RealTime IT News

Microsoft Pits Windows Media 9 Vs. MPEG-4

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a competitive licensing pricing plan for its digital media licensing plan as it battens down the hatches to stave off competition from hard-charging rivals.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software firm announced its flagship streaming media software -- Windows Media 9 Series -- would be licensed at lower prices and opened up to let developers create software that runs on non-Windows systems.

The move is seen as Microsoft's response to rival RealNetworks' decision to open-source parts of its technology and digital content to allow streaming in a variety of formats.

[Our] new licensing program for Windows Media Audio and Video 9 Series lets device manufacturers and software developers build high-quality digital audio and video features into a broader range of their products -- with longer terms and lower prices than those of other technologies such as MPEG-4 and MPEG-2," Microsoft asserted.

The new licensing terms cover Windows Media Audio and Video 9 Series codecs, which provide video-compression technologies; Windows Media file container, which enables digital content to be both stored and delivered over a wide variety of networks; and Windows Media streaming protocols, which enable playback of streamed content.

Microsoft said the relaxing of the licensing terms would clear the way for developers to build software wide range of environments, including hardware devices and non-Windows-based computers, and to include the Windows Media codecs in their products in any file container and at costs lower than for other competing technologies.

"For example, unit pricing for Windows Media Video 9 (WMV 9) on devices and non-Windows platforms is 10 cents per decoder, 20 cents per encoder and 25 cents for both encoder/decoder. By comparison, MPEG-4 video is more expensive, with a unit price for decoder, encoder and encoder/decoder licensing of 25 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents, respectively. There is also a significant content use fee for MPEG-4, while there are no content use fees for the Windows Media Audio and Video codecs," the company explained.

MPEG-4 LA, which oversees the MPEG-4 standard, has set its fees at 25 cents per subscriber or 2 cents per hour, subject to a $1 million annual cap. There is also a minimum threshold so that content owners with fewer than 50,000 subscribers aren't subject to royalties. Those fees are applicable to Web site operators that benefit commercially from use of the technology, through either paid advertisements, pay-per-view services or subscriptions.

The announcement came on the same day Microsoft released final versions of its Wi ndows Media Series 9 software platform, which promises high-definition video at up to six times the resolution of DVD and jazzy upgrades featuring 5.1-channel surround sound streaming audio, and faster streaming.

The Microsoft licensing tweak also follows a majorpush for industry adoption of the MPEG-4 de-facto standard for digital media distribution.

MPEG-4 allows a single form of compression on all media players and it has become quite popular among the developer crowd because of the ability to add text, animations and graphics in an object-based setting.

Microsoft said its Windows Media standard is gaining a following among device manufacturers, software vendors and content providers with more than 170 devices currently supporting it.

By allowing the use of Windows Media codecs independently of ASF, software vendors that support encoding, editing or playing back content in containers such as AVI or MPEG can quickly and easily include support for the superior compression of Windows Media Audio and Video 9 Series in their applications.

The Windows Media 9 platform (formerly code-named Corona) touts audio and video quality at any bit rate as well as the first 5.1-channel surround sound codec for the Web. It can be used to create live and on-demand audio and video content and comes with a the new streaming server in Windows .NET Server 2003.

Final versions of the WM9 media player and a software development kit (SDK) were also released Tuesday.

Separately, Kirkland, Wash.-based broadband services Neptune said its Mediashare service would support home videos editing with the new Windows Movie Maker 2 for Windows XP.

With the latest multimedia offerings like MovieMaker and the new Microsoft Plus Digital Media Edition, Microsoft is moving quickly to turn the Windows XP operating system into a full-fledged digital entertainment system.