When the Olympics were first awarded to Beijing, I have to admit that I was very skeptical. But I've been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in China over the last couple of years, and I've seen how the preparation for the games has unfolded, and I am *impressed*. I have to say that I feel sorry for the folks in London, who are organizing 2012. They'll have a hard act to follow!
When it comes to technology, the Internet and the Olympics, there are a wealth of great sites. I want to use this post to show three of them.
- NBC Olympics Silverlight-based Web Site
- NBC Olympics On the go within Media Center
- CCTV's Olympic site
First, is the NBC web site, powered by Silverlight. You can find this at http://www.nbcolympics.com. Select the video link and you'll see the new Olympics video site.
It's a really neat site, as you can see in the screen grab to the left.
Below the video player you'll see two tabbed areas -- the first is a set of related detail on the sports event you are currently watching. So, for example if you look at the screen grab, it's of a 100m sprint. The tabs then contain information about this race, it's history, the racers themselves and more. It's a one stop encyclopedic shop of everything that you might want to know, and it's right there at your fingertips.
The second tab pane is related video and trivia, again, keeping you right in the event. Great stuff. In addition, the page allows you to browse and search videos. You can see this on the right hand side. It's a great example of how to use AJAX and Silverlight to power a site.
But it doesn't end there -- click the 'Enhanced Player' option at the bottom RHS of the video to be taken to what must be the webs best and richest media player.
It gives you the following features:
Live Video Control Room: From here you can take a look at up to four live streams concurrently arranging them as a main video with 3 PIPs. These PIPs can be swapped in and out of the large view as well as being fullscreened.
Olympic Sports: A one stop shop that allows you to browse the library of videos arranged by sport. I watched a great Korean movie the other day ("Our Finest Hour") about the ladies handball team in the 2004 Olympics. I then went to this screen and checked out handball, and sure enough the archive video of that fateful game was there. Warning, if you want to watch the movie, watch it first, or this player will spoil the ending!
Most Watched: This screen helps you keep your finger on the pulse of what is hot right now. It's arranged in a fisheye/pyramidal view so you can see the top 10 things happening at the moment, as measured by their number of views. It's really cool if you want to stay up with the latest from the middle kingdom 🙂
As seen on TV: No, it isn't trying to sell you steak knives or weight loss supplements. This screen, does exactly what it says it does, except it gives you a complete encyclopedic look at everything you might have missed off the goggle box. No DVR necessary -- the entire TV broadcast library is here right at your fingertips, arranged in a day-by-day view.
Highlights: This is very similar to the As seen on TV section above, namely that it breaks the Olympics down into a day-by-day coverage. Except in this case, it filters it down into the highlights. Don't have a lot of time, but want to know what is going on? Well this is the screen for you!
This application shows that design is much more than just pretty pictures and colors. It's also about understanding your users, understanding what they want to use, and how they want to access information, and making it as easy as possible to access. It's live right now, so go check it out at http://www.nbcolympics.com.
NBC's Olympics 'On the Go'
If you have a media-center equipped PC, then you've also got the option of the Free NBC Olympics 'On the Go' application. This is absolutely awesome! You can configure the sports that you want, and when video is ready, the app will download them to your media center. This means that you can stream them to an XBox 360 in your living room with the media center extender. Who needs PVR?
It's a snap to install and configure. And did I mention, it's FREE.
The video is available online, so if you have an edition of Windows that comes with Media Center, and you haven't use MC because of not having a capture card in your PC it doesn't matter. Fire that baby up, go to online media and follow the instructions. You'll install the app from TV Tonic's web site and you'll be off and running (pun fully intended)
To me it's a real killer application as it gives me the lean forward view (through Media Center on my PC) and the lead back view (through my XBox) in a consistent, clean and easy to use interface.
CCTVs Olympic Site
So as not to have an American bias, I also want to highlight what the locals will have in China insofar as the internet is concerned. CCTV are the national broadcaster of China, and naturally have the local rights to show the games.
They've built a nice site at http://www.cctvolympics.com.
As the games are in China, and thus in local prime time, I expect more people to watch them on TV than online, but for those who aren't near a computer, but instead near a PC, this site gives you some great options.
Live video is available, but CCTV have chosen an peer-to-peer architecture for relaying it. This makes sense, given the bandwidth issues that many people in China experience. In order to view live video you have to download a plug-in (on top of needing the Flash plug-in that is used to navigate to the content), that manages the p2p video. If you haven't seen p2p live video, it's an interesting concept, and very popular in China. The idea is that somebody seeds the p2p network with video, and every node in the network gets and receives packets of this video. The packets are assembled into a local server, and then Windows Media Player streams the video from this server. The video is thus streamed from http://localhost:port or http://127.0.0.1:port. It's a common p2p player architecture in China. For similar players, take a look at sopcast, pplive, ppstream etc.
This is one of the nice advantages of the Silverlight site for the NBC. As it doesn't need or use a p2p player, it can use a cross-browser, cross-platform Silverlight application, thus allowing it to work on FireFox on the PC as well as FireFox and Safari on the Mac. It's a little ironic that the Microsoft based offering works on FireFox, but the Flash based one does not! (At least for Live Video)
Perhaps more interesting are the social elements of the site. This is natural for China, as the site is likely to be less of a destination for watching the Olympics and more of a destination for interacting around the Olympics, due to the fact that the locals don't have the time-difference that we in the USA do, so they can watch the games on TV in the evening and then interact around them the morning after!
As such the site has plenty of games to play, and social interaction built around Windows Live ID and Windows Live Messenger. When you sign in with these, you can chat around the current thing you are watching, putting yourself literally 'on the map' by letting the work know where you live.
The spirit in China has been of hospitality, and of 'One World, One Dream'. The social nature of the CCTV application has been in empowering this. It's a beautiful example of Software and a Service (SaaS), where the back end services from Microsoft are empowering and interoperating with a front end technology from one of our competitors!
Unfortunately I cannot provide a screen shot of it at the moment, as the PC I am writing this on did not have Flash installed. I followed their links to the Adobe site to install Flash, which gave me 9.x, but the detection script on the CCTV site doesn't seem to like this version....sorry about that.....