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Microsoft, Matsushita Look to Ease Media Exchange

Microsoft Corp. Friday said it has teamed with Matsushita Electric Industrial on a new technology to improve storage, arrangement and playback of digital media on CD-RW discs.

Redmond, Wash.'s Microsoft and Japan's Matsushita have created HighMAT (High-performance Media Access Technology) as a way for consumers to more conveniently transfer photo, music and video collections on CD-RW between DVD and CD players to PCs. CDs created using HighMAT will be fully compatible with existing devices that play back recordable disc media.

This technological step may pay dividends toward winning consumer appeal, as there is currently no consistent way for CD and DVD players to read data because interface for finding media is different. Also, viewable information such as playlists, music metadata and folders with photos or videos, varies depending on what each device supports. Moreover, the contents of these discs are displayed differently on televisions with a DVD player than the way they are experienced on car stereos.

Matsushita and Microsoft maintain this lack of consistency confuses users when they try to find the music, photos or videos they want. The technology has the potential to pose advantages for Microsoft in the digital realm, as consumers continue to look for easier ways to locate and burn, or record, their technology at a faster rate. The competitive advantage is not lost on Microsoft, who, with such products as its Windows Media XP Center, is looking to extend its tendrils deeper into the home entertainment realm.

Analysts applauded the news Friday. Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg said the technology "will allow consumer electronics vendors to leverage the installed base of PCs while it helps Microsoft to further drive Windows media beyond the PC and become a de-facto standard for digital media."

IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian told internetnews.com that: "HighMAT offers an improved experience for consumers who burn content from a Windows-based PC and play it back in HighMAT-compatible devices. It gives the Windows Media Player 9 a competitive edge vs. other brands of PC jukebox software. We expect that the degree of improvement is likely to be incremental rather than revolutionary. The realization of the technology's potential is directly related to the number of hardware manufacturers that decide to implement it - Panasonic is a good start, but Microsoft needs to drive adoption among a broad base of CD and DVD-player manufacturers in order to the technology to be meaningful for consumers."

Microsoft isn't the only firm entertaining such notions. Seattle's RealNetworks and Japan's Sony are also looking to broaden their appeal to consumers looking to exchange music, movies, or photos between devices and PCs. RealNetworks has spent time of late enabling its software to transfer audio and video files from PCs for playback on handhelds, while Sony has expressed interest in turning its PlayStation 2 gaming console into a consumer electronics device.

Microsoft will add HighMAT disc creation support in its final release of Windows Media Player 9 Series and in a future version of Windows Movie Maker. Panasonic will support HighMAT. in future versions of its CD and DVD players in 2003. For the photo side of things, Fujifilm will also support the technology in future versions of its products.

The HighMAT specification will also be available for licensing by other consumer electronics companies and software developers.