Microsoft technology allows online delivery of films

3/29/01

Redmond, Wash. - Microsoft Corp. yesterday announced the final release of its Windows Media Audio and Video 8, the first digital media technology to make possible the real-time delivery of full-screen, near-DVD-quality film content over today's broadband connections.

Windows Media Audio and Video 8 delivers a 30 percent improvement in quality compared with the previous version. Leading online film and video providers ALWAYSi, CinemaNow Inc., FILMSPEED, IMAX Corp., Intertainer Inc., Kanakaris Wireless and SightSound Technologies have embraced the new technology and are releasing thousands of hours of film content using Windows Media Video 8.

Achieving key benchmarks for the delivery of the highest-quality audio and video in the smallest bandwidth, Microsoft's new compression technology enables the delivery of film content at near-DVD quality across Internet broadband connections at rates as low as 500 Kbps and near-CD-quality audio at 48 Kbps. To demonstrate the quality of the new codecs, Microsoft is showcasing a selection of films, music and videos at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmedia/audiovideo8/.

"To make digital media part of their daily lives, people demand video that approaches DVD quality and music that sounds just as good as their CDs," said Will Poole, vice-president of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft. "Now that Windows Media Audio and Video 8 cross those critical quality thresholds, companies in the film and music industries can deliver on the promise of offering better digital media experiences to their customers using digital media technology."

The Windows Media Audio and Video 8 codecs are compatible with Microsoft Windows Media Player 7 and 6.4, as well as the new Windows Media Player 7 for Mac, also released yesterday. They offer content owners the benefits of improved quality and lower bandwidth costs while reaching more than 240 million secure Windows Media Players distributed worldwide.

For consumers, the new compression technology delivers a better audio and video experience at all bandwidths. Windows Media Audio 8 nearly triples the audio compression of the MP3 format, making it possible to store almost three times as much CD-quality music on hard drives and portable devices. All the more than 60 consumer devices that support Windows Media Audio today already support Windows Media Audio 8 and require no technology upgrade.

Industry leaders such as Intertainer are embracing Windows Media Video 8 as they expand distribution of full-length motion pictures over broadband networks to PCs and set-top boxes. With films and television content from studios including Warner Bros., Universal Studios, New Line Cinema, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and DreamWorks SKG, Intertainer has a library of more than 65,000 hours of programming it offers to DSL subscribers. Intertainer and ZoomTown.com, the wholly owned subsidiary of Broadwing Inc., announced yesterday that ZoomTown.com will be the nation's first broadband provider to deploy a video-on-demand service systemwide to more than 40,000 subscribers.

"Intertainer makes its business by delivering a wide selection of high-quality movies over IP networks to consumers' PCs and televisions," said Jonathan Taplin, president and CEO of Intertainer. "Windows Media Video 8 not only exceeds those quality requirements, it lets us do so with less bandwidth so we reach more customers at a lower cost."

Key features of Windows Media Video 8 include these:

Near-VHS quality at rates as low as 250 Kbps with 320x240 pixel resolution at 24 frames per second

Near-DVD quality at rates as low as 500 Kbps with 640x480 pixel resolution at 24 frames per second

The most widely deployed digital rights management (DRM) technology for protecting streamed and downloaded audio and video content on the Internet

For download-and-play uses, Windows Media Video 8 provides true variable bit rate (VBR) and two-pass encoding. True VBR encoding eliminates the 25-second barrier of other technologies, instead averaging encoding resources over an entire feature-length film and guaranteeing the best video quality, even through extended high-action sequences.

IMAX is now using Windows Media Video 8 for trailers that promote IMAX films at its own Web site (http://www.imax.com/) and other sites like WindowsMedia.com (http://WindowsMedia.com/).

"IMAX strives to bring the superior quality of The IMAX Experience to the Internet," said Michelle Hagen, vice president of World Wide Film Marketing at IMAX Corp. "That's why we have relied on FILMSPEED and Microsoft Windows Media Video 8 to create the best-quality imagery that meets IMAX's rigorous standards."

Delivering the first-ever near-CD-quality sound at 48 Kbps at about one-third the size of a comparable MP3 file, Windows Media Audio 8 nearly triples the digital music storage on portable devices, micro drives, PCs and CD players that support Windows Media Audio. Download times are also more than 60 percent faster, so consumers can spend more time listening to music.

Windows Media Audio 8 achieves CD-quality sound at 64 Kbps.

Windows Media Audio 8 offers near-CD-quality sound at 48 Kbps, comparable to MP3 files encoded at 128 Kbps.

Windows Media Audio 8 is fully compatible with Windows Media Player 6.4, Windows Media Player 7, Windows Media Player 7 for Mac and the more than 60 consumer electronic devices that support Windows Media Audio.

Peer-to-peer solutions developer CenterSpan Communications Corp. plans to adopt Windows Media Audio and Video 8 to facilitate the purchase and exchange of high-quality, copyright-protected music and video between content providers and consumers. Earlier this week, CenterSpan released a beta version of Scour Exchange,incorporating the DRM capabilities native to Windows Media.

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