Adaptive Streaming Comparison

by Chris Knowlton

IIS Smooth Streaming provides users with a truly compelling way to watch the best-possible-quality streaming video. First proven in production at the Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing, this live and on-demand adaptive streaming technology from Microsoft represents the latest generation in video streaming technologies.

Part of IIS Media Services, IIS Smooth Streaming delivers up to true HD (1080p) video experiences that increase user engagement times. With integrated media delivery in IIS, you no longer need separate Web and streaming infrastructures to deliver compelling Web and rich media content to three screens (computer, TV, mobile). Using a single platform saves the cost of managing separate server infrastructures, and reduces the time to market and cost for deploying new applications, Web sites, and rich media experiences.

IIS Smooth Streaming is based on standard protocols, scales out using existing HTTP delivery and caching infrastructures, and ensures simplified file management by using as few as one contiguous video file to deliver multiple video quality levels. Combined with the Silverlight Media Framework and the upcoming Smooth Streaming client porting kit, IIS Smooth Streaming provides built-in sophisticated stream-switching, full DVR controls, and support for multiple camera angles. In addition, IIS Smooth Streaming 4.0 will also provide an option for streaming to iPhone and QuickTime X players.

The industry is excited by Microsoft's commitment to standards-based HTTP media delivery, and recent announcements from our partners and competitors are a validation of the Smooth Streaming approach to adaptive streaming. For example, as IIS Smooth Streaming has gained momentum, there have been new announcements from Adobe and Apple about methods each company now supports for varying the quality levels during video streaming. Adobe Flash Dynamic Streaming is a traditional multiple-bit-rate (MBR) streaming technology that is very similar to RealNetworks SureStream (released in 1998) and Windows Media Intelligent Streaming (released in 1999), and requires proprietary streaming servers to scale out to a large audience. Apple HTTP Adaptive Bitrate Streaming provides rudimentary stream-switching capabilities to devices running current Apple operating systems, and requires pre-segmenting your content into hundreds or thousands of small file chunks.

In the following table, we compare the latest adaptive streaming technologies from Microsoft, Adobe, and Apple.

Microsoft IIS Smooth Streaming Adobe Flash Dynamic Streaming Apple HTTP Adaptive Bitrate Streaming
Cost per Streaming Server Free download1 + $469 for OS 2 $4500 3 + OS cost 4 Cost of Web server 5 + segmenter OS 6
On-demand & Live Streaming
Live Streaming DVR 7 Pause & Seek
Streaming Protocol HTTP RTMP HTTP
Scalability via HTTP Edge Caches
Stateless Server Connection 8
Supported Platforms Silverlight, Xbox 360, other Smooth Streaming-compatible players, and iPhone OS 3.0 9 Flash Player 10, AIR iPhone OS 3.0, devices running QuickTime X
DRM Support for Live, VOD PlayReady None 10 None
DRM ASP & Encoder ISV Support
Interoperable DRM (DECE Approved) 11
Real-time Client and Server Logging 12
Programmable Client Side Switching Logic
Live In-Stream Ad Integration
Built-in Analytics Framework
Delivery to Mobile Devices
Native 64-bit Server Support
Media Container MPEG 4 – Part 12 (Fragmented MP4) MPEG 4 – Part 12 (MP4), FLV MPEG-2 TS
Supported Video Codecs Codec Agnostic (currently supports VC-1 Advanced Profile & H.264 Baseline, Main, and High) H.264 Baseline, Main, and High; VP6 H.264 Baseline Level 3.0
Supported Audio Codecs Codec Agnostic (currently supports WMA & AAC) AAC, MP3 MP3, HE-AAC, AAC-LC
Maximum Bit Rate No limit No limit 1.6 Mbps
Default Fragment Length 2 seconds n/a 10 seconds
End-To-End Latency As low as 1.5 seconds (configurable) 6 seconds 30 seconds 13
File Type on Server Contiguous Contiguous Fragmented
Client Programming Platform Microsoft .NET Framework Adobe ActionScript Objective-C


Note Description
1 IIS Smooth Streaming is part of the free IIS Media Services download for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
2 Runs on any edition of Windows Server® 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2 including Windows® Web Server, which has a list price of $469.
3 Assumes use of Adobe Flash Media Interactive Server to support Pause, Seek, Authentication, and higher scalability
4 Requires Windows Server 2003 SP2, Windows Server 2008, Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® 4, or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2.
5 Runs on any Web server. Also requires the Apple streaming segmenter – see next note.
6 The Apple stream segmenter is a utility that receives encoded MPEG2-TS and breaks it into 10 second "chunks" for delivery. This free download requires an Intel-based Mac, with a Mac Pro or an XServe having two Ethernet network interfaces recommended.
7 Full DVR features include Pause, Seek, Fast Forward (e.g., 2x, 5x playback speeds), Fast Rewind, Go To Live, Instant Replay, and Slow Motion.
8 A stateless (non-persistent) connection between server and client increases scalability and allows seamless failover or rollover between load-balanced servers.
9 Support for adaptive streaming to the Apple iPhone from IIS Media Services 4 was announced on October 18th, 2009.
10 Future support was announced ( Sept. 10, 2009. Proposed availability is H1 CY10 for delivery to a future version of Adobe® Flash® Player and Adobe AIR™.
11 Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE, LLC) is a consortium of major Hollywood studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers, network hardware vendors, systems integrators and Digital Rights Management (DRM) vendors chartered to develop a set of standards for the digital distribution of premium Hollywood content.
12 Real-time logging for Silverlight applications using the IIS Advanced Logging extension.
13 Encoded live streams are processed by the Apple stream segmenter. This intermediate step results in increased latency for live delivery.