Microsoft Releases Smooth Streaming Plugin for Flash

This is a bit old news (March 2013), but I was doing some research for an article on Windows Azure Media Services, and noticed that Microsoft released the Smooth Streaming Plugin for OSMF 2.0 (Adobe’s Open Source Media Framework for adding features to the Flash Player). As stated in the release notes,

Using Smooth Streaming OSMF plugin, you can add Smooth Streaming capabilities to existing OSMF and Strobe Media Playback players and furthermore build rich media experiences for Adobe Flash Player endpoints using the same back-end infrastructure you use today to target Smooth Streaming playback to other devices like Win8 store apps, browser and so on.

Basically, websites using Microsoft IIS and the associated Media Services modules to stream to Silverlight players can now keep the same back end infrastructure and stream to the Flash Player. The version that shipped in March supports live and on-demand playback (the feature list is pasted below), and it seems like the only critical missing feature is Playready DRM, though I’m not 100% clear on that. If I’m wrong, please let me know via comment and I’ll make the correction.

Why did Microsoft create the plugin? Because the last time I checked (which didn’t seem to be working this morning), Silverlight penetration was just above 70% overall, but dismal on the Mac platform, while Flash was 95% plus on both platforms. At 70%, and lower on the Mac, public-facing websites just couldn’t use Silverlight.

This move effectively unbundles Smooth Streaming from Silverlight for desktop playback. Since Microsoft seems to be abandoning Silverlight, they needed another technology to make Smooth Streaming available to desktop players. While I’m sure Microsoft would prefer direct support in all relevant HTML5 browsers, Chrome and Internet Explorer seem more focused on DASH than Smooth Streaming. That leaves Flash as the only practical alternative.

Here are the features supported in the plugin:

1 On-demand Smooth Streaming playback (Play, Pause, Seek, Stop)
2 Live Smooth Streaming playback (Play)
3 Live Smooth Streaming DVR playback (Play, Pause, Seek, go-to-live)
4 Support for video codecs – H.264
5 Support for Audio codecs – AAC
6 Multiple audio language switching with OSMF built-in APIs
7 Max playback quality selection with OSMF built-in APIs
8 This version only supports OSMF 2.0

Why didn’t Microsoft abandon Smooth Streaming in favor of a strictly HTML5/DASH approach? If you look at the feature list, the first three and 6 & 7 aren’t available in HTML5 and won’t be until DASH is fully supported in all HTML5 compatible browsers. Not to plow old ground, but since we don’t even know if DASH will come with a royalty yet, which would likely assure that Mozilla wouldn’t support it, it’s tough to anticipate when DASH will be supported in all HTML5 browsers and when the penetration of those supported browsers will be sufficient to abandon a plug-in based approach.

In the public eye, companies like Microsoft and Adobe are singing the praises of HTML5. Behind the scenes, both are taking pragmatic steps to make sure that their customers can continue to use their existing products.

Bottom line? As I’ve said before, if you think Flash is going away anytime soon, you’re sadly mistaken.

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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