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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Zune: A year later (WOW! You have to take it seriously now.. It's very cool)

by Don Burnett

Well I am now the owner of a new 80 gig Zune player.. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for this media player who helped me to get it, it's truly a cut above the original models and the user experience with the Zune software and Zune Store is worth me blogging about. It's UI looks like it might be WPF based (rock on). I admit I own an iPod Touch and I am very familiar with iTunes and syncing. While I like the iPod Touch, I find myself gravitating to the new Zune and the software it uses.. I find the user experience in the Zune software actually a better design and user experience. The pictures below include everything except personal information which I have edited out as to better display the UI elements.. I am using a skinned background called "Everglades". This is also the 64-bit compatible version that I am profiling as well. I am beginning to really love this unit. I have carried it around for a week and not missed the iPod Touch. I usually have a laptop with me anyway, so browsing the web is probably the only thing I miss but not really.

Zune 2.x Features..

This is the music collection screen.. To sync an album to your Zune you just right click on the file or Album Art and select "sync to Zune" from the pop-up menu. The screens are all resizable and refills with more content as it's available..


In the Zune world Podcasts aren't "secondary citizens" and it supports both video and audio podcasts..


Besides the beautiful smooth scrolling and organic UI, the Music store is full of exciting current artists not lacking in content..


The WiFi Sharing peer-to-peer capabilities of the Zune are very cool. I can also stream (over WiFi) play songs that are on my Zune's hard drive on my X-box 360.


How would I compare this ? If I were to compare this to an IPod Classic, the User Experience and WiFi capabilities totally rock. The video and audio and over all workmanship and size (it's less than half the thickness of the original Zune Players from last year) is great and very functional (not a brick).

How does it compare to my IPod Touch?? The iPod Touch attempts to be a PDA more than the Zune which simply focuses on being a kick ass media player and it scores big time on doing so. The WiFi and media sharing concepts and ability to integrate with programs I have recorded from my Windows Media Center. Apple seems to leave me resigned to programs I buy off of iTunes. Of course there are third party programs and extras that will do this for the iPod but it's at extra cost. File conversion of video is automatic and looks beautiful on the Zune (not so using iTunes (for video).

When I use the iPod Touch I always feel like I am being "charged" for something. "Nickel and Diming" me doesn't really cause me invest my loyalty in a company. The recent January software upgrade I bought to bring the iPod Touch up to application "parity" that was "ONLY $20" was pretty lame. These applications are more like desktop widgets with limited function. I'd expect more for a machine that's supposed to have OS X as a mobile operating system. I haven't found anything I could do with them really that I couldn't do from the safari web browser already there. My old Apple Newton was more functional as PDA than the iPod Touch is, Apple needs to work on this.

A few blog entries ago I was very critical of Windows Mobile's user experience and I said I didn't think the Media Center interface could be done well in a 3" display or less. That maybe true with the Windows Mobile prototype I saw last year in a YouTube video, but with the Zune 80's screen size and UI it does it admirably.

So which media player will I use more the iPod Touch or the Zune 80. Well I already love the Zune, and it's natural organically easy to use system. The iPod Touch (as I said) tries to be a PDA. The Web Browser in the iPod Touch is a feature that is not present in the Zune. Like the X-Box 360, it's Internet enabled but not "web enabled". If I was more looking for a mail client, web browser, and portable YouTube terminal and PDA I'd choose the iPod Touch. If you want content that you just have to buy or rent, then maybe iTunes is your way to go.

Below, Apple's iTunes and it's busy display.. The sync seems harder on iTunes, on the Zune software it's one right click to sync a file..


Why I'd choose to buy a Zune..

If I was looking for just a kick-ass media player with a huge hard drive and great wireless media connectivity with my other Microsoft connected devices, the Zune is the way to go, especially if I want to download videos I recorded myself on Windows Media Center or work with mp3s, wma's, or wmv's I previously recorded at home on my own software or have if you have bought a big collection of mp3s from some other player system.. Sometimes people are looking for a pure personal entertainment device and not be tethered to email or work stuff on the web. The Zune is perfect for those people, especially if you have a big CD collection already. The WiFi syncing with devices to your PC is also flawless and quick.

