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It's All in the Delivery: A Look at the Top Video Players of Today and Tomorrow

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As you can tell, I watch way too much media, which is why today’s video media playback technologies are so compelling to me. I have a lot of experience with digital media technologies. As a result of those experiences, I have learned quite a bit about media players and their related technologies. I first started playing audio on my computer around 1995 with some technology a friend told me about called RealAudio. I was working in the radio broadcast industry at the time, and my buddy Tim was one of our engineers. I respected Tim a great deal, especially when it came to anything that had to do with the internet, as he had started one of the first ISPs in San Francisco's Bay Area. Tim said that a company called Real Audio had created something called an audio player that could play back audio on my PC. I remember playing some sort of animated cartoon along with the audio. The cartoon was awful, but I still thought it was the coolest thing ever.

That brief experience was probably one of the things that propelled me to start an internet company 4 years later. The company was called SyncCast, and it was the manifestation of my efforts to synchronize broadcast media with the internet. That didn’t turn out to be such a good idea at the time, but the company later developed technology that helped companies launch streaming and video-on-demand (VOD) services. With our largest customer, Microsoft, we helped to launch the Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace, which became the No. 2 online video service. I recently sold SyncCast to Technicolor.

However, today’s media playback technologies are not synchronizing broadcast media onto the internet. Instead, they are actually advancing broadcast media by leveraging the internet as a delivery medium. As such, these technologies are now becoming disruptive far beyond the confines of the web.

The industry has come up with a new term to describe today’s media delivery technology: rich interactive applications (RIA). Microsoft’s technology is called Silverlight, which the company describes as a "cross-browser, cross-platform plugin for delivering the next generation of .NET-based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web."

Here are some of the key benefits of developing solutions in the RIA interface with Adobe’s AIR or Microsoft’s Silverlight:

—The application does not require internet access to function.
—The application has access to the user’s desktop (clipboard, system tray, etc.).
—The application has access to a local database.
—The application can be written once for both the internet and the desktop.

In the above definition, Microsoft has identified many of the characteristics that today’s video playback technology platforms require to be successful. After examining the landscape, I have come up with a list of elements that I believe are essential for any competitive video playback technology platform. While we are in a Web 2.0 world and moving only slowly to a Web 3.0 world, we are nonetheless in a transition period where advertising and video will dominate the web. I’ll affectionately refer to this transition period as Web 2.5. The following is my list of essential elements for this video technology:

—Cross-browser support—In an ad-dominated medium, you don’t want to dictate to the user which browser he or she must have, so it is important to support as many as possible. The key browsers are Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

—Cross-platform support—Again, in an ad-dominated marketplace, you want to maximize your reach, so don’t mandate which operating system the user must be on.

—Development environment—You want to be able to write video applications only once for both the internet and the desktop so users can enjoy content whether they are online or offline (e.g., while on an airplane).

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