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Review: Grown Up Microsoft Stream Is Ready for Business

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Stream’s online help files contain instructions for embedding Stream videos into Microsoft Teams, Yammer, SharePoint Online, OneNote, Sway, and oEmbed endpoints. Note that Stream currently can’t serve videos to the public, so if you embed a video into a blog or website, viewers will be forced to log in with their Stream accounts before viewing. No Stream account, no viewing.

Essentially, this means that you can’t use Stream to deliver videos to the general public, forcing companies that need this capability to find another enterprise video platform to do so. We asked our contact about this, and he replied that “both Guest and Anonymous Playback are slated for later this year.”

Other noteworthy Office 365 integrations include the ability to upload recorded PowerPoint presentations directly into Stream and to embed Stream videos into PowerPoint. During our review, Microsoft was beta-testing an integration with Microsoft Forms that allowed creators to insert interactive polls and quizzes directly in their videos, providing an audit trail for determining if an employee watched a particular video and learned the requisite information from it.

Watching Videos

Once the video is uploaded or the live stream concluded, Azure’s voice-to-text feature goes to work. In our test videos, this function proved very accurate, and the text is well-integrated into the desktop player as shown in Figure 7. You can scroll the text with the video or use the search function to quickly locate where a particular word was mentioned in the video. In Figure 7, I’ve searched for all the mentions of the word “Pearl” in the video and can go directly to each mention by clicking the text in the Transcript window.

Figure 7. Stream’s browser- based player, showing the auto-generated transcription on the right

Note that all of the text in the figure was original text as converted by Azure and is completely accurate, although this video has pretty high-quality audio, which is obviously key. If you’re the owner of the video, you can correct any mistakes by clicking the line of text and choosing an Edit function that appears beneath the Transcript window when not in search mode. Make your corrections, and click Done to save the edits. Note that unlike some competitive products, Stream doesn’t transcribe text in frames (such as PowerPoint slides), just the audio.

Beyond searching within a single file, you can search for text in all videos that you have access to, which really opens up the institutional knowledge contained in each video. Overall, while Stream is not the only enterprise solution with auto-transcription, this feature is very well-implemented and adds a lot of value.

Looking at other playe-rrelated features, in Figure 7, I’ve clicked the Settings icon on the bottom right of the player and the Quality control, which lets me choose a ladder rung or to just go Auto, which is the default. Different controls in the

Settings window let you vary playback speed from .5x to 2x and adjust the color, size, and backgrounds for captions and subtitles. The horizontal line with two arrows opens into theater mode, which maximizes the window size within the browser, while the diagonal line with two arrows is the familiar full-screen setting. The CC button enables and disables closed captions, which is the transcript superimposed over the video.

The three buttons on the lower left just above the comments section let you share the video, add it to your watch list, and like it. The final three-dot control enables authorized users to see which channels and groups have access to the video, add the video to a group or channel, edit the options selected when the file was uploaded, and delete or download the original video. Stream currently has no video-editing functionality, so you can’t perform operations— like trimming the heads and tails—that you can perform on other enterprise solutions and, of course, YouTube. This is a major deficit regarding live events, for which, typically, you’ll want to trim the first few minutes of recorded video and perhaps some at the end. Your only option now is to download the video, cut the heads and tails, and then re-upload, which is obviously clumsy.

People View

Figure 8 shows the People view from a snippet of Tears of Steel, with faces on the left and a timeline on the right. You get there by clicking People just beneath the timecode on the lower left of the player. Bulges in the timeline indicate when that character is present in the video, and you can click anywhere on any track to move to that point in the video.

Figure 8. Here’s the People view, where you can track various people and their appearance in the video.

Stream attempts to discern the key people in the video, apparently prioritizing by size in the video and the duration of the appearance. So, the People view may not initially include everyone that Stream detects, although you can add people that Stream detected but didn’t display to the timeline by clicking a “Show more people” option beneath the timeline (not shown in the figure because it disappears after it’s clicked). In Figure 8, the top three actors appeared when we first clicked People, then two more when we first clicked Show more people. Finally, the bottom two appeared when we pressed the option one more time. There’s also an Edit function beneath this display that lets you cull nonessential participants whose faces may have been captured.

Note that you can’t name any of the people identified in the video; you just choose by the picture. The ability to search by name would have been a convenient way to search for different speakers in the video library.

Microsoft supplies apps for both iOS and Android, which I tested on an iPhone X and a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, respectively. App functionality is reasonably consistent with the browser-based player, but lacks People and Transcription views and the ability to choose a quality level. Captions are enabled, and you can also download videos for offline playback, a fabulous feature for commuters or travelers who may need to catch up. Commuters will also like the ability to keep listening to a video even if they switch apps and have Stream play in the background or if they power off their screen. Each app can also float the video window above the app so you can watch the current video while searching for other content.

Analytics

In Stream, video playback analytics are limited to the number of viewers who started the videos and the number of comments and likes. So, there’s no drop-off data to let you know how long viewers are watching a particular video, which has long been available on free tools like YouTube. We’re told that you get “rich analytics” if you use third-party eCDN tools like Hive and Kollective to distribute video inside the firewall and that you can build your own analytics via data sent to Office 365 audit logs. But if you’re looking for a complete set of out-of-the-box analytics, Stream will disappoint.

Overall, if you’re basing much of your employees’ communications and interactions around Office 365 applications, you need an enterprise video solution that works in conjunction with these applications. Although Stream has many feature gaps, most of which Microsoft says it plans to address, its Office 365 integration is very extensive and will only improve over time. This should put Stream on the short list of all Office 365 users seeking an enterprise video solution.

[This article appears in the June 2019 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Review: Microsoft Stream."]

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