NEW YORK Microsoft Corp. previewed its next-generation Windows Media technology at the Internet World conference Tuesday (Dec. 11) and said leading chip makers for DVD players will support the technology in systems to be shipped next year.
Microsoft detailed the Corona version of Windows Media for the first time at the conference here. Set for release next year, Corona includes the Windows Media Professional codec, which was demonstrated playing a 24-bit, 5.1-channel surround sound file over an Internet Protocol connection at a 96-kHz sampling rate. Corona also sports a new feature called Fast Stream that eliminates the buffering of streaming audio and video files on a broadband connection, giving users an "instant on" experience and enabling them effectively to channel surf between Web streams.
A new video codec will boost performance 20 percent over current-generation video codecs, and will enable the playback of high-definition 720 x 1,280 progressive scan video at 24 frames per second, said Will Poole, vice president of the Windows Digital Media Division of Microsoft. Using Windows Media's 4-to-1 compression ratio advantage over MPEG-2, "studios could put all the Godfather movies or an entire musician's discography on a single CD," said Poole.
Five chip makers Cirrus Logic Inc., ESS Technology Inc., LSI Logic Corp., STMicroelectronics and Zoran Corp. said they will support Windows Media in their next-generation DVD playback chips. Those companies made 90 percent of the DVD processors shipped last year, according to Cahners In-Stat Group.
The developments will mark the first time Microsoft has planted Windows Media in DVD players, said Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft's Digital Media Division. The software already appears in Windows XP, a number of handhelds, prototype cell phones and a wide range of other devices, he said.
However, Microsoft has yet to announce support from any studios that will use Corona to deliver content for Windows Media DVD players. "Stay tuned," said Fester.
The DVD gambit opens a new door for Microsoft to extend its hegemony in consumer systems software beyond the PC. The company is counting on support from consumer electronics companies looking to differentiate their DVD players, which are becoming increasingly commodity-like.
"This is a huge change," said Richard Doherty of market watcher Envisioneering (Seaford, N.Y.). "Microsoft was doing fairly well in audio streaming before this, but with the Justice Department antitrust process grinding on, the company has been slow to stretch its legs in video."
The Corona improvements could help Windows Media distance itself from Apple Computer's Quicktime and Real Network's Real Player as the de facto standard for delivering streaming media over the Internet. "There are groups from Apple and Real that will be screaming today," Doherty said.
Both Apple and Real Networks have "stuff in the labs that can match" Corona, Doherty said, but it's not clear when those products might emerge or whether they would target mass markets such as DVD players.
Citing one scenario for using Corona, Fester repeatedly mentioned a family watching a movie streaming over the Web on a Friday night, a feature now delivered on a handful of Web sites. He would not comment on what codecs will be used in upcoming services backed by major studios, however.