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

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
to turn the Windows XP operating system into a full-fledged
digital entertainment system.

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