Breaking News: Microsoft Announces Future Support For H.264 In Silverlight

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.

  • Flashkid

    Was the average viewing time over 27 minutes bcause it took that long to watch it? Did you try downloading it to the computer? Most flash sites let you. Microsoft’s recent investment in Move Networks was a good move. They use multiple codecs- giving people what they want. Let them save the content to their computer. Hmmmmmmm MSFT Flash does.

  • Not being able to download the Olympic videos HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MICROSOFT. Why are so many people blaming Microsoft for that? Microsoft did not own any rights to the content for the Olympics. That was all in the hands and control of NBC. NBC decides what can and can’t be done with the online videos. So even if NBC had used Flash for the Olympics, you still would not have been able to download anything. It’s a NBC content rights issue, NOT a video format issue.

  • random_graph

    It will be interesting to follow the rest of the details because that’s where the license revenue flows:
    Will the Windows Media Streaming Server support H.264?
    If so, will Silverlight require use of WMSS?
    Will Adobe Flash player and AIR only work with FMS3?
    Does this harden or soften MSFT and Adobe’s position on keeping the MMS and RTMP protocols closed?
    I think the guys who clearly win here are vendors like Wowsa, Kulabyte, Newtek who can finally converge on a standard CODEC.

  • Good point Dan. Silverlight is by its design a runtime and a development platform. We are in the same group as our tools teams and work along side of them to make sure integration and project management is as seamless as possible. Why is this important? It allows 3rd parties/customers familiar with those tools to build managed components (in C#, JavaScript, VB, Python, etc.) that can be linked in at run-time, which provide value added services to the runtime itself. The Olympics application used managed code in C# for the basis of the application and linked in adaptive streaming techniques which was all seamless to the experience. We even updated the components during the games to update the experience. You can build components now that can provide additional functionality that’s application specific without having to be a part of the runtime. Today is just a video format addition with H.264 + AAC, but in the future it could be other audio/video formats, or image rendering, data binding, reporting, event tracking, new DRM techniques, web service support, or additional adaptive streaming functionality. It’s now up to the designer and developer to really take advantage of the platform. It’s why I expect to see richer, more interactive and engaging applications in the future that provide much better user experiences, and provide the market oppritunities to monetize these experiences more effectively.

