Microsoft Silverlight deployments are likely to get a major leg-up this month as the rich Internet application (RIA) framework of choice for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. NBC has chosen Silverlight as the media player to drive what is anticipated to be one of the most popular Internet media projects to date.
The key project challenge here resides in designing an architecture to deliver video and statistics in a way that provided consumers the most flexibility in their viewing experience, according to a Microsoft representative.
"In the end, it's really less about the number of lines of code as how things were designed," said Eric Schmidt, director of media and advertising evangelism at Microsoft.
"The Silverstream client is very object-oriented with a model view controller style. Each 'view' in the player is its own class. So when we want to make changes, we are doing this at the class/template level," said Schmidt.
Over 2,200 hours of live video on NBCOlympics.com and 3,000 hours of on-demand content are expected to be posted online, compared to only about 800 hours on TV. Viewers who take the Silverlight Olympic dive will find a range of options for viewing, including multiple screens to provide different angles on a single event. Background statistics and stories are near at hand, and viewers can re-size screen views for better display.
Consumers will be able to view basic video content with any Web browser without installing Silverlight. But Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft, said consumers would be able to download the Silverlight player in 4 to 10 seconds on Macs and PCs. Silverlight will enable Olympics enthusiasts to view the content in its highest quality and with special features like picture-in-picture and real-time statistics.
"Silverlight enables new types of functionality, such as the 'control room' view, which allows multiple streams of video to be previewed simultaneously, enabled by the playback performance of Windows Media video on PCs and Macs," said Guthrie. "The picture-in-picture feature will allow viewers to watch multiple feeds simultaneously and quickly switch to the current feed that interests them most, all in high-quality video."
Guthrie pointed out that alerts can notify viewers when a selected event begins. Viewers can also share video feeds. "Adaptive streaming provides the best possible streaming experience for the viewer, regardless of network conditions, via sophisticated techniques that adjust the delivery bit rate on the fly," said Guthrie.
The system is being architected to handle massive scale both for the content and the player, according to Schmidt. "Given the amount of live content, and then encore content from TV, we have built out capacity to address the peaks of traffic expected around the most popular events and days where simultaneous events are broadcast," he noted. "We expect it to exceed any previous live streaming efforts."
Because the development teams are spread globally, time zone differences were an issue. But Schmidt said that they battled this problem with unified control source with Team Foundation Server (TFS), daily triage meetings and Scrum based modeling.
Find out for yourself by visiting NBC's Olympics page. For more information on Silverlight, check out Microsoft's Silverlight web pages. And Todd Bishop's take on Olympic Silverlight can be found on his blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.