The Zune has really functionally caught up to the iPod as a media player. It's music store has much in the way of "branded" music (you wouldn't be disappointed), and has a lot of new music genres not found or available on iTunes. It's really cutting edge stuff and after I took a listen to it I was surprised and incredibly impressed. It really brought me back to the edgy days when the "Seattle Sound" ruled the airwaves, but it's also new content and cutting edge too, not the typical record company "GENERATED" buzz. The Seattle scene always has known great music, and this is really carried over into the Zune's store.. The FM tuner is nice too, probably never a feature to be seen on an iPod product as anything but an add on too.

It may not ever get the press the iPod does, but the Zune is a great option and very open to file formats and the syncing is much less of a hassle. I really like the Zune Generation 2 and it's software. The Zune is a less expensive better alternative for many people, still feeling homey and keeps me in control. I feel more like it's a media player and less of a "BUY ME NOW" music service terminal.. The Zune succeeds at being social and organically seems to work and feel better as a music/video/podcast player and they really studied how people use devices the round touch circle makes it really easy to adjust volume without looking at the screen too.

Game, Set, Match!..

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Windows Mobile needs User Experience Improvement

by Donald Burnett

I have had a number of Windows Mobile Smartphones, and PDAs. My first Windows CE PDA was a Casio, with a grey scale lcd screen no color.. It worked great for Windows CE 1.0.


My next was a Casio E-125,  and later an HP IPaq

Then I bought a couple of Windows Mobile phones and my latest phone is a Moto-Q 9m.. It's a great phone and email messaging device, it lacks some things, which I will get into with you shortly that I think need to change about WIndows Mobile.

Recently I looked at the Apple iPhone and really loved it, but didn't really like the provider so I ended up buying an Apple iPod Touch and a new Moto-Q for phone functionality, which far and away has the features I have always wanted in Windows Mobile but haven't gotten based on phone handset makers design decisions.. This month Apple updated the iPod Touch to feature many of the applets it was missing from the iPhone and the update supports third party installable applications (provided Apple deems them secure). For email (including access to an exchange server), the device is fantastic though I do miss having a REAL keyboard. The web browser with it's Zooming capability makes quick work out of most pages and is fully featured (except no RSS built-in, but Google's online reader takes care of that problem).

What's missing from the Moto Q9m that I totally think should be there? Well let's talk about it. Internet Explorer Mobile really is missing some features, simply put the web browser on the iPhone and the iPod Touch is better. Screen rendering is much better and it's a much easier way to browse the web than Mobile IE, this is a hands down fact. This is not to say IE Mobile isn't very useable, it is, but it's scope is rather narrow in terms of functionality and  it's got a less natural UI feel to browsing..

 mobile_ie1        features_webpage20080115

A Better Web Browsing Solution  

Now some folks have heard Microsoft is working on improving this with their DEEPFISH product. Unfortunately they showed this for Windows Mobile 5 devices, and I just bought a Mobile 6 device and it's not present in it.  They have added Windows Update to Mobile 6, but there have been no updates there to speak of yet.  Microsoft would be smart to re-issue the beta preview of this from Live Labs right away, even if it's a work in progress. It would make Windows Mobile owners believe some progress is being made.


I really hope this isn't a Windows Mobile 7 type update, because another fact of the market is there isn't a good upgrade path with a lot of Windows Mobile devices. If there is a new version of the software you can't always update you have to buy a new device.. This is unfortunate, because I believe this is what needs to change about the Windows Mobile Market place across device makers and service providers.  The Apple devices have an advantage because so far you can just update the hardware you just bought.

Office Mobile Needs Improvement

My other beef about Windows Mobile is not all applications work on all devices. I recently decided to buy the Office Mobile update, for the Moto Q 9m so I could do document editing. I was really upset and disappointed to learn just before purchase (at the Handango Store, not at the Windows Mobile site) that I could not purchase this because my new device wasn't compatible with Office Mobile. That fact alone really made me steamed. I had got out the credit card ready for purchase and boom no deal..

