Microsoft Launches Innovative Video Player

Not my words but those of the Wall Street Journal and Lost Remote, talking about the MSNBC Inauguration video player. They are right though, this player is pretty cool and the features can honestly be described as innovative: the Inauguration site allows users to highlight parts of the closed captioning transcript next to the video and then embed just the selected pieces on other sites, playing only the parts one has selected.

The technology used to deliver? No, not Silverlight but Flash (did you really think I'd blog this if it wasn't? :-)

It's a bit of a shame though that there' are a bunch teething problems with this player - runtime errors whizzing past when you access the player using a debug version of Flash, and the embed didn't work well for me either since it played the whole video and not the part I highlighted, and at times I got even served the mobile version of the site!? Could someone give the guys at MSNBC some ActionScript training please ;-) Ok, I am kidding, credit where credit is due and I am sure they will get it all fixed in time.

HD on the Web: A Promise They Cannot Keep

It's official: HD on the web is broken. And guess what: it doesn't matter which technology (Flash/Silverlight) you use, neither seems to deliver on its promises.

Take this post with a pinch of salt because it's only my own perspective, but I would say I'm in a fairly good position to report on the playback experiences I have had. My setup is slightly above average with a new 24" iMac, 4GB of RAM and a fast connection. Right now it measured 4.5Mbit/s which I consider fast enough for any HD content, especially if it uses smooth streaming, adaptive streaming, multi-bitrate streaming or whatever else the latest buzzword is.

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Microsoft sees the (Silver)light, Adopts H.264

If you have - like myself - promised to eat your left shoe if Microsoft does not add H.264 support to Silverlight (a codec which Flash has been supporting for some time now) soon then you are officially off the hook now. Unsurprisingly, later this week Microsoft will demonstrate the playback of H.264-based video in Silverlight. What else will they be adding? You guessed it, AAC audio support. Where did I come across that before... oh yeah that's right: Flash.

You can read more about it here (it appears to be Microsoft's own press department posing the questions in this Q&A so don't expect anything too objective...), and no doubt there'll be a lot of press releases coming out of IBC later this week.

NBC Dumps Silverlight. Oh no they don't. Oh yes they do. Oh no...

I know I am late blogging this but initially I didn't think it was that big a deal. A press release made the rounds outlining Adobe's deal with the NFL to stream the NBC Sunday Night Football games on and live using Flash video. As some of you may know, NBC covered most of the Olympics in North America using Silverlight technology.
Several sites were quick to announce that NBC Dumped Silverlight and that they ran back to Flash, and while the story is certainly a big achievement for Flash as a platform I don't think that any other technology got dumped during the proceedings. Remember, the Olympics are over - and the initial arrangement between NBC and Microsoft covered the Olympics - not the NFL, not the Premier League, not the annual nativity play.

It's great to hear of another major achievement for our beloved platform but I think we should chill out a bit and take the announcement for what is is, and not for what can be read into it. I bet Silverlight just needs time to mature... ;-)

If you are blood thirsty then here's more for you.

Mapping Information

And I do not mean information on maps... No. Britain From Above is probably the best program on UK television at the moment - in my opinion anyway. When I first watched it I didn't quite know what to expect, I guess I thought it would be someone shooting video out of a plane for an hour. How wrong I was.

Each episode of this series focuses on a particular topic such as the UK transport network, abandoned industries or the transformation of London over the years. One really innovative piece which I found especially interesting was the visual mapping of information over a map of Britain or London. This involved visualising data such as landline telephone calls in all major UK cities, GPS data traces from taxis across London or the air traffic movements over the UK.

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BBC Adds More Channels To Simulcast Lineup

The BBC will be adding several channels to its online simulcast lineup shortly, including BBC Four, CBBC and CBeebies. This is in addition to the already announced simulcast (read: live streaming) of BBC One.

Viewing habits and TV consumption is rapidly changing and this announcement just underlines the obvious trend. I'm sure future generations will find it very strange indeed that programs used to start at set times. Of course the really cool thing about this announcement is the fact that Flash will once again play a key role, since the streams are likely to be streamed via the iPlayer or one of its live-streaming-baby-brothers. Personally, I'm determined to ride this wave... watch this space.

The full press release is here.

And the usual disclaimer for everyone not in the UK: sorry but you'll be GEOIP blocked when trying to access any of the BBC streams. Those fortunate enough to be in the UK must hold a valid TV license (yes, no kidding, even if you have no TV but watch on a laptop or mobile phone).

Implementing Click-To-Seek For The FLVPlayback Component

If you are using the FLVPlayback component in combination with a custom UI seekbar component then you may have asked yourself why the seekbar is not clickable. Many video players implement this functionality: rather than having to find the handle, drag it and let go it is possible to click the seekbar anywhere to jump to that point.

Fortunately it is ot too difficult to add this piece of behaviour. The following code is applicable to an instance of the FLVPlayback component on stage (instance name 'player') not using a skin but using a custom UI seekbar component (instance name 'seekbar').

view plain
1player.seekBar = seekb;
3seekb.addEventListener( MouseEvent.MOUSE_DOWN, onclick);
5seekb.useHandCursor = true;
6seekb.buttonMode = true;
8function onclick(e:MouseEvent):void
10    var seekto = ((this.mouseX-seekb.x)/seekb.width)*100;
11    trace(seekto);
12    player.playheadPercentage = seekto;

Give that a try and you should be able to click the seekbar to jump to any point in the video (provided you are streaming or - if using progressive download - the video has already loaded up to the part you are trying to seek to).

BBC iPlayer Migrates to High Quality H.264

The BBC have started to roll out an updated version of the iPlayer which offers a new 'high quality' option, delivering video encoded in H.264 at 800kbps. And wow, does it look sweet (unfortunately I cannot embed the image here as it's too large). And that's before you blow it up to fullscreen - I played it on my 24" iMac and the quality was truly impressive. What's more important though is the fact that this player is so easy to access, and videos play without rebuffering. Click and watch, it cannot get any easier.

This news is pretty major, considering that Flash Player 9 is required to play the H.264 encoded content. "Back in December of last year, relatively few people had installed the Flash player needed to play H.264 content; now almost 80% of BBC iPlayer users have it", says Anthony Rose on the BBC Internet Blog. Clearly this sets a benchmark and should convince any doubters that Flash Player 9's features are now totally ready for mainstream - including its hardware acceleration features.

I wish the whole world could access the iPlayer pages because it is an online experience that's largely unrivaled. I've heard that the BBC is thinking about releasing some worldwide content - you should look forward to it.

There's lost more info about the H.264 rollout on the BBC Blog.

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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CBS Launches New HD Video Player

CBS have launched their redesigned Flash based video player supporting H.264 HD videos. Viewers are able to watch full length episodes of their favorite shows such as CSI, Criminal Minds and How I met Your Mother, to name but a few.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to bring up any of the content which I presume is down to geographical restrictions. Hopefully viewers from the US could try the player and tell us about their experience by leaving a comment below.

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