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Two Worlds Collide: Smooth Streaming Meets Flash Player

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Microsoft today announced that it is launching a preview version of a Smooth Streaming plugin for the Open Source Media Framework (OSMF) player. Developers can use Smooth Streaming capabilities in any OSMF-compliant player, as well as Adobe's own Strobe player.

"We are pleased to announce that Windows Azure Media Services team released a preview of Microsoft Smooth Streaming plugin for OSMF," wrote Cenk Dingiloglu, a program manager on the Windows Azure Media Services team, in a Microsoft IIS Blog posting. He also provided a link, for developers who want to integrate the plugin, to a set of documents and licensing requirements.

In a series of meetings last Thursday on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, the Windows Azure Media Services team laid out their strategy on a number of fronts, including the extension of Smooth Streaming client software development kits (SDKs) to embedded devices, iOS devices, and player frameworks

During one of those Microsoft-sponsored meetings, hosted by Microsoft senior technical evangelist Alex Zambelli, Dingiloglu and Mike Downey discussed the most recent addition of OSMF support, noting that Smooth Streaming shares similarities when it comes to codecs and the use of the fragmented MP4 file.

"Support for the same audio and video codecs, H.264 and AAC, respectively," said Dingiloglu, "provides the opportunity to use fMP4, leveraging the best of both the OSMF framework and the Smooth Streaming Client SDK."

The Smooth Streaming plugin will provide some key features of Smooth Streaming, such as on-demand functionality (play, pause, seek, stop), but will also use OSMF built-in API hooks to support two key features: multiple audio language switching and maximum playback quality selection.

OSMF supports late binding, based on its use of fMP4, allowing multiple languages to be accessible to the end user without requiring all possible languages' audio tracks to be multiplexed together into a single transport stream, the way that iOS devices require.

OSMF and a  Player support also provides Microsoft a way onto the Android OS platform, too, making it possible for Smooth Streaming content to reach Android-powered smartphones and tablets.

"You can 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," Dingiloglu wrote in the IIS blog post.

Microsoft isn't claiming the new OSMF plugin is ready for prime time quite yet, but I was able to see a working version of Smooth Streaming within an OSMF player during last week's visit.

In fact, one of the more impressive demonstrations was that of a playlist/manifest file that contained both Adobe .f4v files and Microsoft .ism files. The OSMF player seamlessly switched between the two fMP4 file formats, allowing content owners to intermix content from either format for playback.

"As this is a preview release, you're likely to hit issues, have feature requests, or want to provide general feedback," wrote Dingiloglu. "We want to hear it all! Please use the Smooth Streaming plugin for OSMF Forum thread to let us know what's working, what isn't, and how we can improve your Smooth Streaming development experience for OSMF applications."

All of this raises the question around Smooth Streaming as it relates to MPEG DASH, the ratified dynamic adaptive streaming standard. Like Adobe, which noted it will continue to develop its own HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS) flavor of HTTP-delivered adaptive bitrate streaming, Microsoft sees a benefit in continuing to push the envelope with Smooth Streaming.

The company made it clear that it fully supports DASH, and yet it sees Smooth Streaming as a test bed in which it can continue to innovate for major events like the Olympic Games, which served as a catalyst - over the past three Games - for a number of innovations that now find their way into both Windows Azure Media Services and DASH.

The Smooth Streaming plugin requires browsers supporting Flash Player 10.2 or higher and also requires OSMF 2.0. Microsoft provides licensing details for the Smooth Streaming plugin for interested developers.

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