaction.
Adobe announced today the Adobe Media Player, which builds on the success of the company's Flash technology, the leading Web animation solution that has become a major video playback format. The Media Player, based on open standards, offers higher-quality Flash playback, full-screen mode, one-click viewer ratings, and a Favorites feature that allows for automatic downloading of favorite TV shows or video podcasts.
The company said its Media Player keeps the needs of publishers in mind, with such capabilities as customizing the player to match a particular brand and embedding ads in video clips. For video, the player only supports Flash, which has become a major playback format but isn't the only one. Publishers can choose to deliver content via on-demand streaming, live streaming, progressive downloads, or protected download-and-play.
The Media Player, which Adobe said was developed using its Apollo platform for building rich Internet applications (RIAs), will be available as a free beta download from Adobe's site at some point later in the year, with release before the end of 2007.
Microsoft's Silverlight, meanwhile, is a browser plug-in that builds on the graphics framework in Vista, called Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). The technology will be formally revealed later this week at NAB, at which time Microsoft is expected to announce that Silverlight will be used by such content providers as Akamai, Brightcove, Eyeblaster, Major League Baseball, and Netflix.
The plug-in is being positioned, at least in part, as a next-generation alternative to Flash, and will leverage the many assets in Microsoft's arsenal. As one example, the new Windows Server, dubbed Longborn, will have components that are expected to reduce the cost of providing rich media over the Internet for Silverlight. The company's Expression suite can be used to build Internet applications for Silverlight, and thus becomes a competitor to Adobe's newly released Creative Suite 3 and its Apollo framework.
The plug-in will be compatible with Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox. A beta version will be ready at the end of this month, although a general release date has not yet been announced.
The VC-1 Codec
Melissa Webster, program director at technology research firm IDC, said that Silverlight's VC-1 codec, or compression/decompression software, was initially proposed by Microsoft as a standard about a year ago. It has since been adopted by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), a key standards body.
Microsoft has "made a big investment in the VC-1 codec," said Webster, and it is touting the technology as "the best video codec on the Web."
She noted that another major factor for Silverlight is that it takes a subset of WPF, "the graphics engine that Microsoft rewrote for Vista," and provides it as a cross-platform runtime engine. The software should work the same on each operating system, she said, although it is possible that developers could have an extra set of tools to draw on when it is used to create content specifically for Vista.
Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio pointed out that most people don't care about which player they use, but do care about whether they have to download yet another player. She said they tend not to do so unless there is a substantial benefit in the experience.