After this experience, I decided to check out features of Office Mobile.. I was shocked and disappointed after seeing SoftMaker Office 2006 for Windows Mobile Pocket PCs a few years ago and learning that Windows Office Mobile just isn't as functional...

On my old WindowsMobile CE/ PDA (which wasn't nearly as endowed with ram, processor speed, functionality) I could have an almost total Clone of the full-blown Microsoft Word and Excel, with much much more functionality than Office Mobile..  Why doesn't Microsoft just buy this company's product and replace Office Mobile with it? If someone hasn't suggested it to Microsoft they should.  I really wish someone was paying attention to the third party market more carefully.

Simply put it seems we are loosing functionality on Windows Mobile to design considerations which are different among different handset makers.. Even if the interface on the Softmaker Office looks cluttered, the experience and functionality totally wins out..

Here's a comparision..




Now let's do some comparison of Mail Clients. I am throwing in the Apple iPod Touch/iPhone in for comparison, because it does HTML email as well..

iPod Touch E-mail..


Windows Mobile 6 Email

There is not much difference here in functionality at all except for the cleaner font and navigation on the iPod. However both perform this very well..

As for mapping GPS, etc..

I am also very fond of Windows Live Search Mobile.. The Mapping, Directions, and database besides the fact that you can SPEAK to it and it will find something is very amazing. This functionality alone makes Windows Mobile a great buy! It's much more integrated and supports GPS, unlike Apple's current solution.. This is a KILLER application for Windows Mobile.

So for me it's a toss up, Microsoft wins it on real-world features that you want (like live search)  but you just can't beat the iPod/iPhone on style and usability.. The feeling you get is you really love to look at the iPod Touch/iPhone, while Windows PDA's and SmartPhones don't seem to be in the same typographical and layout design world. 

Windows Mobile 7 WishList..

  • A better web browser user experience with scaling and zooming like deepfish, and less UI compromises.
  • A revamped interface (A media center style browser doesn't sound better to me hint! hint! It works on a 10 ft away tv, not on a 3 inch screen)
  • Microsoft buys Softmaker Office and revamps Office Mobile with it
  • Better UI customization
  • More functionality in applications. I think if there aren't more they are going to get killed on this.
  • More speech support in everything (it's better than a touch pad when it works)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Apple Supports 64-bit Windows Vista in Boot Camp

by Don Burnett

According to MacRumors Apple has starting quietly shipping 64-bit Windows Vista Drivers for Boot Camp with the latest Mac Pros.. It is hoped that this feature will start shipping with the 10.5.2 update. This is welcome news for designers who use Mac Pros with Windows Vista.

Chris Bernard Speaking Engagements

by Don Burnett


If you haven't been following what Chris Bernard  is up to with the Phizzpop Design Challenges, or his work inside the design community over the past few years, then you were probably have been outside of the country. Chris has been doing some amazing things to bring the design community together and encourage innovation and has inspired many as we move through this new century. Now there are a number of opportunities to hear Chris speak live coming up.

Speaking Engagements

Got Social Media (January)

IxDA Interaction 08 (March)

Mix 2008 Conference (March)

South By Southwest Conference (March)

Chris is a wonderful speaker, one of the best! You can learn much from him about design and just about any other subject you could query him on. I can't say enough good things about this man's work and outlook on design, and any opportunity to see him live is time well spent. If you haven't experienced Chris' dynamism for yourself, I wholeheartedly suggest you attend one of his upcoming speaking engagements...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cool Silverlight Site Spins Up in France...

By Don Burnett


Over at Microsoft France to promote their TechDays event, they had Brainsonic a great Rich Media production specialty company to come up with a great Silverlight site to promote their TechDays event. This is a really neat site because it uses not just Silverlight video, but some of the functionality we have seen in video demos for Microsoft Surface.. 


You should check out the site as it's a very innovative user interface and is a pretty incredible site and very informative with a lot of organic UI appeal. Scalable pictures and documents.


Here is the great searchable schedule page...




