I am a program manager currently working on Windows Azure Media Services(WAMS) team. This blog is my first tempt for trying to explain what WAMS is. We released Windows Azure Media Services Preview in June 2012. Currently we offer a 90 days free trail period for developers. If you are a Azure subscriber, you have up to 1 TB encoding volume per month. And if you are on Azure 90 days free subscription plan, you will have up to 20 GB data in your storage account. You could check out this blog – how to sign up for Windows Azure Media Services.
What is Windows Azure Media Services
Windows Azure Media Services offers a collection of components and technologies from Microsoft and third parties to enable end-to-end media solutions, leveraging on Windows Azure platform. If you are looking for end-to-end media solution with the power of cloud computing, Windows Azure Media Services is the right service you should consider.
As showed in the diagram above, components such as Ingesting, encoding, format conversion, content protection and on-demand streaming are currently in General Availability release plan (targeting November this year). Live Streaming, Analytics and Advertising components will be available next year.
INGESTION: allow you to upload content into the cloud. Here there are two things to concern, speed and security.
Speed: usually video content likes movies are very large. We provide HTTPS delivery by default but we also integrate with partners Aspera for UDP upload, which is much faster than HTTPS. UDP upload is not available now but coming soon.
Security: you could choose to encrypt content before it gets uploaded. We use AES 256bit CTR mode for encryption and we use HTTPS for all the communication. So we make sure the content is securely delivered to your blob storage.
ENCODING: compress Video into different format. We pick up the brain of Microsoft Expression Encoder. Instead of using this desktop application, you are using Windows Azure Media Encoder in the cloud. In term of file types, codec and formats support, they are the same and you could check details here.
FORMAT CONVERSION: enable you to convert .MP4 to Smooth Streaming, and convert Smooth Streaming to Apple Http Live Streaming.
What’s the difference between Encoding and Format conversion?
I like my manager’s metaphor on this. Imagine your raw video content as chocolate and encoding is like choosing different flavors of chocolates: dark, milk, raisin, white… Popular video(chocolate) codec(flavors) are H.264, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, VC-1, Windows Media video. And format conversion is like choosing different packages for your chocolate bar. Different formats (packages) are Smooth Streaming and Apple Http Live Streaming. They both are based on H.264 codec but package differently.
CONTENT PROTECTION: Provide DRM (Digital Right Management) solution for content protection. Currently supported DRM technologies are Microsoft PlayReady Protection and MPEG Common Encryption. We will support BuyDRM, EZDRM, Civolution in the future. Our platform is easy for DRM partners to integrate with.
ON-DEMAND STREAMING: You could either upload your encoded content into Origin Server(currently support .Mp4, Smooth Streaming and HLS). Or if you have content need to be encoded, you could encode them into .Mp4, Smooth Streaming or HLS and we will set up Origin Server to stream content for you. For Origin Server, you will have choice as well, currently we have announced the support for both IIS and Wowza servers.
Since both HLS and Smooth Streaming are transmitted through Http with small fragments, it is easier to utilize CDN for scaling delivery of video content worldwide. You could use almost any CDN in the market, such as Windows Azure CDN, Akamai, Limeline and etc.
Do I have to use all components in WIndows Azure Media Services?
The answer is No. if you have content encoded and ready to be streamed, you could just upload content into blob storage and we will set up streaming server to stream your content. Hence, you could skip the encoding process. We also understand, you may have contract with 3rd party CDN other than Azure CDN, you could also use CDN vendor as you chose. Azure Media Services is very flexible that you could choose whatever you need, from Microsoft technology and 3rd parties technology. Refer to the diagram below, broadcasters could have their ready-to-go encoded content uploaded into WAMS for on-demand streaming, and plugin their own Analytics components to receive viewers’ feedback.
Client SDK support
We provide a set of SDKs targeting on different platform for you to easily develop rich media application with both progressive download and adaptive streaming (Smooth Streaming format) support.
Desktop (PCs and MACs)
Which one should I use?
We always recommend to use MMPPF – the player framework. It has player control built up for you and you could customize it upon your need. Smooth Streaming Client SDK is underneath Player framework. If you want to build a player from scratch, you could use Smooth Streaming Client SDK with higher flexibility.
– [Recommend] Player Framework for Windows 8 (Both HTML5 and XAML app support) (Download)
Xbox supports Xbox LIVE applications that can consume Smooth Streaming content. The Xbox LIVE Application Development Kit (ADK) includes: (Download)
Smooth Streaming client for Xbox LIVE ADK
Microsoft Media Platform: Player Framework for Xbox LIVE ADK
If you have more questions about Windows Azure Media Services, feel free to join us on forum.