  • jhm212

    I tried commenting to Siglin’s follow up but this wouldn’t post, I’ll give it a shot here……
    Thanks Tim for your ‘timely’ article. This news obviously wasn’t a surprise to you or anyone else that follows the video industry. At Streaming Media East, as Microsoft announced the ‘Move Networks’ deal, they revealed that Silverlight was not going to be bound to the ‘legacy format’ and many immediately knew that todays H.264 adoption was inevitable. We also know that Microsoft took VC-1 to the ‘standards group’ and lost 95% of the rights to its IP. So in the broad scope, they lose a 5% royalty and instead gain a certain ‘ubiquity’ and a far superior codec over their ‘legacy’ offering…..looks like a smart move!!
    However, to the point of your article, in the world of technology, is the war ever truly ‘over’? Just as major advances will come in the fields of medicine, energy, alternative-fuels and telecommunications, so too will advances come in video compression and video delivery. With regard to ‘standards’, how many ‘air’ standards are there in the the mobile phone industry? Are the ‘RIA’, ‘browser’ or ‘search’ wars over, it doesn’t seem so?? With in the video industry, compression, licensing and the ‘quality-to-performance’ ratios will always be codec considerations as competition and innovation will just continue to ‘raise the bar’. Video is converging into an exploding market and even given current economic concerns, this will not change for many years. Worldwide mobile phones sales should pass 1.3 billion for 2008 and still growing at about 13%. There is even more exciting growth in video coming from the new Smartphones, MID’s and UMPC’s. As ‘Streaming Media’ already knows, video will be an exciting industry sector for some time….and by the way, what will WiMax, UWB and WUSB do for the wireless video ecosystem??
    So, does a common H.264 decoding scheme benefit all platforms??
    Take Apple for example, they were the first ‘major’ to adopt H.264 and still today support it exclusively. The iPhone pays $50 in IP royalties per unit. Did the H.264 standard reduce the unit cost to the consumer, it doesn’t seem so. You can still go to the iTune’s store and pay all you want for their H.264 video. Comcast wants to regulate the amount of data they will deliver to your home per your monthly broadband bill. Does that guarantee they will use the best compression schemes available, it doesn’t seem so. The broadcast industry has universally supported the MPEG2 standard for decades, their move to H.264 was a given. As the world moves to digital broadcast TV, H.264 will remain the standard for broadcast and the ‘platforms’ need to support that. So the question remains, does a common H.264 decoding scheme benefit all platforms??
    Look at the universe of RIA platforms, what does H.264 bring to the table?
    The developer / designer encoding tools come next to free, this is a boon to them.
    Fragmentation does pose the biggest problem, as strangely enough, the standards do not command compliance……there are dozens of approaches to the ‘standard’. Exactly how do 264 Flash and 264 Silverlight video come together, it doesn’t seem so. While today, Flash is the ‘dominator’….that doesn’t keep Silverlight or JavaFX from entering the RIA market and grabbing a nice piece of the pie now does it?? What do Hulu and every future version of it, think about compression?? As HD video proliferates online long-form web content, what does Gootube’s current very poor offerings have to say to the consumer?? Obviously, this is a market that has some issues to work out……
    An interesting point that I rarely ever see mentioned is the IP licensing fees!! Why don’t the ‘video journalists’ ever discuss implementation costs?? The writers are ‘lacking’ while not willing to discuss the ‘cost’ that comes with implementing the new ‘standard’!! The deployment and delivering costs of ‘standards’ video are rarely if ever discussed!!! What are the MPEGLA & VIA licensing fees applied to use the ‘standard’?? Who enforces the the ‘standards’ royalties and do the large content providers and device makers actually pay them??
    Tim, I’m not letting you off the hook until you answer this, why don’t you or ANY other video journalists discuss the MPEGLA & VIA licensing fees?? Do the ‘content providers’ blow them off and not pay the fees of the ‘standards’ bill collectors?? Hey, if they don’t pay and it’s a non-issue, let us know. Do the ‘device makers’ not pay the ‘standards’ pool royalties?? Are the H.264 royalty fees not actually paid to anyone??
    Hey Tim, I know I asked a lot of questions……your Streaming Media readers are looking forward to your reply……

  • Codec Info

    jhm212 – if you only had a clue what you were talking about.
    Your pointless ramble is too long to respond to the entire thing so I’ll just point out a couple of things that you clearly aren’t aware of.
    VC-1 is entirely responsible for lowering the license cost of H264. You should be kissing Microsoft’s ass for this. The original proposed costs could have killed streaming and were only lowered when VC1 pricing was proposed.
    VC1 did lose a lot of patents but mainly due to timing. In other words many of the patents for H264 were filed weeks or even days before VC1.
    Microsoft chaired the H264 video group and invested in both technologies. In fact, Microsoft has patents in H264 too.
    H264 was originally tageted at 100kbps rates and was aimed at the cell phone market. Proof? Fixed block size, no test streams above 300kbps, super complex hardware decode, supporting documentation.
    It was only when Microsoft showed VC1 doing everything from 100kbps to 720P and kicking ass that Sand Video went back and submitted variable block sizing that H264 suddenly became and “HD” codec. Sand’s contribution broke the decoder btw so it rendered previous integration efforts useless. Microsoft has never broken a decoder. Ever.
    Are you joking about license fees? MPEGLA enforces their fees. The thing is, when you buy a Windows PC or a Mac they are paid for by MS and Apple respectively. The user doesn’t pay them. Also, again, thanks to Microsoft they are relatively trivial too. The main fees are based around hardware implimentations anyway, not software.

  • Ok,
    Interesting stuff on the licensing side thanks.
    However, I personally see this in a very different light.
    In my opinion, attempts to gain control of streaming media have failed. Microsoft with VC1, On2 codecs etc.
    Having a good codec has failed to leverage development platforms to a dominent position. For Microsoft anyway.
    Microsoft are in a pickle of late as there has been a large exodus of developers who make applications for their platform. And really, applications are what make an OS dominent.
    RIA in the form of AJAX, flex have rocked the foundations of Microsoft (Outside of the business compunity).
    Silverlight, on paper, sounds like the most advanced RIA implementation ever. Still, the traction is lower then anyone expected. (From what I hear).
    Microsoft needs to win the developers back, if possible, and adding H.264 to the Silverlight capabilities makes many companies with big investments in this area, unsually in H.264, aggreable to looking at Silverlight as a way forward.
    We are on a different battle field now.
    Microsoft has lost the hearts of the developers and needs to win them back.. As they are the foundations of the future of any operating system.

