With world records being broken at a dizzying pace, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing has drawn massive audiences from around the world, most watching the games via traditional TV coverage. But behind the scenes, a massive array of technology is responsible for bringing the games to more viewers than ever before. And no technology company has played a more visible role in making that happen than Microsoft.
"With the Beijing Games, the Olympic viewer will be able to define his or her own Olympic experience like never before, watching every sport throughout the Games be it at home on TV, in the office on their computer or on the go on their mobile phones," says Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics.
At the heart of Microsoft's efforts is NBCOlympics.com, an MSN-based Web site collaboration with TV giant NBC. Available to US viewers, NBCOlympics.com is widely viewed at a technical milestone, offering over 3,000 hours of live and on-demand Olympics video content. By comparison, NBC streamed two hours of live footage from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.
And this video isn't the postage-stamp-sized content you've come to expect from You Tube and other sites based on Adobe's Flash technologies. Instead, NBCOlympics.com runs on a beta version of Microsoft's Silverlight 2 technology, providing snappy performance, amazing video quality, and even picture-in-picture (PIP) capabilities so you can keep track of up to four events at once.
While the NBCOlympics.com Web site has won applause from viewers, this high profile collaboration isn't Microsoft's only entry in the Olympics. The company has also shipped a free plug-in for its Windows Vista Media Center software called NBC Olympics On The Go. Powered by Wavexpress TVTonic, NBC Olympics On The Go allows Olympics fans to configure their favorite Olympics sports and then automatically download high-quality videos of events as they happen. Then, they can watch those events, often in high-definition quality, whenever they want, either from the PC with Windows Media Center or from any TV in their homes with an Xbox 360 or other Media Center Extender.
Microsoft is also supporting Xbox 360 users with special video wrap-ups of each day's events at the Olympics. Priced at $1.99, these video retrospectives compile the best video clips from the day, and NBC will be delivering a special overall Olympics wrap-up video when the games conclude. Zune owners can also purchase a variety of Olympics videos throughout the games. These videos run from 99 cents to $1.99 and include memorable footage and highlights from the games as they occur.
Finally, Microsoft has augmented its Live Search Web search engine with Olympics rankings and collections of video highlights from the games. Users can also perform Olympics-specific searches using athletes' names, or key phrases using terms like "medals" and "Olympics."
Of course, things aren't entirely rosy for Microsoft in Beijing. A Windows "Blue Screen of Death" image remained conspicuously onscreen during the opening ceremonies, and security researchers are now warning against Olympics-themed malware that's delivered via email and exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft Word. I guess it wouldn't be the Olympics without the agony of defeat.
I'll have a bit more commentary and a ton of screenshots of Microsoft's 2008 Olympics efforts later this week on the SuperSite for Windows.
Editor's note: You can read more Olympics-related news from Windows IT Pro contributing editor Dan Holme, who is serving as the Microsoft Technologies Consultant for NBC television to help bring the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to television and the Internet. See his article, "Gold Medal SharePoint Applications in Beijing" http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/99504/gold-medal-sharepoint-applications-in-beijing.html and check out his recent "To the SharePoint" newsletters on the Office and SharePoint Pro site. http://www.officesharepointpro.com/