It's official Summer Olympics Will Be Streaming to a PC Near You
By Melissa J. Perenson, PC World
If you're a fan of rhythmic gymnastics or badminton (or maybe you're just bored at work), this year's Summer Olympics will be a bonanza for you, as NBC plans to stream video of thousands of hours of the competition.
The 2008 Summer Olympics, which begin on Aug. 8, will captivate audiences worldwide. No other sporting event captures the spirit of sportsmanship and athletics quite like this quadrennial gathering. But the Olympics can be a source of frustration for remote watchers. A complex schedule that mimics a 14-ring circus often makes following your favorite sports difficult. That is, until now.
NBC Universal hopes to transform your Olympics viewing experience via an ambitious Web strategy that includes more than 2,200 hours of live streaming video (with the option of viewing up to four streams at once) and interactive data to help you move smoothly between text, such as athletes' biographies, and video of their performance.
Seeds planted in 2006
Besides streaming live video at its official Beijing Olympics Web site, NBC plans to post 3,500 hours of recorded video online at the conclusion of each event, for the duration of the Olympics. Previously, NBC's only streaming-video presentation during an Olympics was a single hockey game, which it streamed live during the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
The Silverlight-Microsoft connection
NBC turned to Microsoft's Silverlight technology to get the necessary link between data available elsewhere on its NBCOlympics.com Web site and the network's Olympics video. Silverlight is Microsoft's programming environment for producing slick, interactive content that can be played on any Web browser; the platform ties into Microsoft's .Net framework and its myriad services, including Microsoft Live Search. As with Flash, you must download a browser plug-in in order to support the content. Silverlight 2.0 is also supposed to have smoother video playback performance as compared with Silverlight 1.0.
Viewing online: What to expect
NBC's media player supports three interactive modes: Enhanced, Live Control Room and Popup. Enhanced mode is playable in wide-aspect ratio, at full screen (1060 by 600 pixels) or at small screen (848 by 480 pixels). The player will use the highest bit rate that your PC allows -- up to 650 kbps for live events and up to 1.5 mbps for on-demand (that is, recorded) events, as determined by a combination of your bandwidth, your PC's components, and your choice of live or on-demand video. (See "Better Streaming Video" for tips on how to optimize your hardware and your broadband connection.) Enhanced mode also gives you access to extra features like expert commentary and live blogging that will appear in an accompanying text window -- a handy option if you are catching the competition while at work and can't listen to the audio action.
Multiple simultaneous live video streams
Live Control Room mode may be the most appealing option for true Olympics junkies. It lets you view up to four live streams of video at once, via one primary window and three smaller picture-in-picture windows. The primary video in this mode is presented at 320-by-176-pixel resolution, with a 350-kbps video stream; picture-in-picture views are presented at 128-by-96-pixel resolution, with a 50-kbps video stream.
Where the content will come from
According to NBC, the video available for playback will hail from a mix of sources, including feeds from the International Olympic Committee's international pool of broadcasts, NBC's cameras and NBC's studio commentary operations in Stamford, Conn., and at its New York City facilities.
Mobile streaming video planned
Access to NBC's multimedia streaming won't be limited to desktop PCs. NBC will have a dedicated live-streaming mobile channel, NBC-to-Go, that will carry feeds from NBC's television networks. However, the channel will be available only on AT&T cellular phones. Don't have an AT&T phone? Then you won't be able to watch live feeds -- but you can access video highlights of various events via a WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) version of NBCOlympics.com on any WAP-enabled cellular phone.
Beefy broadband needed for Olympics viewing
Want to enjoy the Olympics online? You'll need a broadband pipe that's big enough to meet the demands of NBC's Silverlight video player. According to Schematic, the Popup mode (a small pop-up screen that coexists with your spreadsheets and Word docs) will require a 512-kbps broadband connection plus either a PC with a 2.4-GHz Pentium 4 CPU and 512MB of RAM or an Intel-based Mac PC.