By John Deutscher
Principal Program Manager Lead
We are unveiling several exciting updates to Microsoft Azure Media Services at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention today, all consistent with Media Service’s broader vision of helping media developers build end-to-end media workflows and reduce the costs associated with integrating multiple products and providers. This includes key new services like Live, Content Protection and Key Delivery, and enhancements to our encoder’s capabilities and support for popular streaming formats. We are also working on improving the integration of CMS’s with Media Services by offering low-cost open source solutions along with more complex integrations with industry leading OTT providers.
Here are some of the highlights of what our team has been working on for NAB this year:
Live Streaming Preview
Building on the success of live streaming the 2014 Winter Olympics to millions of customers in 22 countries, we will soon be opening up the underlying technology that made this possible in preview to our customers.
All Media Services customers will have access to the tools and services needed to handle everything from ingest to processing, and distribution of on-demand video content or streaming live events at Olympic scale, to nearly any device.
If you’re interested in previewing our live services contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On-Demand Encoding and Streaming
Secure Delivery Service Preview
We are introducing a new secure delivery service that enables customers to protect their content during upload, while at rest in storage, and during playback, using either Microsoft PlayReady Digital Rights Management (DRM) or AES 128 encryption. This feature allows you to serve both encrypted HLS and Smooth Streaming to your client devices. In addition, we are announcing the preview release of our PlayReady License delivery service. Using this new service you can configure and deliver PlayReady licenses to your client applications directly from a Microsoft Azure platform service.
For more details on the new PlayReady service and AES dynamic encryption with Azure Media Services, please read Mingfei Yan’s latest blog post here.
If you’re interested in previewing our secure delivery services contact us at: email@example.com.
Office 365 Video Portal
Just a few weeks back at the SharePoint conference we introduced a new Office 365 video experience for enterprise customers – offering secure, cloud-based video upload, storage and optimized playback all powered by Media Services. This new service leverages the power of Azure Media Services encoding, streaming, and security services to provide an enterprise grade solution with the power of Office 365 in the cloud and on client devices. Learn more about how this awesome new solution can work for your organization here.
Two New Data Centers in Japan
Our platform team opened two new data centers for Media Services last month for our Japanese customers: Japan-West and Japan-East. We are all very excited about this new region and are looking forward to working with our new customers in Japan.
MPEG-DASH for On-Demand Streaming is now GA
We are happy to announce that our MPEG-DASH support for on-demand streaming through our streaming origin services is now GA. It is included in the cost of an Origin reserved unit. Live streaming with MPEG-DASH is still in private preview and available only to Live preview customers at this time.
Contact us if you are interested in testing MPEG-DASH live streaming at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grass Valley® HQ/HQX Digital Intermediate File Support
The encoder team added built-in support for sourcing from Grass Valley’s HQ Codec/HQX Codec. This opens up a new door for high-quality digital intermediate ingest into Media Services. The higher quality source files from Grass Valley’s HQ and HQX codecs provides the ability to encode without significant quality loss at high-speed and with low CPU usage.
The HQX format supports compression ranges from 25:1 to 2:1 and bitrates from 45 Mb/s down to 7.8Mb/s. In addition, the codec supports 10 bit color depth and 4:2:2 YCbCr chroma. Grass Valley Edius users can now upload and encode AVI files with the codec for encoding and stream them for multi-device distribution via HLS, MPEG-DASH, and Smooth Streaming.
To read more details about the benefits of the Grass Valley HQ/HQX digital intermediate format download the application note here.
Apple HLS version 3 Support for Improved Backwards Compatibility
Responding to customer demand, our streaming server team added support for the older HLS version 3 draft specification to our Dynamic Packaging feature. Previously we only supported the newer un-muxed HLS version 4 specification. Multi-language support was the primary motivation behind choosing HLS v4 two years ago for our service. At that time, Android was seeing a lot of active development and with its largely international customer base, it was assumed that Android would adopt HLS v4 for these multi-lingual markets. Unfortunately that is not what happened.
We listened to customer feedback that a lot of older devices had not moved to the newer Apple drafts including some Smart TV’s, JWPlayer, and Android. This feature of the streaming origin server now provides backward compatibility to older Android devices, version 4.2.2 to present, as well as the ability to reach older connected TVs and set-top boxes. In addition, we have added the ability to select audio languages when streaming HLS v3 using Azure Media Services — despite limitations in the original specification. To use HLS v3 in production today, simply modify and add a “–v3″ to the end of your streaming manifest URL for HLS:
This will mux the default audio language into the video. For more details on how to handle multi-language muxing with HLSv3, read the MSDN forum post with details from Nick Drouin here.
