Microsoft updates Windows Media Player

Microsoft will release updated versions of its Windows Media Player and Windows Movie Maker software over the next two days as part of an announcement that includes revised licensing terms for its Windows Media Audio 9 (WMA 9) and Windows Media Video 9 (WMV 9) technologies.

Windows Media Player 9 Series, which will be available for download on Jan. 7 from 12:00 p.m., Pacific Standard Time (8:00 p.m. GMT) at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmedia/, includes a Smart Jukebox feature that lets users manage a collection of up to 10,000 songs and speeds access to the audio and video library compared with previous versions of the software. It also can automatically create playlists and can update information about songs, including correct track, artist and album names, according to a Microsoft statement.

Windows Media Player 9 Series also offers support for Fast Streaming, which is included in Windows Media Services 9 Series in Windows .Net Server 2003. Fast Streaming offers instant-on/always-on streaming for broadband users, Microsoft said. In addition, Windows Media Player 9 Series offers better sound quality than previous versions of the software and supports 5.1-channel surround sound streamed across the Web at speeds of 128K bps (bits per second) and 96kHz/24-bit audio fidelity, it said.

The latest version of the player also includes a Premium Services tab that lets users access music and video subscription services from providers such as CinemaNow, FullAudio Corp. and pressplay, Microsoft said.

Windows Movie Maker 2 for Windows XP, which will be released on Jan. 8, includes a revised user interface, with improved time line and storyboard views, Microsoft said. It also supports the WMV 9 format which offers improved file compression of up to 50 percent over earlier versions and can store the equivalent of 15 one-hour DV (digital video) tapes in 10G bytes of hard drive space, it said.

Windows Movie Maker 2 for Windows XP also includes around 30 video effects, 60 video transitions and more than 40 titles and credits, Microsoft said.

Alongside the latest releases of Windows Media Player and Windows Movie Maker, Microsoft will also unveil revised licensing terms for its WMA 9 and WMV 9 codecs, which are used to convert analog sound and video to digital code and vice versa.

The revised licensing terms enable licensees to use WMA 9, which improves audio compression by up to 20 percent, and WMV 9 in a wider range of applications, including stand-alone hardware devices and computers running operating systems other than Windows. The Redmond, Washington, software maker has set licensing costs for WMA 9 and WMV 9 that make them cheaper to license than rival technologies, such as MPEG-4 and MPEG-2, it claimed.

For example, unit pricing for WMV 9 on devices and non-Windows computers is US$0.10 per decoder, $0.20 per encoder and $0.25 cents for both encoder/decoder, Microsoft said. By comparison, licensing costs for each MPEG-4 video decoder, encoder and encoder/decoder licensing are $0.25, $0.25 and $0.50, respectively, it said.

In addition to updating its Windows Media Player and related technologies, Microsoft will also begin shipping its Plus Digital Media Edition for Windows XP. Hewlett-Packard Co. is the first PC vendor to begin shipping the enhancement pack for Windows XP, which includes new features and tools for digital photography, digital music and home video, Microsoft said.

Plus Digital Media Edition can also be purchased from Microsoft's Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/plus/) on Jan. 7 from 12:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time for US$19.95.

Among the features included with Plus Digital Media Edition are skins for Windows Media Player 9; Plus Sleep Timer, which allows users to fall asleep to the music they choose by gradually decreasing volume over time; Plus CD Label Maker, which lets users create and print CD covers and labels; and Plus Analog Recorder, which allows users to create digital copies of vinyl records or cassette tapes using automatic hiss and pop reduction and automatic track-splitting.

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Sumner Lemon

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