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Does Silverlight make a difference?

 
A lot is being said about Silverlight.  Is it as good as Adobe Flash, is it all hype, what’s the difference, and all those great questions.  Now one of the things that’s been hyped (a lot) is that Silverlight really allows sites like NBC or CBS to stream very high levels of quality.  It’s generally assumed by many critics that the standard user can’t make use of this level of quality. 
 
This side project is actually to put that theory to the test.  Below is a demo reel I created in Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Particle Illusion.  I used a photo of a street Occidental Park, Seattle – a crater from, and did a small explosion type blast.  Okay – it’s just below the quality of an episode of Dr. Who and I’m not going to win an Academy award – but the point is – it was also done, cradle to grave, one man, two hours effort.
 
The reason I went with particle generators – which btw – in I intentionally made overly large, so you can see the polygons of the particles.  Under high definition conditions they’ll be visible clearly.  (In real footage – you’d want to tweak that down so it looks more realistic and do a better job on the blending with the actual footage.)  The idea here is to compare how well it plays, and if the quality levels are noticeable.
You’ll see right away – they are. Partially because of these massive particles actually having a nice polygon shape in the SIlverlight – and just being annoying blurs in the Flash Player.  
 
The footage was then compressed using Expression Encoder 2 – which generated a nice HD wmv file of the clip you see below.  I located a very off the side “free webhosting” company and set up an account there.  I didn’t go with a GoDaddy or a iPowerweb (which is my preference) because I wanted to see what you get… for free.
 
Here’s a demo reel of a HD 720p video in Sliverlight – run from HTML off a free web hosting site:
If you can see this, your browser doesn’t understand IFRAME. However, we’ll still link you to the file.
 
 
Now if you’re playing this the first time you’ll see the percentages of footage downloaded running it.  This allows slow connections – and btw, this is actually hosted on a standard HTML free website I’ve set up.  There’s no media server involved – it’s just a plain 15 mb wmv file downloaded through the web, and as you can see the quality doesn’t suffer.  Click on the full screen link – and compare this with the same clip that’s running through a flash based player below.  It becomes pretty obvious which offers the better quality.
 
Now there are those that are saying, “Yeah but the flash player re-encodes…” – which is precisely a big part of the problem.  When it’s re-encoded it loses a lot of the quality.  Now, mind you – I don’t have to use a HD 720 file – I could just as easily have settled for the same screen size in a high quality format that would have generated a file 1/2 or even 1/4 of the size for the Silverlight.  Even when I did this – it wasn’t a competition on visual quality.
 
 
If you’re a geek – you will also note that I’ve intentionally put together a video clip that’s got massive particle animations in it.  Something that ordinarilly would cause a lot of artifacting and you’d lose the clarity of the flames and smoke.  We could add in debris and camera shake and all the usual goodies.  To really see the quality level – scroll over the image and switch to full screen mode.  This is why you’re hearing the hype over Silverlight. 
 
Because with a bit of effort the average person can with very minimal resources and not even a streaming media server, bring a high quality (network tv level) experience to their web site, and do it very quickly.  Start to finish – this project took about two hours of my time, and most of it was on getting the flames and smoke right. 
 
Now the question is – “Do you really need that kind of quality?”.  Thats up to you.  I suspect that those businesses that want the professional look and feel are going to ask for it.  I also suspect that Flash is going to have to up it’s quality levels to match – and they should be able to do so. 
 
Personal videos, corporate films and the like – have a whole new level of play than they have had to date.  You’ll see amazing things over the next year or two coming, and I will openly predict that we’ll be seeing more and more original Web TV shows coming our way.  (Shameless plug here for Gemini Division, Dr. Horrible, and others I’ve written about recently.)
 
I’m guessing I’ll probably have to put up a nice video entry here soon to really show off what I’m talkign about by “personal” video moving up to this level of play – but that’s another project.  Yes there will probably be a “Silverlight vs. Flash” argument on the web for sometime and we, as developers and designers we will need to deal with the issue. 
 
For me – the choice is going to be clear.  I’ll provide the user the option to do both.  I’ll set up my web pages to detect if they have the plug-in installed and offer the option to the user to download the plugin if they want – or use flash if they don’t. 
 

You can view the full clip in it’s original size at:
http://jakobson.site90.net/silverlight/downtown.html 

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Posted by on October 16, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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