RealTime IT News

Streaming Media Sun Ready To Rise On Corona

The latest iteration of Microsoft's popular streaming media engine, Windows Media, is getting ready for prime time later this year and the software giant's marketing arm is ramping up its own efforts before its worldwide release.

The third-generation product, dubbed "Corona," has been the subject of much talk and gained early vendor support from several manufacturing and content companies looking to bring streaming media into the mainstream.

Available only to testers and developers today in beta mode, according to Microsoft officials the technology is scheduled for launch late this summer. While the entire technology platform is designed to wrap up with Microsoft's .Net server platform, officials said the codex is expected to be made available via download to consumers.

Streaming media hasn't peaked on the national landscape like many predicted. But for once it's not the fault of over-hyped and under-delivered software, but the makeup of the Internet's mainly dial-up-centric world.

While offering video and audio at a much smaller file size than .mpegs or MP3s, the technology is still plagued with the infamous "buffer" problem faced by consumers with slow bandwidth connections.

Corona supposedly corrects that problem, using the platform's FastStream technology to deliver "always-on" streaming capability.

Microsoft intends to tie Corona with its .Net Web services framework to provide a slew of ancillary products/applications. For instance, Windows Media users listening to a music clip will be able to instant message with other listeners, click on the e-commerce application to buy the CD (or download the album, when the music industry gets around to it) using Microsoft's PassPort e-payment client.

Officials at online news outlet MSNBC.com, after two months of beta testing, have concluded the benefits of the new technology were immediately felt. Using the software on its portal, the news agency delivered more than seven million audio and video streams of "live" and archived content to users using the beta software, with impressive results.

Mike Corrigan, MSNBC.com director of technology, said the server capacity difference between the Corona server and a streaming server running the Windows 2000 version of Windows Media Services during peak times will save his organization money and make it easier for MSNBC.com readers to get the news without problems.

"Windows Media Services in Windows .NET Server is already saving us money, demonstrating the ability to deliver nearly double the number of streams per server using the same hardware we used with Windows 2000 Server," he said.

Corona's got video card makers interested, too. With its ability to deliver high-definition TV (HDTV) resolutions of 1,080 pixels per inch (DVD uses 480 ppi), ATI and NVIDIA signed aboard in April to incorporate the technology in its Radeon 8500 and GeForce4 cards.

Filmmakers have even given the technology a shot. A feature film, by indie film studios ContentFilm and Magnolia Pictures, was delivered using Corona as its medium back in March.

Dave Fester, Microsoft Windows digital media general manager, said that while Corona will give consumers an immediate boost in streaming performance, the technology delivers an immediate cost benefit to corporations who use video and audio to conduct virtual meetings and disseminate information to far-flung divisions.

"We engineered the 'Corona' server not only to maximize scalability; it is engineered to deliver a faster, smoother television-like viewing experience for streamed audio and video, and optimize the economics of delivering digital media for companies on the Internet and in corporate intranets," he said.