Silverlight News: SRS and Microsoft to Bring 5.1 Surround Sound

In the hope of offering online video viewers a more exciting experience, Microsoft and SRS Labs are teaming up to provide developers with a new toolkit that will let them add full SRS 5.1 Surround Sound to their creations. Keep reading for the full details.

When Microsoft Silverlight — a web application that integrates multimedia, computer graphics, animation, and interactivity into a single runtime environment — was initially launched as a video streaming plug-in in 2007, Microsoft’s hopes were high. In the three years since its release, four versions have been released, and with each new one comes additional interactivity features and development tools. There have been many highs and a few lows for the web application, but every couple of months it seems as if Silverlight has partnered up with another organization or company that enables their service to become more graphic and interactive.

SRS Labs recently announced that it’s teaming up with Microsoft to offer full SRS 5.1 Surround Sound via a new toolkit for the platform. Essentially, this means that Silverlight will soon feature encoding and decoding of surround sound for streaming content. This may not sound like the most exciting news, but the evolution of streaming media platforms is actually quite interesting. As American consumers become accustomed to having everything at their fingertips, the novelty of Netflix may be beginning to wear off, so consumers are now looking to liven up the experience of watching any movie they desire anywhere they please — and this is where surround sound comes into play.

SRS is a well-respected and established sound standard that has been present on many TVs for years, but now it’s decodable to local setups with the help of Silverlight. As mentioned, the novelty of convenience is wearing thin, so consumers are now demanding better video and audio quality, and having SRS built-in will make it a snap to get virtual sound pushed to your phone or tablet.

Anyone who’s tried to watch a movie on their cell phone or tablet has probably given up ten minutes in out of frustration. Why? Because the sound quality is so horrible, but the fact that SRS Labs is partnering up with Microsoft Silverlight may be a step in the right direction and provide the example needed to get others to make similar partnerships, placing more emphasis on the quality of the services offered rather than the type or quantity of services offered.

According to Allen Gharapetian of SRS Labs, this partnership may be the face of change.

“This is an exciting moment for SRS and we’re thrilled to expand this collaboration with Microsoft to now bring surround sound capability to Silverlight and its millions of users,” Gharapetian, Vice President of Marketing for SRS Labs, said. “Every day, more and more consumers are streaming TV shows and movies over the Web to their PCs, TVs, and mobile phones, and now, with the availability of SRS 5.1 surround for Silverlight, the collective online multimedia experience will continue to become more vivid and immersive.”

What It Means for Consumers

As we hinted at earlier, it’s often easy to forget that when discussing online video (especially streaming video), many things have more than standard 2.0 stereo sound. For example, both television and film offer 5.1 and even 7.1 surround sound. So when we’re watching streaming video we’re completely missing out on sound quality, which is pretty vital to any television/movie/video-watching experience. This deal between SRS Labs and Microsoft Silverlight will give consumers something to look forward to, and that something is improved audio experiences in streaming content.

It also means that Netflix, which is available for Windows, Xbox 360, and various mobile platforms, will soon be able to stream in 5.1 surround sound once they begin to utilize the magic that is the Silverlight platform. There are others that stand to benefit from the partnership between SRS Labs and Microsoft Silverlight as well. For example, NBC and MTV already utilize the Silverlight platform, but because of this new partnership, both networks have content that could utilize the surround sound as soon as the fall of 2010.

According to Reel SEO, an online video marketer’s guide, it should also be pointed out that everything — from game consoles to PCs — will soon be able to decode SRS 5.1 encoded content and deliver it in enhanced 5.1 surround, front-rendered surround, or virtual headphone surround, depending on their speaker configuration.

{mospagebreak title=What it Means for Developers}

This partnership is also good news for developers, but the teaming up of Microsoft and SRS Labs is technically nothing new. SRS has had its WOW technology in Windows Media Player for ten years now. SRS 5.1 is now the only surround format available in Microsoft Silverlight that is coupled with a complete toolkit. Essentially, the SRS package now functions as a managed code add-on for content creators and developers, which will make surround sound decoding in Silverlight apps incredibly easy and faultless.