Thursday, January 17, 2008

Michigan Interactive Designers Meeting gets BIGGER for January 24, 2008 Meeting

by Don Burnett

clip_image001Our January 24th, 2008 meeting will be extended until 10:30pm so we can feature another very exciting technology that has just been released. You probably have seen the New York Times or Forbes WPF Readers. Well now the technology behind that, aka The Syndicated Client Experiences Starter Kit has been released. It’s a very cool RIA application that pulls in customized branded content via extended RSS feeds that you set up. It uses WPF client technology to display, search, print and more.  This is such an important application and there is so much interest we had to include it this month..

This is one of the first really killer applications for WPF, and now you can create your own desktop publication with syndicated and updated content, including advertising.. Our plan is to walk through customizing your own application for that company newsletter, technical publication and stepping through the server and client delivery process.

The Syndicated Client Experiences Starter Kit

.Net 3.0 and WPF made it possible to build rich, smart client applications that utilized some of the best features of the web app model (URL deployment for example) while fully exploiting the power and resources of the Windows desktop. SQL Server Compact Edition enabled those desktop applications to be built and deployed with an in-process database to cache data locally and work on or offline seamlessly. Now the Syndicated Client Experiences Starter Kit (built with Microsoft’s new Sync Framework) further simplify the development of these applications and facilitate the creation of new types of rich, optimal content experiences for the desktop – applications where content and design are afforded premium treatment and usability is a key consideration.

These Syndicated Client Experiences applications exploit the push capabilities of RSS in a model where each application retains full control over the presentation of the content. The Sync Framework and sync service take care of syncing, caching, subscription management and the safe caching of authentication credentials. These services are designed to help publishers focus on what matters to them most: providing differentiated content experiences with very rich content, branding, skinning and custom user interface elements for an optimal end-to-end user experience. With the Sync Framework doing the heavy lifting for sync and caching, each SC app can be relatively small in size – around 1-2mb typically.

The Syndicated Client Experiences Reader

SCE applications are sophisticated .Net applications that are web deployed, occasionally connected, and fully exploitive of the desktop providing the optimal user experience for your content. The SC Reader application (the first application sample to be included with the Beta) is a feature rich application that utilizes WPF’s advanced text and layout capabilities to present the best possible reading experience on any screen:

  • Readability and Rich document presentation – Content is rendered with sophisticated text and layout capabilities including hardware-accelerated, sub-pixel clear type, typography and Open Type support for best possible legibility; dynamic hyphenation, adaptable columns and pages, reflow and zoom to adapt to the screen and window size of virtually any screen; figures and floaters, footers, support for ads and hosting of controls within the document.
  • Personalization and Accessibility - Sophisticated content display capabilities with text zoom and accessibility built in.
  • Intuitive and Effortless Navigation - The SC reader is designed for effortless and intuitive “Twitch Navigation” with many keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures, DPad and touch support (for handheld devices and Tablet PCs, and a remote for 10-foot scenarios). Customizable contextual transitions minimize visual discontinuities during navigation.
  • Commenting and Sharing - Built-in commenting and book-marking functionality enable users to reference and share pages, articles as well as attach and share ink, text comments.
  • Mobility and Robustness – the Sync Framework-based sync service caches content from the content provider feed for performance and offline use. Content is synchronized and downloaded in the background and ready whenever a user wants to access it - offline or online.
  • Premier Desktop Positioning – A quick-access Subscription Center utility enables users to peruse subscriptions and content, available offline by way of a powerful SQL Server Compact Edition store.
  • High Fidelity Printing- A rich, adaptive model for printing content that fits intelligently on any paper selected.
  • Support for numerous languages including Indic and East Asian languages.


Meeting Agenda Revised..

      Video.SHOW: Creating your own "Tube" style website. A look at how to create a website that features streaming video content, using Windows Live Streaming for Silverlight, Tags, and Expression Media Encoder on a server.

      Using the Open Source Slide.Show Silverlight control in your own photography website.

