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Microsoft Announces H.264 Support for Silverlight

Josh Catone

In advance of the IBC Conference starting later this week in Amsterdam, Microsoft today announced support for H.264 and AAC in its Silverlight API. Microsoft will be demonstrating a working tech demo of Silverlight with H.264 and AAC support, though I was told by Brian Goldfarb, Director of Developer Platform and Tools at Microsoft, that it won’t be available to the public until Silverlight 3. Silverlight 2 is expected to ship later this fall.

Goldfarb told me that Microsoft isn’t abandoning VC-1 or Windows Media and still back it as their video codec of choice, but rather they recognize that there is a choice that consumers demand. Adobe began support H.264 video and AAC audio with Flash Player 9 and Apple has long relied on them as their standard video/audio codecs, which has made the pair popular industry-wide.

While I had Goldfarb on the phone, I asked him about NBC’s recent decision to opt for Flash for their NFL Monday Night Football web video streaming application rather than Silverlight, which powered their Olympics site. ReadWriteWeb suggested recently that NBC seemed “to be having a change of heart” and had run back to Adobe and Flash for their NFL application. That was a sentiment repeated on many sites around the web at the end of last week when the NBC site made its debut for the Giants vs. Redskins opener. The RWW post was actually based on one at Silicon Alley Insider that intimated something similar.

When I brought it up, Goldfarb got defensive and called it a “foolish and ignorant” view. I was told that the NFL was actually continuing an investment in Flash streaming technology made last season, and not making a new decision to go with Flash over Silverlight. I couldn’t get Goldfarb to say specifically if the decision was NBC’s or the NFL’s, but I suspect that the league had more say in the choice of technology. Last week, when I spoke to Adobe about the NFL site I asked them the same question and they would only answer by saying that Adobe has a good relationship with NBC.

Microsoft tells me that NBC is working on other projects using Silverlight that it will announce in the coming months. Goldfarb also made it clear that he feels it is silly to think that either Silverlight or Flash will “take over the world.” There is space for both to exist and they can work together, he told me.

As far as the Olympics were concerned, Microsoft thinks that our awarding the gold medal to Adobe may have been premature. The Olympics were definitely a net positive for Microsoft. Of the 40 million visitors who landed on the NBCOlympics.com page, Microsoft told me about 50% had Silverlight installed within a few days of first visiting the site, if they did not have it installed already. The company reports that they are seeing “up to 1.5 million downloads per day” of the plugin, and saw over 30% growth in the US market as result of the Olympics.