On 13th April at the MIX11 conference, Scott Guthrie announced the immediate availability of the Silverlight 5 Beta.

The Beta is a major step towards the final release of Silverlight 5 later this year and includes many of the features we already announced at the Silverlight Firestarter last December. Visual Studio and Expression Blend support for Silverlight 5 is also available for download.

You can download the Beta and Tools here.

Silverlight 5 makes further advances in media, application development and user experiences, adding over 40 new features and 100s of new APIs. You can get the Beta, tools and more at http://www.silverlight.net.

Pete Brown also has 7 new video tutorials covering the Beta on his blog.

Here’s a summary of the features already announced for Silverlight 5:

Premium Media Experiences

Silverlight 5 offers improved media support and rich UI capabilities:

  • Hardware Decode and presentation of H.264 improve performance for lower-power devices to render high-definition video using GPU support.
  • “TrickPlay” allows video to be played at different speeds and supports fast-forward and rewind. At up to twice the speed, audio pitch correction allows users to watch videos while preserving a normal audio pitch.
  • Improved power awareness prevents the screen saver from being shown while watching video and allows the computer to sleep when video is not active.
  • Remote-control support allows users to control media playback.
  • Digital rights management advancements allow seamless switching between DRM media sources.
  • Realtime Sound enables low-latency audio playback where split-second playback timing is required.

Application Development and User Experience

Silverlight 5 enhances developer productivity and end user experience for applications:

  • Text improvements make it possible to build high quality, rich text layouts:
    • Multicolumn text and linked text container allow text to flow around other elements and between multiple controls independent of placement of the controls.
    • Tracking/leading set more precisely how far apart each character is for extra creative control.
    • Text clarity is improved with Pixel Snapping.
    • OpenType support has been enhanced.
  • Support for Postscript vector printing enables users to create reports and documents, including the ability to create a virtual print view different from what is shown on the screen.
  • Applications can now work the way users expect with added support for double-click and Combobox type ahead.
  • Model View ViewModel (MVVM) and Databinding enhancements allow more work to be done more easily via XAML:
    • XAML Debugging support now allows breakpoints to be set on a binding, so you can step through binding failures.
    • Implicit DataTemplates allow templates to be created across an application to support a particular type by default.
    • Ancestor RelativeSource allows, for example, a DataTemplate to bind to a property on the control that contains it.
    • Binding in style setters allows bindings to be used within styles to reference other properties.
    • The DataContextChanged event is being introduced.
    • Markup extensions allow code to be run at XAML parse time for both properties and event handlers, enabling cutting-edge MVVM support.
    • Networking and Windows Communication Foundation-based enhancements:
    • Reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking.
    • WS-Trust support: message security — encrypted at the Windows Communication Foundation level; Security Assertion Markup Language authentication token.
    • Silverlight 5 performance improvements include:
    • XAML parser improvements that speed up startup and runtime performance.
    • Support for 64-bit operating systems.
    • Multicore JIT (Just In Time) Compiler optimization.
    • Text layout performance..
  • Graphics improvements
    • Silverlight 5 now has a built-in XNA 3D graphics API to enables you to build rich, GPU accelerated visualizations and rich user experiences. This includes a new 3D drawing surface control as well as immediate mode GPU access, shaders and effects.
    • Hardware acceleration is enabled in windowless mode with Internet Explorer 9.
    • The graphics stack has been rearchitected bringing improvements from Windows Phone 7 such as independent animations.
  • The Pivot viewer control enables a visual way to rapidly sort through large collections of graphical data, for example a catalog of movies represented by images of dvd covers, using intuitive transitions to show the effects of filters on the result set.
  • Silverlight 5 enables trusted applications to run in the browser for the first time. These features, when enabled via a group policy registry key and an application certificate, mean users won’t need to leave the browser to perform complex tasks:
    • Host HTML content as a Web browser control within the Silverlight application. HTML pages, such as help content or e-mail, can be integrated within the application.
    • Read and write files to the user’s My Documents folder, making it easier to find media files or create local copies of reports.
    • Launch Microsoft Office and other desktop programs. Users can open Microsoft Outlook and create an e-mail message, or send a report to Word utilizing the power of Office.
    • Access devices and other system capabilities by calling into application COM components. Users can access a USB security card reader or a bar-code scanner.
    • Enjoy full keyboard support in full screen, which enables richer kiosk and media viewing applications.
    • Call existing unmanaged code directly from within Silverlight with PInvoke.
  • Existing trusted application capabilities are further extended.
    • Existing unmanaged code can be called directly from within Silverlight with PInvoke.
    • Child Window support allows multiple independent windows to be launched from the application.
    • File System access is extended beyond MyDocuments to the entire file system.
  • Tools improvements include:
    • Microsoft Visual Studio profiling support including CPU, memory, thread contention.
    • Visual Studio Team Test support.