      7:00pm- Welcome
      7:15pm- Group News and Q & A
      7:30pm- Video.SHOW demo and how-to presentation
      8:00pm- Slide.SHOW demo and programming example
      9:00pm- Syndicated Client Experiences Demo and Walkthru
      10:30pm- Adjourned


      Bring your laptop, and get copies of the source and review it with us.

      You will be taken step-by-step through creating this application in Blend and Visual Studio..

      You must have the following items installed and ready-to-go to participate

      Microsoft SharedView
      Microsoft Expression Blend (Free Trial Available for download)
      Microsoft Visual Studio Express or Visual Studio 2008


Our meeting will be held at University of Michigan School of Architecture….

Meeting Location:

The University of Michigan
Taubman College of Architecture
Thursday January 24th, 2007
Meeting Time: 7pm – 10:30pm
2000 Bonisteel Blvd.  Room 2216
Ann Arbor, MI 48103


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New iTunes Supports Windows 64-bit and 64-bit Vista Systems

By Don Burnett

MacWorld Suprises

A few suprises came out of thin air at MacWorld, one being a new version of iTunes that supports 64-bit Windows Vista releases.. Looks like Apple has learned how to program 64-bit Windows in the past few months. My first experience with this was downloading the Terminator:Sarah Conner Chronicles Episode 1 (free right now on iTunes). After downloading and playing the episode in full screen mode it seems Apple has most of the bugs out of iTunes, Quicktime and 64-bit systems. Though Quicktime did crash when I closed the file using the close gadget in full screen,the release seems pretty solid outside of that.. Also if you haven't been on the moon somewhere Apple announce an ultra thin portable MacBook, called "Air" with a solid state hard drive as an option, no optical drive built-in but wireless peripheral support and a host of other features.

One of the members of Expression Studio is shipping with the release of Office 2008:Mac (Media Edition) and that is the new Expression Media product. Digital asset management is a serious subject these days from everyone who does professional photography to interactive and RIA design.. Some more exciting news when paired with this is Gekko Images of Sydney Australia has came up with a series of how-to videos and podcasts that covers how to improve your designer workflow, version control of assets, file format conversion (including many RAW formats including Adobe DNG format) for both the Mac and PC versions of Expression Media. The format conversion is worth the cost of the product alone.

These videos rock, Gekko offers specialized training and workflow analysis, including professional audits of your company's workflow process, group training (up to 10 people), 2 day training, One-on-One Training. Also a standard phone support package for assistance off-site is offered.


The group training package is especially exciting as it brings together the following topics:


  • Principles of DAM workflow
  • Overview of the application
  • File importing
  • File Sorting
  • File Transfer
  • Archiving
  • Metadata / search
  • Project integration


  • Advanced tools overview
  • Advanced cataloging
  • Query Building and archiving
  • Worflow integration (batches, scripts, droplets)
  • Custom Scripts / Workflow automation
  • Web Galleries, FTP & PDF Maker
  • Collaborative Workflows (Notes, Reader, Catalog management)

Contact Gekko for further details...

Note if you are on a 64-bit Vista install and you go to the Apple download page to install the new iTunes,  it will recognize that you are on 64-bit Vista and send you to the proper 64-bit setup download option.. The 32-bit installer will now suggest the 64-bit version if you somehow try to install the wrong version. pretty neat huh!

Can you say EEE PC?

Okay what costs $349, is ultramobile, has a solid state drive (droppable), a very portable display and can run XP (if installed), Expression Studio (including Blend and WPF) and did I say costs only $349 dollars right now?? It's Asus' EEE PC. I found out how great this would be as a simple ultra-mobile design on the spot product, thanks to Bill Steele's Blog and how much he really liked this for long airplane rides..

I am probably going to snap one of these up shortly. It will be end-of-year before this device ships with Windows. The hard drive while bigger than some iPods can fit XP on it, but misses some of the size requirements for Vista. But it's ULTRA cool for $350... And you can do .Net 3.5 and WPF with it.. Not to mention Expression Blend.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Regional MSDN and T2 Events and Vista Security Wow!

by Don Burnett

If you aren't taking advantage of Microsoft's quarterly events for Developers and Partners then shame on you... Today I went to our regional MSDN Quarterly event and it was really great it was all about IIS 7 and how it differs from IIS6. They are truly two very different beasts. The presenter was MSDN's famous William Steele, who always puts on a great event. You know someone is a great presenter when they just got the information for the presentation the night before the actual presentation and they still did an amazing job covering the subjects.

