This morning Microsoft made the move that many content creators had been hoping they would do for some time. Microsoft announced that H.264 and AAC support will be available in a future version of Silverlight. While H.264 support won’t come till sometime next year, later in the week at IBC, Microsoft will demonstrate a technical preview of H.264 and Silverlight in action.
In my conversation with Microsoft yesterday and in the Q&A that Microsoft released this morning with Scott Guthrie, corporate VP of the Developer Division at Microsoft, additional details have come to light. When asked if this means that Silverlight is moving away from Windows Media Scott says, "Not at all. This is about offering our customers more choice." That hits the nail on the head. Give customers what they want. Customers have been asking Microsoft to adopt H.264 and give them more options.
The Q&A also covers some details regarding Microsoft’s recent investment in Move Networks and announces a bunch of new major broadcasters in Europe who will be using Silverlight. Microsoft also says that Silverlight 2 is scheduled for final release this fall and takes a jab at Adobe over viewing data for the Olympics content saying, "On the Silverlight-enhanced NBC Olympics site, the average viewing time was over 27 minutes, as opposed to an average of just three minutes on some Flash-powered sites broadcasting Olympics coverage elsewhere. We think this indicates Silverlight provides a more compelling, engaging and rich media experience for viewers." I don’t know where the three-minute data comes from, but clearly Microsoft is saying that better quality equals a longer viewing experience.
One the H.264 front, while the announcement will be a surprise to many, it should be noted that Microsoft has been an active participant in the standardization of H.264/MPEG AVC for many years. Microsoft’s Gary Sullivan was the chairman of the Joint Video Team (JVT), which developed the H.264 standard, and he recently accepted an Emmy Award on behalf of the JVT.
For many of us in the industry, we knew it was only a matter of time before Microsoft adopted H.264, the sooner, the better. Now, it’s going to get really interesting. If the industry can rally around making H.264 a standard, even if it is just for video on-demand to start, this would benefit all content owners in the long run. More details about H.264 and Silverlight will be talked about in two weeks at the Streaming Media West show and Microsoft will be in attendance on the exhibit floor. Sign up now and get a free pass to get in hear more about this from Microsoft.