One of the more impressive uses of the Internet of late is NBC's blanket coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics from Beijing.
In years past, video on the Web, especially live video, was choppy and small, and you often saw more "buffering" than you did of any athletic competition. In today's version, NBC has tossed thousands of hours of video online using its new Silverlight technology.
Silverwhat? You say?
Microsoft is pulling a page from the evil playbook and requiring users who want to see the video to install the Silverlight plug-in for Internet Explorer or Firefox. Silverlight allows streaming content to the desktop in Windows, Mac, Novell, Linux and your SmartPhone. It is a competitor to things like Adobe Flash and other technologies that bring multimedia content to the Web.
It has not been rapidly adopted until now. This very well may be the content that forces Silverlight onto millions of computers worldwide. Once you do get the Silverlight plug-in installed, the content offered by NBC is stunning. Even over a slower connection, I was able to watch Water Polo for more than 30 minutes with no buffering or loss of signal. The video was crisp and bright.
When you first log in, you are required to put in your ZIP code and the name of your cable-television provider. If your provider has not signed a distribution deal with NBC, you will be denied, but you are given several chances to pick correctly (yes, that's a hint.) The site will, however, check the Internet Protocol address of your computer to assure you are located in the United States, because the distribution deal is limited to the United States.
You can watch some events live, but keep in mind that we're actually watching most events a half-day late because of the time delay. (If you're a third-shift worker with Internet access, this is your month.) This is a huge boon to fans of, shall we say, obscure sports that often will never see the light of day in regular programming. NBC is tossing everything it can find online, so if you want to see the Water Polo preliminary between Canada and France, you got it.
In some cases, you don't get audio commentary; in some, you get text; in some, you get none. But it's still great. For most people, who are sneaking this at work anyway, the sound is not very important.
The most impressive thing about Silverlight (which is really a beta product) and the whole implementation of this is that given the incredible traffic this Web site must be getting, it is really incredible the speed and quality this product is delivering. It's not full-screen and it's not high-def, but for the Web, it is an incredible achievement for NBC and Microsoft.
And it truly is an amazing achievement for the relatively new Internet and the World Wide Web. It truly shows what TV and media can do in the age of New Media.Join the show at www.nbcolympics.com
James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm, and tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.