So what else did I learn about IIS7, the difference between modules and handlers. We also learned about how the IIS provider model works and how to write a new customized authentication system based on the built-in ASP.NET membership model.  We also learned about how to take things like the ASP.NET authentication system and use it under other customer facing technologies, such as AJAX and Silverlight.  The exciting thin about the provider model is that it allows you to use this internal functionality or even new functionality you write across client technologies..

Over at the T2 event (held at the same time) there was lots of discussion about Windows Server 2008 technologies, including Home Server and Small Business Server.

Okay so you all probably want to know what goodies we received..

The Windows Vista Security Guide in soft cover... WHOOO! This is like the Rosetta Stone of Windows Vista Security. If you have this book and you can't get your installation secure and locked down, then you have problems yourself..


If you missed the print edition and you are curious about what we received.. you can also DOWNLOAD it right here for free (in PDF)

How's that for a bonus for reading this BLOG...


Sunday, January 13, 2008

More great Vista Goodness with Windows Live Photo Gallery

by Don Burnett

While others are concerned about UI frameworks to improve WPF that don't exist yet and Windows versions that are a few years away, and yet while others who consider themselves enterprise "bloggers" but tend to concentrate their comments on Vista's consumer sales. I prefer to look at the other side of the coin and things that are being done with WPF and Vista that really aren't being done anywhere. I really think there is such a negative flow in the press lately because when executed correctly Vista is such a threat to other platforms.

I also believe if people weren't buying Vista, Microsoft would actually be making more of an effort to actually advertising it more and more rushed to fix "problems". I see Microsoft as a very pro-active company, very customer centric, and the comments the press are making at this point don't really seem to be "getting" what's going on here.. As the Gates keynote tells us we are definitely entering the second "Digital Decade" and it's all about technology integration on many different devices. Windows Vista being the common platform uniting all of this integration

Microsoft has been showing of a new feature of Windows Live Photo Gallery, I think this alone underscores some value that you don't get elsewhere. If you haven't installed Windows Live on your computer, this is another great reason to do it...

This is an example of a group of photos stitched together into one panoramic format using Windows Live Photo Gallery (courtesy of Brandon Le Blanc and the Vista Blog).

Windows Live Photo Gallery (a for "free" product) does a great job even better than some commercial products that you have to pay for to get this feature..


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bringing Sexy to WPF Enterprise Applications..

By Don Burnett

I love reading ZDNET and all of their blogging Pundits. One of my favorite blogs there is Mary Jo Foley's Blog... One of her recent columns was entitled "One Year Later: Where are the Killer Vista Apps".  I was flabbergasted when I read the column because I knew that adoption was going well and going big time..  I am very close to the WPF community so I didn't want to respond and say "What are you thinking?". It is possible that she just really hasn't seen any, but I am here to tell you they are hitting big time, but it's not always the consumer sector where Vista is showing off it's power it's in the enterprise.. It's really a quiet revolution that's going on, and not seeable in the usual places..

A really great example is a new application designed and developed by Frog Design called "Lawson Smart Client". Lawson Software based in the US, is a global enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company that helps companies to more effectively manage their business through the application of their solutions. They worked with Frog Design to come up with a great interface to their software..



If you want to read about this application check out Long Zheng's Blog he has a great write-up of exactly what they worked on and a very nice overview of the design and process. I guess Long isn't as concerned about low WPF performance anymore from the write-up he has given as quoted in Mary's blog.

There is even more in-depth including a demo at Frog's Case Study Site..

Between this and the WPF Enterprise Application Contest going on, we should be seeing some really cool and very definitive Vista applications and some very convincing reasons why Vista makes a great enterprise desktop..