If you’re a developer or content creator and want to know some of the other major benefits of these encoding and decoding solutions, here they are:

  • Multichannel and front-rendered surround sound
  • Smooth steering and full bandwidth for a seamless and immersive surround environment
  • Backwards compatibility with legacy matrix decoders and stereo
  • Surround streaming over bit rates as low as 96kbps

As you can see, SRS and Microsoft renewing their relationship after ten years is beneficial to all — from consumers who want to get better sound quality on their many electronic gadgets, to developers and content creators looking to make surround sound decoding in Silverlight apps stupid simple.

Is Silverlight Safe Against HTML5?

It’s quite understandable why Microsoft might get a little defensive about HTML5, which is currently under development and will be crowned the next major revision of the HTML standard. Like its predecessors, HTML5 is for structuring and presenting content on the World Wide Web, and HTML5 — unlike its predecessors — will incorporate features like video playback and drag-and-drop that were previously completely dependent on third-party browser plug-ins like Microsoft Silverlight. In other words, many believe that applications like Microsoft’s Silverlight will no longer play a crucial role online, and that it will basically becoming a thing of the past.

There are two sides to every story, however, and while Microsoft publicly acknowledges the importance of HTML5, the company is also quick to stress the fact that Silverlight is rich Internet technology that extends the Web well beyond what HTML5 is capable of.

Standards-based multimedia features that will be offered by HTML5 have stolen the spotlight from technologies like Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe’s Flash, but it’s safe to say that Silverlight will still have a purpose once HTML5 emerges. This opinion is echoed by Microsoft’s Brad Becker, director of product management for Developer Platforms.

In his blog entry entitled "The Future of Silverlight” Becker wrote, "On the Web, the purpose of Silverlight has never been to replace HTML; it’s to do the things that HTML (and other technologies) couldn’t in a way that was easy for developers to tap into. Microsoft remains committed to using Silverlight to extend the Web by enabling scenarios that HTML doesn’t cover," Becker said. "From simple ‘islands of richness’ in HTML pages to full desktop-like applications in the browser and beyond, Silverlight enables applications that deliver the kinds of rich experiences users want."

Not only that, but Becker also contends that Silverlight will continue to be valuable for business/enterprise applications, premium media experiences, and consumer applications and games.

"The media features of Silverlight are far beyond what HTML5 will provide and work consistently in users’ current and future browsers. Silverlight offers advantages in such areas as high-definition video, content protection, 3-D video, and smooth streaming,” Becker wrote.

According to Becker, Microsoft is participating in more than 400 standards engagements, including the development of HTML. "It’s not just idle talk. Microsoft has many investments based on or around HTML, such as SharePoint, Internet Explorer, and ASP.Net. We believe HTML5 will become ubiquitous just like HTML 4.01 is today. Microsoft has even committed to backing HTML5 in its upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser and has partially leveraged it in Internet Explorer 8 as well,” Becker said.

According to PC World, the company is even working on donating test suites to help improve consistency between implementations of HTML5 and Cascading Styles Sheets (CSS) 3, but these technologies have had issues with variations between browsers.

"HTML5 and CSS 3 are going to make this worse for a while as the specs are new and increase the surface area of features that may be implemented differently. In contrast, since we develop all implementations of Silverlight, we can ensure that it renders the same everywhere," Becker said.

To rub even more salt in the wound of those lagging on the development and release of HTML5, Becker was quick to point out to PC World that Microsoft has shipped four major versions of Silverlight in about half the time that HTML5 has been under design. As a matter of fact, Silverlight 4 was released this past April, making it the fourth release in two-and-a-half years.

"For HTML5 to be really targetable, the spec has to stabilize, browsers have to all implement the specs in the same way and over a billion people have to install a new browser or buy a new device or machine. That’s going to take a while and by the time HTML5 is broadly targetable, Silverlight will have evolved significantly. Meanwhile, Silverlight is here now and works in all popular browsers and operating systems," Becker told PC World.

In other words, it looks like Microsoft wins this one, too.

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