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Microsoft, Akamai Team On Web Video

Software giant Microsoft and leading content delivery network (CDN) Akamai are working together to deliver high-definition video to PCs through Microsoft’s Silverlight Web video player.

Microsoft has developed a new Web server technology called Internet Information Services 7.0 (IIS7.0) Smooth Streaming, which is designed to provide consumers with instant start-up times and no buffering by adapting the encoding rate of the video stream in real time based upon changes in the speed of the consumer’s broadband connection.

Such "adaptive streaming" technology, which relies on constant communication between a Web server and a software client on a consumer’s PC, is already used by Flash video specialists such as Move Networks to deliver high-quality streaming for programmers like ABC and Fox. Such programmers believe that delivering higher-quality video will lead to longer viewing times and thus, boost Web advertising revenues.

The Smooth Streaming upgrade for Silverlight, released as part of Microsoft’s new IIS7 Media Pack software, allows programmers to encode their content in a variety of bit rates and aspect ratios, says Microsoft’s Steve Sklepowich, group manager for Silverlight Media.

"Typically, you would do eight to 10 data rates with different configurations," says Sklepowich.

For Microsoft, partnering with the biggest CDN should provide a boost to Silverlight as it seeks to grab a share in the Web video space from the near-ubiquitous Flash player from Adobe.

Akamai will support Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming upgrade to Silverlight with a new service, Akamai AdaptiveEdge Streaming for Microsoft Silverlight, which will be deployed across the company’s globally distributed network. The AdaptiveEdge service, which is being demonstrated at Digital Hollywood in Los Angeles this week, is expected to be available to select Akamai customers in a beta release in early 2009.

Like other CDNs, Akamai sees the shift to more long-form, high-quality Web video as a obvious growth engine for its business.

"There’s been a big demand from content owners to get a true HD experience on the Web," says Tim Napoleon, chief strategist, Digital Media at Akamai. "Using the Microsoft Smooth Streaming technology, the content owner doesn’t have to choose what kind of experience they can support. The experience can adapt to the highest denominator [in broadband speed] available, and the stream seamlessly adapts down to that level."

At the high end, the content that will be delivered through the AdaptiveEdge service will be 720-line progressive video encoded at a bit rate of 4 to 6 megabits per second, though the whole notion of adaptive streaming means the bit rate delivered to the end user will vary depending on network conditions.