New Content Management Integration with Orchard CMS
Microsoft Open Technologies is announcing a new module for the open source Orchard content management system (CMS) which provides a convenient user interface for managing Azure Media Services content. Now users can store, encode, manage and view videos using Media Services natively in Orchard. Multiple input and output formats are supported including adaptive bitrate streams. The included custom video player framework, can automatically select the ideal playback option including Flash,DASH.js and Silverlight, allowing users to preview their content. The integration of Azure Media Services and Orchard makes it easy to build powerful and scalable video content management solution on Microsoft Azure. Features of the new module include:
- Uploading a single video and automatically encoding in multiple formats
- Support for dynamic bitrate output formats (Apple HLS and MPEG-DASH)
- Comprehensive access policies
- Scheduled publication of video assets
- Built-in player that automatically selects the optimal playback client
Getting Started with Orchard and Media Services
There are several ways to set up a site based off of Orchard CMS ranging from the very simple (Azure Web Sites Gallery) to the more complex, but very flexible, building from source code. The modules user guide describes five different ways of enabling these features. The user guide also clearly documents how to configure the module to use your Media Services subscription (if you don’t have a subscription yet you can try things out with a free $200 credit trial subscription) This module is part of the official Orchard project, if you have feature requests, bug reports or better yet documentation and/or code contributions please head on over to the Orchard project.
To get more details on the new module for Media Services, check out the Open Tech project here.
Dolby® Digital Plus Encoding Now Available
Our encoder team is also excited to announce that the Azure Media Encoder is now certified for Dolby® Digital Plus encoding. With the proliferation of devices that consume media, there is an increasing need for customers to offer superior audio quality to their users and deliver premium content with 5.1 surround sound. Using Media Services, HD programming with high quality multi-channel surround sound is now possible across different platforms, including Windows 8, Xbox, mobile devices and more.
Dolby® Digital Plus, or Enhanced AC-3 (E-AC-3), is an advanced surround sound audio codec designed for high quality audio. Dolby Digital Plus is based on core Dolby Digital technologies, an established standard for cinema, broadcast, and home theater surround sound. Start delivering a first-class media experience to your users today.
For more details on using Dolby Digital Plus encoding with Microsoft Azure Media Services, check out this article.
Dolby® Professional Loudness Metering Support
The Azure Media Encoder team is also announcing support for Dolby® Professional Loudness Metering. Viewers adjust the volume control based on the loudness of dialogue, and do not adjust again for typical variations in programs, such as quiet sections without dialogue or brief high-loudness scenes like explosions. Their biggest complaint is when the dialogue level changes drastically from one video to another. Broadcasters and content producers use Dolby® Professional Loudness solutions to help ensure consistent audio loudness levels.
The Dolby® Professional Loudness Metering solution combines the use of standards-based loudness estimation algorithms with Dolby® Dialogue Intelligence™ technology. Supported algorithms are those most prominently in use worldwide: Leq(A), ITU-R BS.1770-1, ITU-R BS.1770-2, and EBU R 128.
With the integration of this technology in Azure Media Encoder, you can now ensure that your Dolby® Digital Plus encodes have the correct setting for Dialog Normalization, and ensure a consistent playback experience for your customers. Start delivering a first-class media experience to your users today. For more details on using Dolby® Professional Loudness Metering with Azure Media Services, check out this article.
OSMF Player Beta with MPEG-DASH Support
The Media Services client team is announcing a beta version of a Flash based OSMF plugin with MPEG-DASH support. Using the OSMF plugin, you can add both Smooth Streaming and on-demand MPEG-DASH (beta) content playback capabilities to existing OSMF and Strobe Media Playback players and furthermore build rich media experiences for Adobe Flash Player endpoints using Media Services. The player does not yet support live streaming of DASH content, but we are working on that too. Download the new player plugin here.
Smooth Streaming Client SDK for Windows Phone 8.1
Our client team also updated the Smooth Streaming Client SDK for Windows Phone 8.1 to align with the announcement of Windows Phone 8.1 at the //Build/ conference. This release includes the same feature set as the Smooth Streaming Client SDK for Windows 8/8.1 and also uses the same API which will help unifying development efforts across Windows, Windows Phone and XBOX ONE applications For more details check out Cenk Dingiloglu’s blog post here.
Microsoft Smooth Streaming Client SDK 2.5 with MPEG-DASH Support
The PlayReady team, working in conjunction with the Media Services team announced the availability of the Microsoft Smooth Streaming Client 2.5 with MPEG DASH support. This release adds the ability to parse and play MPEG DASH manifests in the Smooth Streaming Media Engine (SSME) to provide a Windows7/Windows8 and MacOS solution using MPEG DASH for on-demand streaming scenarios. Developers that wish to move content libraries to MPEG-DASH now have the option of using DASH in places where Silverlight is supported.
The existing SSME object model forms the basis of DASH support in the SSME. For example, DASH concepts like Adaptation Sets and Representations have been mapped to their logical counterpart in the SSME. Also, Adaptation Sets are exposed as Smooth Streams and Representations are exposed as Smooth Tracks. Existing Track selection and restriction APIs can be expected to function identically for Smooth and DASH content. In most other respects, DASH support is transparent to the user and a programmer who has worked with the SSME APIs can expect the same developer experience when working with DASH content. Download the new player SDK here. For more details check out Cenk Dingiloglu’s blog post here.
That’s all of the updates from the engineering team for NAB. The business team also has a lot of exciting partnership announcements and customer case studies to talk about as well. I’ll be updating the blog after NAB with announcements and links to more details.