We have just returned from NAB 2009 where Silverlight 3 was revealed to the media world. Smooth Streaming, a feature of IIS Media Services that provides adaptive streaming media delivery to Silverlight, also made its debut.

This is the third year I’ve demonstrated Silverlight at NAB. For the first time, people were asking “What’s new with Silverlight?” as opposed to “What is Silverlight?”.

We covered the “What’s new with Silverlight?” question with two of the most impressive demos of Silverlight at NAB. With Silverlight 3 we were taking advantage of the new GPU scaling and demoing 1080p VC-1 encoded at 6Mbps, which looked flawless. 6Mbps video is still a ways off for some but it is not too far away for many and it is certainly something that we all are looking forward to experiencing.

More interesting, and with a much more immediate impact on the world of online video, were the demos of Smooth Streaming. We kicked off NAB by announcing that Smooth Streaming for on-demand video was officially released. You can download the final version, as well as the other shipping extensions to IIS Media Services, at http://iis.net/media.

NAB was a great venue for showing off the true value of Smooth Streaming: HTTP-based “adaptive streaming” of video from a server running IIS Media Services. Television shows or movies can be encoded at seven different quality levels and posted to an IIS Web server. The Silverlight client surveys each viewer’s local bandwidth and CPU conditions and can request the highest quality video for that moment in time.

The NAB booth demo was a great test for Smooth Streaming’s ability to seamlessly switch between the quality levels without hiccups or buffering. For Silverlight demos we had our two partner demo pods sharing a 3Mbps connection and the other four Silverlight pods sharing a 3 Mbps with 15 other demo stations in the booth. Competition for bandwidth was fierce as all of the Silverlight pods were regularly hitting the Smooth Streaming demo site.

If you were lucky, you could get enough bandwidth to see true HD, 720p video playing back. For most of the show the demos would be gliding back and forth between 400Kbps and 1.2Mbps and occasionally dipping down as low as 300 Kbps. Watching true HD on your computer is certainly the best of all possible worlds especially if you are paying a premium to your ISP. However, the ability to maintain a program when the Internet is conspiring against you, is really what will move people to Smooth Streaming. The people who have great connections will get the beautiful HD experience and the people who are stuck on lower speed connections, or on high traffic networks, will be able to watch a show without interruption at the best quality possible.

The clearest proof of the value of Smooth Streaming was demonstrated in watching a demo of online video in another booth. The demo video buffered and stuttered—a truly unwatchable experience. The demo artist explained that this is what happens when you only have 400Kbps of bandwidth. With Smooth Streaming you would maintain the experience and enjoy your program. You certainly wouldn’t have to cancel demos on the show floor at NAB.

We hope to see you at Streaming Media East in a few weeks in NYC.

Jim Thill