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Streaming Media West '15: Unifying the Playback Experience Across Multiple Platforms

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Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media, Almost Live. We've got Andy Beach here. Andy's a good friend, known him for a number of years. Been all across the industry. He's changed roles in the last year. Andy, tell me a little about what you're doing now.

Andy Beach: I actually took a full time role with Microsoft. I had been contracting there on the Xbox team, and they had a full-time position that they offered. They sort of changed things around when they started that progress towards the Windows 10 consolidation. Now I'm a program manager, a technical evangelist, working with a lot of the 3rd party developers who are building the consumer apps. A lot of those are media, but not necessarily just media.

Tim Siglin: How much of your role beyond, say, media would be dealing with Azure or something like that, helping companies understand?

Andy Beach: Actually, I'd say that's sort of the big part of my job. I'm helping run a program called Ecosystem Insiders. It's really for the 3rd party developers, who are building the majority of the main apps that we have on there. A big part of that job is the training and the education to get them up to speed as we make changes. I run these Hack Fests, my old team helps run these. Basically, every couple of weeks we have these 2-day intensive training sessions, where we do coding, learning, presentations by subject matter experts on a variety of topics.

Tim Siglin: Do you get the sense that the app developers understand Azure as a platform, as opposed to just a ... Almost a computer in the cloud, as opposed to a traditional cloud platform?

Andy Beach: I think everyone comes in thinking, they come in with the one part of it they need to know, and then they start finding out all these other things that it does. I had this one sort of eye chart, that's just this massive set of boxes of all the various things. It's very challenging. It's good to have those sessions, because they're good ways to get people up to speed on the parts they need to know. They sort of, serendipitously, learn about other parts as it comes along.

Tim Siglin: Let's pull back to media. What kinds of things would you be doing from a media standpoint, and where do things like Dash play into it?

Andy Beach: Sure. Azure has a whole part of media services that's still a pretty big part of it. Even though it's just a piece of it. We sort of help people understand that, I still get to troubleshoot video from time to time. It still pops in, you never know, it's always good to have that in there. It's also looking for the other aspects of things that you can use the cloud for, with media content that has come into play. Finding out how to use things, like facial recognition and image filters like that, to identify people to help maybe do intelligent cropping of images that you're getting. Or making sure that you're presenting the right two shot in something.

All of that's sort of become automated processes that media apps are just starting to take advantage of. Other enterprise applications have been doing it, and now it's sort of making it into that level. Even to the point of doing things like, we've been doing a lot recently, and this is tied to the Azure Media side, of being able to very quickly pull the audio out. Turn it into text, make it searchable, and then translate it into a bunch of languages, using some sort of intelligence. Then apply it as closed captions.

Tim Siglin: Right, and that's what I was going to ask. Would you tie it back around as time text, so that once you've done the speech-to-text conversion, it's back to being timed up against the content itself?

Andy Beach: Absolutely. Corey Smith talked about a little bit of that this morning in his keynote. Some of that work that, a year or two ago, was having to be done manually, with a lot of quick translation services, is now automated and it's done in the cloud. It's effectively almost done in real time.

Tim Siglin: Speaking of Corey and the keynote that he did, one of the things that he talked about was UHD and 4K versus 1080p60 HDR. I seem to be hearing a lot of that in the industry, where people are saying, "We know UHD's coming, but we really want the high dynamic range." What's your sense on that?

Andy Beach: Yeah, and I think that's, even just the few tests I've seen on it, I feel like HDR is the bigger value right now.

Tim Siglin: There's more color depth.

Andy Beach: Right. Absolutely, and there's just so many more 1080p screens out there right now, that that's sort of the better money spent in the market right now, is getting HDR content or getting screens that do HDR capability.

Tim Siglin: Is it your sense that it will be HDR 1080p in H.264, or they will have to go HEVC to get to that color depth?

Andy Beach: I would love to say that'll probably happen in 264, but realistically I think everybody's starting to make the move to HEVC now. It'll probably get tied to that more, it probably makes sense there.

Tim Siglin: One other thing that Corey talked about, that I'd like to get your take on, is he said that it's not just about having the same experience across multiple Microsoft platforms. Such as Xbox, Windows 10, but also across other platforms like Mac and Linux. Tell me about that.

Andy Beach: Yeah, the philosophy is really around using both the cloud ... Well, being the platform, but not necessarily just our platform. Having services that play just as friendly on iOS and Android are important and crucial. They're part of the philosophy. You've seen it with some of the acquisitions they've made in the iOS world. Frankly, I think one of the best Outlook apps out there right now is iOS. It's great. I miss some of those features when I'm then back on a Windows phone.

Tim Siglin: Right.

Andy Beach: Or even on my desktop, but having that is key. For sure.

Tim Siglin: What about on the media side? Is it also equally important?

Andy Beach: Yeah, for sure. Our viewing habits are just continuing to fragment, and so we're using all of our digital devices, but we're using them all in different ways and at different times. Having consistency of either how you use the content or how can you use it to cast to a device. All of that has to operate and play together. I think it's one of the things that has made it very interesting being at Microsoft, also.

Tim Siglin: Andy, it is always great to have you. Appreciate your time.

Andy Beach: Thanks Tim.

Tim Siglin: And, again, this is Almost Live with Streaming Media West 2015 show.

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