Microsoft's stunning new Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 format has been used to digitally project movies, and now the format has caught the attention of major Hollywood movie studios. When the upcoming "Terminator 2: Extreme Edition" DVD hits stores this June, it will include a High Definition (HD) version of the film encoded in WMV 9 Professional format. The WMV 9 Pro version of "Terminator 2" features 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080) and a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track, and will require at least a mid-level Pentium 4-based PC for playback. But the WMV version's quality far outstrips the standard DVD version--it's encoded and presented in about six times the resolution.
Late last summer, during a Windows Media 9 Series technical workshop, Microsoft demonstrated various theatrical releases, such as "The Mummy Returns" and Disney's "Dinosaurs," rendered in 1080p WMV 9 Pro, and the display's quality was stunning. As I wrote in my review of the technology last September, WMV 9 significantly raises the quality bar for encoded movies, although few WMV-capable DVD players are on the market, meaning that most users will have to use a PC or notebook to play back the superior versions. But hardware support is on the way, and of course Windows XP Media Center users can take advantage of these new discs now.
Another interesting note is the way that anti-Microsoft sites such as Slashdot are reacting to this technology. In a recent posting to that site, one of Slashdot's maintainers noted that "it looks like Microsoft has been busy developing a new video-compression method that can show high-quality HD video at bitrates similar to current DVDs ... Myself and many others have watched it, and most of us feel this is significantly better looking than MPEG-4/DivX HD video of the same bitrate. This technology is causing some excitement, as the 'T2: Extreme Edition' DVD package will include a DVD containing T2 in HD, compressed with this technology. Anyone with a fast PC will be able to watch T2 in \[HD\]." I'm happy to see the rest of the world picking up on this fact, even if it took them a while to catch on.