Home Microsoft Gives its Developer Conference the Olympic Treatment

Microsoft Gives its Developer Conference the Olympic Treatment

Next week (October 28 and 29) Microsoft will host its Professional Developer Conference (PDC) on its sprawling Redmond, WA campus. Typically, PDC – which the company only organizes when it wants to talk about major platform developments – is held at a larger venue, but Microsoft decided to hold it on its own campus this year. While this makes for a more intimate setting, it also means that fewer developers will be able to attend in person. To make up for this, Microsoft is putting the technology it developed for streaming live video from live events like the Vancouver Olympics and NBC Sunday Night Football to use in covering its own developer conference.

We had a chance to meet up with some of the core team members behind the PDC online project earlier this month in Redmond and to get an exclusive look behind the scenes of Microsoft’s preparations for this year’s PDC.

As Neil Leslie, Microsoft’s general manager for developer and platform evangelism told us, the company started on this path to making its event more easily available for those who can’t attend in person a few years ago, starting with live streams from keynotes at MIX, an annual conference for developers and designers, for example.

The Live Online Experience

This year’s live streaming – as well as on-demand viewing after the event – takes this to a new level, however. Microsoft will produce live 720p HD streams for all the keynotes, but more importantly, it will also offer a live stream of 36 regular conference sessions. Just like during the Olympics and football games, the Silverlight-powered video player the team developed for this event will give users a DVR-like experience with the ability to pause streams and rewind the video at any point. Viewers will also be able to switch back and forth between different views (presenter, presentation etc.).

In addition to the video content, the PDC player will also show related Twitter posts (every session will have a specific hashtag) and offer the online audience to participate in Q&A sessions with the help of the Azure-based Microsoft TownHall platform and live polls.

While Microsoft will distribute the video with the help of a third-party content delivery network (CDN), the majority of the production is done in-house and uses Microsoft’s own products like Azure and the Smooth Streaming Encoder which can automatically adapt the stream quality based on the bandwidth and computing power available to the viewer. The fact that the encoder constantly sends 2-second chunks of data for all the different video qualities to the CDN allows users to rewind the stream during the live broadcast.

Taking PDC International: Global Events and Live Audio Translation

Microsoft is also organizing about 80 local events and viewing parties around the globe. Given the scope of the Microsoft developer ecosystem, this makes good sense for the company as it tries to get a message out to its developers, but also helps it to foster a social network of likeminded developers around the world. To enable this, the PDC team will offer closed captions as well as live audio translations in English, Japanese, Chinese, French and Spanish for all the live sessions and keynotes.

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