Microsoft unveils new Windows Media technologies

In his keynote address at the Streaming Media West 2000 conference Tuesday in San Jose, California, Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer gave the first public peek at the company's next generation streaming media technologies for consumers and businesses. Ballmer discussed Windows Media Audio and Video 8, new media formats, and Windows Media Player 8, which will be included in Whistler, the next version of Windows. The company is also introducing a new tool called Windows Media Producer, which can be used to create, edit and publish rich media content.

"We're focusing on digital media at Microsoft in a big way because it brings excitement to consumers and real economic benefits to businesses," Ballmer said. "The new technologies we're unveiling today create opportunities for everyone in the industry to deliver more efficient, effective and exciting solutions for digital media."

Windows Media Audio and Video raise the bar when compared to rival formats and previous versions of Microsoft's technology. Windows Media Audio 8, for example, can deliver near-CD quality sound at 48 Kbps, compared to WMA 7's 96 Kbps and MP3's 128 Kbps. And Windows Media Video 8 can deliver near-DVD quality video at 500 Kbps, opening up the possibility of video on demand for broadband users.

Ballmer also touched on some of the multimedia features in Whistler, including Windows Media Player 8, which will include DVD playback capabilities and video transfer to portable devices, and a new version of the My Music folder, which features a split pane view for album information, album art thumbnail images for media files and media organization improvements. And in Whistler, the My Music and My Pictures folders become top-level folders like My Documents, so that they can be more easily accessed.

Microsoft will begin offering a beta download of the new Windows Media Encoding Utility on Friday. This utility will allow users to encode audio and video in the new Windows Media 8 formats

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