Microsoft, Panasonic get backing for HighMAT

Microsoft and Panasonic Consumer Electronics on Thursday announced additional hardware and software makers who will support HighMAT, a technology co-developed by the two companies that aims to provide better interoperability between PCs and consumer electronics devices like DVD players, CD players and car stereos.

The technology aims to make it easier for consumers to take digital pictures, music and video clips recorded onto optical media disks from their PCs and to play them back on consumer devices. It should help to organize and play back content via a graphical interface on the consumer products, and as such could be a plus for consumers, said Richard Doherty, director of analyst company The Envisioneering Group, in Seaford, New York.

"I'm not aware that there's an equivalent out there at the moment that does what HighMAT does," he said.

Panasonic, a subsidiary of Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., unveiled the first products to support HighMAT at the Consumer Electronics Show. HighMAT stands for High-Performance Media Access Technology. Products include Panasonic DVD players and home theater systems due out later this year.

Eleven additional hardware and software vendors will back the technology, which was first announced in October, Microsoft and Panasonic said Thursday. They include Apex Digital Inc, Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. (JVC), Pinnacle Systems Inc. and Sonic Solutions. Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. was already a backer.

Still absent from the list are major consumer electronics vendors such as Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. whose support would help drive the widespread adoption of HighMAT that Microsoft and Panasonic are hoping for.

Toshiba is "looking at" HighMAT and finds it "interesting," but is not ready to say yet whether it will support the technology in its own products, said Jodi Sally, a Toshiba director of marketing. The technology was not featured in Toshiba's line-up of DVD players for 2003 presented at the show on Wednesday.

HighMAT supports content recorded onto CDs and DVDs using the Windows Media, MP3, JPEG and MPEG4 formats, said Alex Limberis, director of business development with Microsoft's digital media division.

It does not support content created using media formats from Microsoft rivals Apple Computer Inc. or RealNetworks Inc.

According to Limberis, Microsoft limited the number of formats supported because it wanted to ensure that the "customer experience" is a consistent one across the various file formats and devices. He declined to say whether support for the other formats may be added in the future.

Microsoft included software for creating HighMAT discs in the final release of Windows Media Player 9 Series and in its new Windows Movie Maker 2, the digital video editing software in Windows XP which was also announced this week. When consumers burn content to a CD using the software, HighMAT appears as one of the options for saving the media, Limberis said.

"We're confident that this technology has the potential to be adopted as an industry standard," a Panasonic official said Wednesday.

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