Microsoft Awarded Patent On Adaptive Video Streaming. Beats Apple, Adobe To It

Multimedia streaming over the Internet has seen rapid user adoption. In the US, Netlfix overtook Comcast in subscription numbers. There are several services (other than the ones RIAA/MPAA doesn’t want you to use) that offer online streams for content. Youtube, Netflix and Hulu to name a few popular ones. Microsoft introduced Silverlight (their Flash alternative) a while back. One of the features Microsoft talked about with Silverlight was adaptive streaming. In simplest terms, it is a concept where the quality of stream automatically adjusts to your Internet connection speed—in real time. So if your Internet connection gets clogged during an ongoing stream, it will switch to a low resolution (low bitrate) version on its own.

Microsoft calls this Smooth Streaming and has a lot of technical magic in the background. Smooth Streaming has helped Microsoft clinch several live event streaming deals which in turn have resulted in Silverlight getting a considerable user base. I recently came across a patent titled Seamless switching of scalable video bitstreams. The patent claims are concepts behind Smooth Streaming. Excerpts from the claims:

A computer-implemented method executable on a processor for switching between a first bitstream and a second bitstream, wherein the second bitstream provides a higher data rate than the first bitstream, the method comprising: identifying a switching up period associated with the first and second bitstreams, the first bitstream comprising first encoded data for a plurality of frames within a video sequence […]

An apparatus suitable for encoding a first bitstream and a second bitstream, wherein the second bitstream provides a higher data rate than the first bitstream, the apparatus comprising: a memory; one or more processors; an interface, operable on the one or more processors, configurable to selectively output the first and second bitstreams; and logic operatively coupled to the interface and configured to selectively encode a plurality of frames of a video sequence […]

Given the importance of Intellectual Property as observed recently, Microsoft being awarded this patent is quite interesting. My quick not-so-in-depth searches show that neither Netflix nor Hulu have patents on online video streaming (I could be wrong though). I haven’t played a lot with Netflix but Hulu offers an option to Auto-select best quality for the bandwidth available. Although, I don’t see Microsoft going after Hulu.

As it turns out, Adobe has a similar feature called Dynamic Streaming that they use in Flash and Apple uses a similar implementation for streaming their events to iOS and OS X powered devices. According to the patent, Microsoft filed for it back in 2005.

Other than Silverlight based streaming, Microsoft offers video streams on the Xbox too. A demo of Smooth Streaming over IIS is available here.

The Patent

Published by

Manan Kakkar

Manan is a technology enthusiast keenly following the consumer products from Microsoft, Google & Apple.