Microsoft’s Silverlight Literally is a Game Changer

As a member of the technology press, there were a number of questions I was hoping Cherkis could answer for me. Did the same technology team work both the Olympics and the Democratic Convention? What are the differences between standard TV broadcasting, and broadcasting over the Internet? Was the same equipment used at both the Olympics and the convention? And finally, who or what is Silverlight?

In answer to the first question, the answer is no. Joel’s role as GM for the U.S. Public Sector means that he handles mostly U.S. government-related projects. Different teams worked the two events, although much of the infrastructure used in Beijing was also used in Denver. In addition to Joel’s 15 member video production team, another eighteen Microsoft technology experts supported email, delegate voting, and credentials management for the Denver Convention.

Regarding Internet and standard High Definition TV (HDTV), both are shot using HD cameras. After video is captured, it goes through multiple steps before being made available on the Internet. First, the video feed is streamed to the production team for near real time editing. Once edited, it is sent to a production truck and encoded into multiple formats. Each format supports specific types of transmission networks, user devices, and download speeds. Once encoding is complete, the file is passed to content delivery network providers for high speed transmission to distribution centers. The providers then make it available to Internet consumers.

Which brings us to Silverlight ( Microsoft describes Silverlight as “a cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.” For the technology minded, Silverlight is an extension of .NET, and is, in effect, a programming language that supports very rich Internet content.

For the rest of us, Silverlight is an exponential improvement over the Internet technologies that drive, for example, the clips posted to YouTube. YouTube, of course, is the video sharing site that has become a household word based on viral growth. YouTube videos have their disadvantages, the primary one being the time delays that occur as the video content streams to a user’s PC. Those delays are one of the problems that Silverlight solves in a remarkably elegant manner.

Silverlight content starts to play immediately, because it is automatically optimized for the user’s device. It employs “adaptive streaming” to determine both the bandwidth available to the device and the device characteristics, then automatically adapts to that device.

While the average user might be familiar with the various screen resolutions available to his/her particular PC configuration—1024 X 768 pixels, 800 X 600 pixels, etc.—PC settings are static. Once set, they typically don’t change without manual intervention. In contrast, Silverlight automatically displays at different resolutions as the video content loads. Initially, although the video is visible, it is displayed at lower resolution because high resolution requires either more bandwidth or a longer loading time. As the video stream continues to load, resolution improves to the point where, once loaded, the display is of HD quality. Throughout the process of playing the video, users can watch resolution changing, however the overall effect is of a feed that starts instantly and continues to play with no perceptible delays.

Silverlight is also starting to become ubiquitous, as millions of users have tuned in to the Olympics, the Democratic Convention, or both. On a side note bordering on the astounding, Silverlight 2 Beta 2 is just that—still in beta! Apparently, both the DNCC and the Olympics Committee had enough faith in Microsoft to build their sites around Silverlight technology. This is proof that risk does carry its own reward. Check out the competing Republican National Committee site (, which is not Silverlight-based. Such a comparison is evidence that Silverlight does, in fact, have a major impact on quality of experience.