Yesterday I got into a discussion with Aral Balkan on Twitter over whether or not it was appropriate to call it Silverlight video as the video is displayed using the <video/> HTML 5 tag. In order to better defend my stance that it was, I decided to investigate the matter further to gain a proper understanding of what was going on. In the process, I had to do an about-turn on my position, and conclude Aral was right.
Silverlight supports a Microsoft technology called Smooth Streaming, which was designed to give Silverlight an edge over Flash at the time of the former’s launch. Smooth Streaming is an adaptive streaming technology, in other words the server can provide the same video in different qualities and the client can switch between the quality streams to give a smooth playback even when the connection’s maximum bitrate varies. Microsoft’s Expression Encoder tool can take a standard movie file and turn it into the mass of variable bitrate segments and manifest files required to support Smooth Streaming. Silverlight connects to that set of files via the Media Services extension to IIS in order to play back the video.
So where does the iPhone come into this? The iPhone supports the Apple Quicktime adaptive streaming technology used to stream YouTube videos to the phone. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Microsoft are developing a new version of Media Services that supports the Apple Quicktime adaptive streaming technology. Whether the server does this automatically, or whether a new version of Expression Encoder will be required is unclear. What is clear is that Silverlight is not in any way coming to the iPhone, Smooth Streaming is coming to the iPhone.
So is this a case of poetic license, or just plain dishonesty on Microsoft’s part? I don’t think it is either. If you read the interview article with the Microsoft User Experience Platform Manager, Brian Goldfarb, at no point does he mention Silverlight and the iPhone in the same sentence. The author of the article does that. The article clearly has misled a lot of people and “H.264 video streaming … using Microsoft’s Silverlight video streaming, to an Apple iPhone” is clearly plain wrong. I guess the more factually correct “Microsoft ‘worked with Apple’ for IIS streamed video on iPhone, says Goldfarb” would have grabbed just a tiny fraction of the attention the chosen headline did. I doubt Microsoft are complaining either as it gives Silverlight some much needed media coverage.