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reactrix Systems improves on the Wii's Motion Controllers

by Don Burnett

Well some excitement is going on at CES, in Microsoft's X-Box 360 area a company named Reactrix is showing off some very exciting technology that could also become very important to RIAs as well. Neal Bangerter was on the show floor demonstrating this offering with Major Nelson (of X-Box Fame).

Reactrix has a device that sits on-top of a television and allows you without a handheld controller to manipulate things on-screen in 3D-Space, very reminiscent of the famous "Minority Report" interface. I hope we see this technology on WPF and Silverlight not just the X-Box 360.

The picture below shows someone dragging the word mobile into the TV with stars as feedback as he moves his hands to manipulate what's on screen..



No bulky controller to crack your 50 inch TV when you let go of it... Below, a popping balloons game.



Panda Punchout


The implications of this technology is rather nebulous and extremely exciting and is probably the first time this type of thing has been available on a consumer level.

If you want to view the entire video you can check it out here or at

If you are interested in knowing more about Reactrix Systems you can find more information about them over at Yahoo! Finance! Reactrix Systems Yahoo! Finance Information Entry


X-BOX 360 Television Service Picked up by BT

"For the first time consumers in the U.K. will be able to experience the advantages of an advanced TV service together with the benefits of next-generation gaming."

—Dan Marks, BT Vision

As noted by my earlier entry X-BOX 360 has a new IPTV service (Microsoft Mediaroom). Apparently the announcement was made at CES that BT (British Telecom) will be the first to offer this combined entertainment service. Instead of a cable box, BT service consumers will have the option of having an X-BOX 360 sitting where there box was. I can't wait to hear if AT&T or Verizon or one of the other IPTV service companies in the USA is going to offer the service.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Silverlight wins the Gold at the 2008 Olympic Games

by Don Burnett

During his keynote at CES on Sunday, 6:30pm PT, Bill Gates announced that Microsoft has signed an agreement to a partner with NBC Universal to build a Silverlight 2.0 based web broadcast of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. This was a joint deal with MSN where, in addition to the Silverlight win, MSN will be the official home of the 2008 Summer Olympics. This is a significant win for both MSN and Silverlight that will provide users with exclusive access to over 3000 hours of live and on-demand video content. Interactive features that are being developed for the coverage should turn Silverlight coverage on “ on MSN” into a ground breaking site and video experience that will redefine how users consume sports content online.

This is the largest, most important Silverlight deployment to date.  NBC and the Olympics join several high profile customers and partners around the world have already adopted Silverlight for their next-generation RIAs. 

· The Silverlight showcase, which invites customers to showcase their applications, now features more than 100 applications from 30+ countries/regions around the world.

· The Olympics and NBC joins such noteable examples as, BMW (Germany), Baidu (China), Discovery Channel (Asia), AOL (US), Entertainment Tonight (owned by Paramount - US), World Wrestling Entertainment, Major League Baseball, CBS, FOX Movies (US), and more who use Silverlight today.


When asked why NBC went with Silverlight for their Olympic coverage, versus other formats like Flash Video  (which is currently used on some of the NBC/MSNBC website) the answer was given:

Q: NBC talks about the quality related to Silverlight, what does this mean? Why did NBC choose Silverlight?

A: NBC is committed to providing their viewers the absolute best quality video experience available on the web and to that end they chose Silverlight and the associated Windows Media technologies to make that happen. Silverlight brings support for HD quality video playback through use of Microsoft’s VC-1 codec technology which provides the highest quality video at the lowest bitrates. VC-1 is a SMPTE standard video codec that is used by both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray high definition discs. Additionally, battle-proven Windows Media Services provides unmatched scalability and reliability for streaming video on the web. The combination of Windows Media Services for streaming, VC-1 codec for stream encoding, and Silverlight for playback provides the highest quality video available on the web.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

IPTV comes to Xbox 360

by Don Burnett

CES News

Tina Wood over at Channel 10 has some great news, IPTV has come to the Xbox 360... What the heck is IPTV? For many, it's freedom from a monopolistic (not pluralistic) cable provider. For most it means watching TV channels over the internet through your Xbox 360 (with dvr capabilities) instead of a DVR. I am excited about this because I dream of the day when I can choose the channels I watch and pay for (called a'la carte') which has been around since the 90s but because of Cable TV politics they have been unwilling to give us feature-wise. How different is this from AppleTV? Well it it's a full entertainment solution with games, TV, etc. all in one..

