Microsoft Corp. has set Sept. 4 as the beta launch date for its new Windows Media 9 Series suite of products, which had been using the code name Corona during the past year. "It's the next generation digital media platform, with player, codecs, server and new software development kit," said Michael Aldridge, lead product manager for Windows Digital Media division at Microsoft.
The new media player server promises to double the amount of video and audio streams content providers can send out to Web users, as well as making video access a better and quicker experience for consumers.
Windows Media 9 Series includes new video and audio codecs, but the platform is backwards-compatible with the existing Windows Media Player.
Microsoft said chairman Bill Gates will launch Windows Media 9 Series at the Hollywood and Highlands Complex Sept. 4, which precedes a two-day developers conference (Sept. 5 to 6) at the same location. Consumers will be able to download and test the new player on Sept. 4.
IT'S MORE 'ON'
Aldridge cited some key innovations that reflect Microsoft's work to make PC streaming video more like today's TV experience.
The new player allows users to get closer to having an "instant-on" and "always-on" experience, he said.
"The new server can automatically detect how much bandwidth a client might have access to," he said. If a server detects a 512-kilobit connection from a 256-kilobit source, it will automatically route more content through the pipe quicker, he said.
With intelligent caching on the client's hard drive, a five-minute clip could be cached within one minute, Aldridge said, eliminating any periodic buffering messages.
"Technically, it's still buffering, but it's imperceptible under the right conditions," he said.
Microsoft also said the new audio and video codecs in the Windows Media 9 Series improves video and audio compression by 20 percent. "The improvement is across the board and that's a huge cost savings for a content provider," he said.
MSNBC.com has been using Windows Media 9 Series over the past several months and has sent out more than seven million streams worldwide, Aldridge said. "We've doubled the scalability of the current server, and that's a huge economic benefit as well."
The audio upgrades effectively bring a home theater experience across the Web to the PC via six discrete audio channels, Aldridge said. "There are PCs by Dell that offer Multichannel Dolby 5.1 today," he said. "You could see Shrek
over the Web and have a multichannel experience."
On the television side, Microsoft said Pioneer Electronics Corp. has agreed to support the new media player in consumer-electronic devices through an add-on component to home theaters. Consumers running home-networking systems could download video or audio content, such as music files, then play them on their stereo systems using the Pioneer device.
"This is first consumer home theater device manufacturer to publicly announce support for the new Windows Media video and audio platform," Aldridge said.
Aldridge emphasized that because the new media player is backwards compatible, content players, such as major cable networks that encode hundreds of hours in Internet content each month, won't have to sink large sums of money into upgrades.
"MSNBC took the same server boxes, upgraded them and put on the new Windows 9 series," Aldridge said. He added that the cost curves typically associated with PC hardware will lower costs for content providers over time for the new software.