May 6, 2010, 1:09 PM

HSN.com offers online shopping in high definition

The e-retailer offers live streaming of its TV channel through its e-commerce site.

Ladies, ever wish there was a way to get your tech-loving spouse to buy you that ring you just saw on HSN TV? Send him to HSN.com. The e-retailer is now offering live streaming of its TV channel in high-definition quality through its e-commerce site.

HSN believes it’s the only e-retailer offering the HD streaming video, which uses Microsoft Corp.’s Silverlight technology. Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s Flash—a rich Internet application that makes web pages come to life, often through moving sequences such as a rotating home page banner or videos.

“We are running true, HD quality TV programming live 24/7,” says John McDevitt, vice president of advanced services for HSN.

HSN added the HD streaming video in August, McDevitt says. The technology is accessible under the Watch section on the left side of the home page via the link “HSN Live in HD.” The HD stream took about four months to set up and complements the other video and rich media on HSN.com, including Flash applications and Windows Media Video files, also known as WMV files. McDevitt declines to say how much the program cost to install or many shoppers are watching the HD streams.

But he says he likes how the Silverlight program can detect a viewer’s Internet bandwidth and adjust the bitrate speed at which it streams data based on her web connection. That means consumers are less likely to stare at a spinning circle while their player catches up, McDevitt says.

While HD viewing can be clean and crisp, offering it via the Silverlight platform could alienate some shoppers. Fewer consumers’ computers have Silverlight plug-ins than Flash readers, according to Brian Walker, senior analyst, e-commerce, Forrester Research Inc. As of late last year, industry research suggested a 95% consumer adoption rate for Flash in North America versus about 25% for Silverlight, he says. Microsoft says Silverlight is installed on nearly 60% of Internet devices worldwide.

McDevitt says he chose Silverlight because because Flash does not offer the same smooth streaming HD video experience that Silverlight can provide.

For shoppers that try to launch the Silverlight player and discover they do not have the plug-in installed, HSN has worked with Microsoft to make the process of downloading Silverlight as easy as possible. Initially, users without Silverlight were shown a generic pop-up window with wording provided by Microsoft explaining that the computer needs to download a program to continue. Consumers who went ahead with the installation process were sent to a technical, intimidating page deep within the Microsoft site to get Silverlight, McDevitt says. HSN worked with Microsoft to make the language easier to understand, and added the HSN logo to the message to make consumers feel more comfortable with the process. Although technically Microsoft.com still provides the download, the HSN branding makes shoppers feel safer, McDevitt says.

“Silverlight is relatively quick and an easy, light install,” McDevitt says. “When you make it easy, people don’t seem to mind.”

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