Deliver Live and On-Demand HTML Video With Azure Media Services

Video player

Ever want to create your own app for live-streaming
your work? How about your own YouTube-esque program for playing back your
previously recorded video? You might have used Flash, Java, or Silverlight for
rich media in the past, but with Chrome 42 announcing that those
plug-ins are no longer supported
, now is as good a time to go HTML5 as ever.

Before I worked at Microsoft, I was a Senior Engineer on the Product
Development team at Comcast, where I worked on video players for a number of
platforms, including the web, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and SmartGlass. It was an
outstanding education in cutting edge video technology, and I’m glad that I can
take my experience with me in this role and teach others much of what I learned

This is the first of a series of articles about using Azure Media
Services to create and consume HTML5 video. In this tutorial, I’ll explain how
to use this cloud media solution to get set up and start experimenting with
delivering live or on-demand video.

1. A Primer on Video

There are a number of formats to choose from, so let’s go through
some of the ones you can use today. First and foremost, we should understand
how adaptive steaming works, considering many of these technologies that lie
ahead rely on this.

Adaptive streaming segments video into small chunks. The ‘adaptive’
part of this is the fact that video is encoded at multiple bitrates and
resolutions, creating chunks of multiple sizes. From there, the player can
choose between different bitrates/resolutions and adapt to larger or smaller
chunks automatically as network conditions change.

Scott Hanselman describes it (well, Smooth
Streaming at least) well.

“You kind have to see it to get it, but it’s
actually clever in its simplicity. Some folks freak out when they take a, say,
200 meg video file and encode it for Smooth Streaming and the resulting
directory is, say, 500 megs. They might say, it’s larger! I don’t have that
kind of bandwidth! In fact, less is sent over the wire than exists on disk. The
idea is that Smooth Streaming creates “steps” of bitrates. It encodes and
stores your file multiple bit-rates on the disk.

DJ jumping between tracks
Source: Scott Hanselman

Progressive MP4

This downloads and caches video on the viewer’s computer. A short
period of time is required to buffer and cache the beginning of the media file
before it starts playing. Once the video has been cached, subsequent viewing
does not require any buffering. Using the standard HTTP protocol, progressively
downloaded files are generally delivered through a content delivery
network (CDN). So your video player creates a direct HTTP connection with the
CDN’s (Azure) servers to retrieve the content.

The downfall to using something like this is the wasted bandwidth.
The player will start video playback as soon as it has enough data to do so,
but it will continue to download until it has received the whole file,
regardless of how much the user watches. What happens when the viewer leaves
after one minute? Wasted bandwidth.

Moreover, this does not allow the quality of the video to change
mid-download, unlike the formats listed below.

HLS Overview

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is owned by Apple and works is based on
the idea of adaptive streaming, usually done in ten-second chunks.
Additionally, it supports both
live and on-demand video.

Streaming Overview

This was announced in October of 2008 as part of Silverlight, and is
a feature of Internet Information Services (IIS) Media Services, an integrated, HTTP-based media delivery platform.

Smooth Streaming has all of the typical characteristics of adaptive streaming. This is delivered over HTTP, segmented into
small chunks, and usually multiple bit rates are encoded so that the player can
look at your network conditions to choose the best video bit rate to deliver an
optimal viewing experience.

Low web-based infrastructure costs, firewall compatibility and bit
rate switching are just some of the perks of adaptive streaming.

MPEG Dash Overview

The big differentiator with DASH is that it is an international
standard that is now controlled by a standards body—the Motion Picture
Experts Group (MPEG)—instead of being controlled by Microsoft (Smooth
Streaming) or Apple (HLS). Several companies participated in the creation and
standardization efforts around MPEG DASH, including Microsoft, Apple, Netflix,
Qualcomm, Ericsson, Samsung, and many more.

We see MPEG-DASH as the eventual replacement for all of the features
that we have introduced and implemented in the past years with Smooth
Streaming. Over time we will get out DASH support to have feature parity
with Smooth, and introduce some even cooler features that are only available to
us in an industry standard like DASH.

2. HTML5 Video Support

The video tag (<video>) has been in HTML5 for several years
now and all the modern browsers support it. The W3C
schools page
illustrates its usage in clear terms.

HTML5 video support by browser

Here’s how easy it is to add it to your page:

In fact, you likely use this every day. Netflix used to rely on
Silverlight as their video player, but it now runs on HTML5 video. YouTube
previously ran on Flash, but now much of its content is being converted to
HTML5. You know those video players you see on Xbox One (YouTube, Xbox Video,
Netflix, etc.)? Yup, those are all HTML5 as well.

It’s even gotten a lot easier to test HTML5 video across browsers,
especially various versions of Internet Explorer and the new Microsoft Edge. To do this, you can get free
virtual machines
or test remotely on your Mac, iOS, Android, or
Windows device.

Netflix video using HTML5

3. A Note on Players

There are many to choose from. In this tutorial, I use Azure
Media Services Player
since it’s is a good one to start with, to get a feel for how media
streaming works. It includes a number of sample videos, and a simple pull-down
menu where you can select the various formats and see the tech and protection
level behind each of them.

It provides support for a variety of formats out of the box,

  • Smooth Streaming
  • MPEG Dash
  • HLS
  • Progressive MP4
Azure Media Services Player

Best of all, you don’t even need to create your own player or page
to test any of your video content out. Simple change the URL to your content,
and off you go.

You can also look at the open-source Video.js framework.
It is similar to the Microsoft player (below), but also offers a bevy of
options to make it easy to style. They have an excellent skin designer, too. If you’re less
familiar with advanced CSS, however, I’d shy away from this.

VideoJS Player

4. Building Your Own Video

There are several player frameworks that we can use, but for
simplicity’s sake, let’s use the HTML5 player provided by Microsoft. You can find the documentation on it here. There’s also a working sample.

Here are some of the perks of using it:

“The HTML5 Player framework delivers a consistent video
experience for the browser. This is accomplished by detecting support for
different video player technologies available on the client (e.g. HTML5 video
tag, Silverlight, etc.) and then providing the same JavaScript API and the same
set of controls regardless of the technology that is used. It will iterate
through a list of fallback video player technologies until a supported
technology is found.

I’ll include more information about this in my next post. 

5. What’s Next? Browser Embed & App Wrap

In my next post, we’ll cover the process for
creating your own video player inside the browser. Even better, we can
“wrap” that HTML5 site and player and create hybrid applications for mobile
devices and Windows with a tool such as Cordova.

Following that, we’ll set up an Azure account and create our first
Media Services content, which we can play back on our newly created video
player. If you’d like to get started right away, you can sign up for a free Azure trial and Visual Studio Community (now a free IDE too) or reach
out to me

for information on how to obtain a BizSpark

with free monthly Azure credit.

Learn More About Azure Media

Here are some great resources to learn more in-depth on media, Azure,
and how to get set-up quickly:

Or our team’s broader learning series on
HTML, CSS, and JS:

This article is part of the web dev tech
series from Microsoft. We’re excited to share
Microsoft Edge and the new EdgeHTML rendering engine with you. Get free
virtual machines or test remotely on your Mac, iOS, Android, or Windows device