Silverlight vs Flash: Video Codec Comparison

By Jan Ozer, producer of Critical Skills for Final Cut Pro Streaming Producers

A while back I shared some playback performance numbers comparing the required CPU horsepower to play VP6, H.264 and VC-1 files. Briefly, in that test, I tested playback from the desktop using the FLV Player, QuickTime Pro and Windows Media Player, respectively.

While testing for my next training DVD, Critical Skills DVD for Final Cut Studio Streaming Producers, I rethought the test, deciding that it made more sense to test using the Flash and Silverlight Players, since that's how most of the audience would view these files. In this lengthy report, I'll detail the procedures and describe my findings.

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What Problem is Silverlight Trying to Solve?

Usually solutions are there to solve problems, yet I am having a hard time figuring out which problem Silverlight is trying to solve. My view point on Silverlight is that of an end user since I have not yet developed any Silverlight content. This is not down to a lack of interest either, after all it is a much hyped technology, but due to a lack of development tools on my chosen operating system, OSX.

As an end user I have yet to see anything that offers any benefit to me. Quite the opposite actually. When I recently asked about Silverlight demos on the streamingmedia list was pointed to by a Microsoft employee. I walked away asking myself if this was the cutting edge of Silverlight deployments - surely not, since my experience was along the lines of
- Clicked on showcase
- Received error mesage:
"Silverlight error message, ErrorCode: 3002
ErrorType: ImageError
Messsage: AG_E_NOT_FOUND

- Clicked OK, same message
- Clicked OK, same message
- Clicked OK, same message... and I was out of there.

Today I browsed around and came across their TV catchup service (UK viewing only I believe). It looked remarkably like Flash, and admittedly I got a bit excited. Since ITV is one of my clients I know that they have a very open mind when it comes to technology, and are happy to use a mix of whatever does the job including Flash, Windows Media as well as Silverlight. Good thinking. Except this time it seems, since the 'Flash' player didn't do anything. I clicked play but it just went black. I tried a different video and again, nothing. Right click.. brings up Silverlight preferences.

That explains it then. I am kidding - I'm not blaming Silverlight for what may simply be a file access problem. But why Silverlight? Is it all down to being forced by Legal to use DRMed content? What else could be the reason? The user certainly does not benefit from this, or am I missing something?

Someone tell me, what itch is Silverlight trying to scratch? Surely even the best developer workflow in the world (at least so I've heard) cannot make up for a broken user experience. I'm holding my breath for the Olympics coverage.

PS: I was given a behind the scenes look at the live streaming at ITV recently. Expect some coverage on that in the next few weeks.

Official: Brits Prefer Flash Video Over Windows Media

Or streaming over download; or Flash over P2P, or online over offline. Who knows, read whatever you like into the fact that 8 times more people access the BBC's iPlayer content via the browser based streaming version (Flash video) rather than the Windows-only, P2P based download player for which the Beeb had received a lot of bad press. Why didn't they listen to me from the start? :-)
For those who don't know, the BBC now offers all TV content for online viewing, on demand for up to one week after it has aired. sorry, but the iPlayer is only accessible if you are in the UK. Silly, I know but then I don't make the rules.

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