Also pair this with the announcement that Disney-ABC and MGM content is coming to X-Box Live with the announcement that Xbox Live has it's 10 millionth member, this sounds like a resounding success..

You heard it here first, IPTV on Xbox is real!

Also a new UI is being showed off that combines Microsoft's Sea Dragon Technology and Photosynth that is no less reminiscent of Minority Report..

Bill we will miss you...

Also, it's Bill Gates' last CES, he was nice enough to allow himself to be interviewed. Bill will be very missed, as we wish him well with his transition to Gates Foundation. Bill in his career has done work that has changed the world a number of times for the better. We look forward to his work at the Gates Foundation to help attack social issues that are necessary but difficult and will make this a better world for everyone. A big word of thanks to you Mr. Gates, just for being you and being a hero to many of us. You will be missed, but luckily for us not too far away.

Why Silverlight Video in VC-1 versus H.264 ? What the heck is WMV HD?

By Don Burnett

A lot of people really like Silverlight for video, but a lot of people ask me the question of why Microsoft supports VC-1 in Silverlight itself? The other question people ask is whatever happened to WMV HD.. So I thought I might look at some of the reasons behind this. Now this is obviously not the complete answer (you'd have to ask Microsoft yourself) but these are some of the things that come to mind..

Why Microsoft went with VC-1 support instead of H.264 in Silverlight in the wake of other companies adoptions of H.264 (Notably: Apple, Adobe, and MainConcept now owned by DIVX)..

The answer I have heard at a presentation when this question was asked:

"VC-1 wins on performance when H.264 targets quality; VC-1 wins on quality when H.264 targets performance"

In other words (my words) for web based video when decoding video in certain situations VC-1 gives better performance when you are using a profile where quality is targeted... Giving Silverlight some sort of advantage in decoding, which becomes extremely important with web playback where bandwidth dictates everything..

A lot of folks are looking at their strategies for video again this week due to Warner Bros defecting away from HD-DVD to Blu-Ray. Remember both players support VC-1 as well.

However if you are examining that issue again, just rememberthat choosing one codec standard over another doesn't automatically improve video quality of your output. The codec maybe accounts 10% of the quality difference at most, being that it's an end-to-end equipment issue more than the CODEC itself.

Will Silverlight ever add H.264 support? Time will tell, Microsoft isn't saying anything at the moment..

The other question asked..

If you have never heard of WMV HD, it was an initiative back in the way early days of Windows XP, before the dual core CPUs hit and gave 720p and 1080p video thru WMV format. Some DVD makers included the files with their dvd releases (some of the files distributed even lacked any DRM) and some DVD players would actually play back these files on DVD, giving people high definition access very early. Though at the time HDTV's were just coming into existence and most people only had 480p dvd players so they could only play these back on their computer through windows media player. The standard also worked for the web that far back as well. So if anyone tells you web HD video is "new" from this or that vendor, tell them they need to get their facts right and look back a few years to Microsoft's original efforts which pre-date even Apple's Quicktime HD..

Minimum Requirement during the XP Era to Playback HD Video

Minimum Configuration
(to play 720p video)

  • Windows XP
  • Windows Media Player 9 Series
  • 2.4 GHz processor or equivalent (At the time $$$$$)
  • 384 MB of RAM
  • 64 MB video card
  • 1024 x 768 screen resolution
  • 16-bit sound card
  • Speakers

  • Optimum Configuration
    (to play 1080p video with 5.1 surround sound)
  • Windows XP
  • Windows Media Player 10
  • DirectX 9.0
  • 3.0 GHz processor or equivalent (At the time $$$$$$$$$)
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 128 MB video card
  • 1920 x 1440 screen resolution
  • 24-bit 96 kHz multichannel sound card
  • 5.1 surround sound speaker system
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