  • Stef

    Since no player or server technology will ever win the media player war, standardization on the file format is great.
    Now you can standardize encoding and deliver the same asset through various media services (QTSS/WMS/FMS) to multiple clients (Flash, Silverlight, QuickTime and H.264 compliant devices.

  • jhm212

    Wow Codec, you’re amazing, it was so nice of you to join in the discussion! You’re confused, misinformed and generally incorrect about everything you said….which obviously indicates you must work for Microsoft. I believe you’re still upset with the fact that VC-1 finishes with the Bronze metal in both Quality and Performance tests, year after year.
    I know you boys there don’t get out much. The last MSFT guy that chimed in was proud to claim his Silverlight work on the Olympics and he hadn’t heard of a single plan to ever incorporate the Move Networks player plug-in. Guess what happened two days later. I guess you boys don’t talk much either…..
    To set the facts straight…..VC-1 had nothing to do with establishing the MPEGLA licensing terms for H.264. The initial terms of AVC/H.264 were established in November, 2003 and set through 2010. MPEGLA didn’t even call for VC-1 patent holders until March 30, 2004. As you know, they lost all but about 4 of 124 or so claims. MPEGLA established the initial terms for VC-1 in March of 2007.
    In fact the cap for H.264 in 2008 is $4.25M, for VC-1, it’s $5M….by now you must feel pretty silly, but hey, they probably don’t let you see the real information, so I’ll help you out with the links…
    The technology innovations of many have been pilfered and patented by the large corporations that they then collect large fees and royalties from. MPEGLA just facilitates an IP mafia for the large corps and the inventors are left behind!
    The rest of us know Microsoft originates nothing, their early success was stolen, their OS’s get worse with every release, current products are mere copies of others and it continues to take them 3 tries to get anything right!!
    GLTY Codec…

  • JHM,
    If you’re going to go around public blogs insulting MSFT employees, at least have the guts to post under your real name and company affiliation.
    I was one of the people who worked on the NBC Olympics project and I will repeat this for you again:
    Move Networks was not involved with the NBC Olympics project in the U.S.
    Silverlight 2 plugin does not and will not incorporate the Move Networks plugin.
    There are no Move Network APIs included natively in Silverlight 2 runtime.
    If you would like me to clarify any of these points, I’d be happy to set up a phone call with you.

  • jhm212

    Hello Alex, hope you’re having a great day! Sorry, I fail to see where I was insulting any one. Your co-worker, Mr. Codec Info, (I’m sure that’s his real name…lol) had some things to say about VC-1’s influence on MPEGLA’s licensing terms, did you find the ‘actual facts’insulting?
    I never said Silverlight used Move in the Olympics, I did say they would have been better off if they did! It would have made for a better video experience for viewers….
    With respect to the Move plug-in, did the DNC Silverlight/Move Networks event pass and you didn’t see it? The video was viewable through Silverlight ONLY after having loaded the ‘newly integrated’ Move plug-in. Here’s some information Alex, in case you missed it….
    How do you explain that Alex? Yes, please clarify these points for all of us Alex!!!!
    Actually, I’m rather harmless to Microsoft, if I were an employee, I’d be much more concerned with Ballmer’s miscues, the PC/Mac commercials, the fact that ‘Gen Y’ doesn’t want or need MSFT, consequences of another Vista failure, OpenOffice and $300M Gates/Seinfeld marketing campaigns!!

  • We talked about this at IBC.
    The DNC used Move for the underlying media architecture, and Silverlight to draw all the GUI for that media player. The news is that Silverlight is flexibily designed enough for other plugins to be able to use it to enhance the experience.
    While we talk about Silverlight mainly in terms of media around here, it really has three pillars:
    Media (WMV + MP3 today, with H.264/MPEG-4 coming)
    XAML (XML markup language defining the GUI)
    .NET (sandboxed, high performance bytecode that can be compiled from a variety of languages)
    In the case of Move, they used Silverlight for the bottom two pillars.