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Sayonara Silverlight: How Panopto Switched to Flash and HTML5

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How has mobile support evolved? Is everything browser-based or are apps needed?

Mobile playback is supported in-browser or in native apps for iOS and Android. There are three advantages of accessing Panopto through the apps. First, they deliver a more responsive and interactive experience than what’s possible in the browser. Second, the native apps bifurcate the experience between smartphones and tablets to provide a better playback user experience on larger screens. Finally, the native apps support recording and automatic uploading of video to the Panopto server.

Where does Windows phone fit in?

We haven’t yet built a native app for Windows tablets or phones, and we look forward to Microsoft unifying the “modern UI” apps across desktop, tablet, and phone operating systems. In the meantime, Windows Phone users can access Panopto through the browser and our video podcast encoding.

How critical is digital rights management (DRM) to your product line? How has that evolved?

Because our customers typically deliver Panopto video content within their organization, access security has been more critical than DRM. To enforce access control, we secure the perimeter of Panopto using oAuth, SAML, Active Directory, or other ID providers, and every interaction with the server is identity- and entitlement-aware. Panopto also supports sitewide SSL for encryption of client-server communication, chunked streaming to help prevent MITM (man in the middle) attacks, and app local storage caching to help prevent misappropriation of video content when using the mobile apps.

How was your timing? Too early, too late, or just right?

In 2012, when Microsoft announced the end of life for Silverlight, it sent a clear message to the video ecosystem and to any organization considering the use of video streaming technology. The fact that Silverlight 5 would be supported until 2021 was largely irrelevant because organizations had already begun to view Silverlight as a legacy technology. Although this perception was increasingly a point of discussion with our clients, we were fortunate in that our existing media stack was mature and stable. This gave us the ability to swarm our resources to the new Flash- and HTML5-based media pipeline, and get it shipped in relatively short order.

What's the development burden of moving from Silverlight to HTML5/MSE?

In my experience, media-focused software development requires a unique skill set. You need extremely specialized knowledge combined with brute-force perseverance to overcome technical hurdles. Often, these technical hurdles are related to standards, codecs, and implementations that are completely out of your control, and they can often mean the difference between an unusable product and one that’s ready to ship. It’s rare to find engineers who can quickly diagnose and solve these kinds of problems, but when you do, their skills are transferable between media technologies.

This was absolutely the case in our transition away from Silverlight. Our experience with Silverlight and Smooth Streaming provided a foundation in the form of a synchronized, multi-stream, multi-bitrate GOP encoder. Originally, this had been an incredibly complex undertaking because of the need to do multi-threaded locking and blocking while saturating CPUs, all without dropping frames. Because we’d already solved the problem with our Smooth Streaming implementation, we were able to effectively swap codecs (VC1 to H.264) while maintaining our original investment.

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