Microsoft announced Dec. 2 that a beta version of Silverlight 5 will be available some time next spring with an official release scheduled to follow by the end of 2011.

Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .Net developer platform, made the announcement during a keynote speech that kicked off the Silverlight Firestarter event at the Microsoft campus. The event was streamed to more than 20,000 people worldwide.

Silverlight 5 will have a variety of new features aimed at enhancing the developer experience. The next version will make it easier for developers to debug applications that piggyback off of Silverlight and will make the extraction, filtering, analysis and presentation of massive amounts of data more efficient.

Developers will also benefit from new features that enhance software coders’ ability to test Silverlight-based applications. Developers will be able to set up, record and replay specific tests to ensure their applications run without any annoying hiccups.

Silverlight 5 will also enable graphics development – 3D graphics especially – to take a giant leap forward. The next version will also be designed to start up and run faster and to take advantage of new capabilities for viewing multimedia content contained in Internet Explorer 9, which is currently available in beta.

A few other new capabilities include:

· Improved performance for lower-power devices to render high-definition video using GPU support.

· A new feature called TrickPlay that allows video to be played at different speeds and supports fast-forward and rewind. At up to twice the speed, audio pitch correction allows users to watch videos while preserving a normal audio pitch.

· Improved power awareness that prevents a screen saver from kicking in while watching video and allows the computer to sleep when video is not active.

· Remote-control support that allows users to control media playback.

· Digital rights management advancements that allow seamless switching between digital rights management media sources.