Windows Media makes Hollywood play

Microsoft has marshaled an array of vendors, including several top news organizations, to show off support for its new Windows Media 9 Series software. The technology was unveiled at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas this week.

The vendor support for WM9 comes in a variety of forms, from new software intended for newsrooms and field journalists, to mobile applications streamed to handheld devices, to taped and broadcast programs that could make their way to your living room.

Released in January, Windows Media 9 Series is the latest update to Microsoft's portfolio of video and audio creation, encoding, playback, and distribution software. Microsoft's primary competition in the market is RealNetworks, which offers its own lineup of media applications.

Win Media Hits DVD

A DVD will debut this month in an unusual dual pack: Two discs will contain the same video, but one disc is for your PC, encoded in WM9, and the other is a standard DVD for your living room player.

Why view the WM9 version at all? It offers higher playback quality, say Microsoft representatives. They claim the quality is more than two times better than standard DVDs.

The first of these dual-pack DVDs, scheduled to be released April 22, will be Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary about a group of musicians who played on many records and helped define the Motown sound. In June, Terminator 2 is scheduled for re-release, also packaged in a similar two-disc arrangement.

But that's only the most visible part of Microsoft's Windows Media push.

On the Move

Mobile users may also soon get their video via WM9. Microsoft demonstrated at the broadcasters event a program that beamed high-definition programming to a moving van over an ATSC-like system. (ATSC is the set of international standards for digital television). The setup was developed and shown in partnership with Linx Electronics.

The Linx Mobile system beams a maximum of 9 megabits per second. WM9 can deliver HD video plus 5.1 channel surround-sound at data rates as low as 5 Mbps, one-third the bit rate required for MPEG-2, according to Microsoft.

Mobile capability is not presently included in the ATSC standards.

In the TV Newsroom

The Associated Press demonstrated a new video transmission application, SnapFeed, that incorporates WM9. Used internally by AP and available for sale to other organizations, SnapFeed is an add-on to AP's Electronic News Production System that helps automate--and make more efficient--retrieving video footage from laptop-equipped remote workers.

The software evaluates factors such as the available bandwidth and a video's resolution and duration, then adjusts to optimize compression quality and transmission speed. What's the Windows Media advantage? Broadcast quality video at a fraction of the bit rate of other technologies, according to Microsoft.

The British Broadcasting Corporation also said it is working with Microsoft and will integrate its forthcoming collaboration software program, Colledia Workflow, with WM9. Colledia Workflow targets journalists and news producers and is intended to simplify the processes of accessing and working with media files.

Other makers of professional broadcasting solutions, including Harris Automation, Inscriber, Panasonic, and Thompson Grass Valley, unveiled products that take advantage of Windows Media 9 Series.

On the Desktop

A number of digital video software makers also stood with Microsoft and announced plans to integrate WM9 into their products.

Adobe Systems plans to offer a plug-in to its Premiere 6.5 that supports import and export of WM9 audio and video, including high-resolution video up to 720 pixels.

Sonic Foundry will support WM9 in Vegas 4.0, a multimedia-authoring tool. The program features integrated real-time video and audio editing of Windows Media Video and multichannel Windows Media Audio Professional.

Discreet and Avid Technology also announced their support for the Windows Media 9 Series technology.