Microsoft raises the bar for streaming media

Microsoft's latest attack on the streaming media dominance of Real Networks will be unveiled Tuesday, when company president Steve Ballmer demonstrates the next version of Microsoft's Windows Media technology at a trade show in California. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Ballmer will demonstrate Windows Media Video (WMV) 8 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) 8, which are capable of streaming DVD-quality video and media over 500 kb cable modem and DSL broadband connections. Microsoft says that the improvements to its media technologies will make video on demand a reality, as more and more consumers move into broadband Internet solutions.

Ballmer will also reportedly demonstrate new multimedia features in Whistler, the next version of Windows, and a new wireless service that uses Windows Media technologies to deliver video clips and high-quality audio to cellular telephones equipped with a clip-on device called "Eggy." The phones are currently only available in Japan, as US telephone networks are not sophisticated enough for this technology to work.

RealNetworks says that it is unimpressed with the new technology, and certainly Microsoft's recent gains with Windows Media Player 7 haven't done much to chip into its dominant position. "It's a me-too release," said Steve Banfield, referring to Tuesday's announcement about Windows Media 8. But Microsoft notes that the new technology offers tremendous size advantages over its leading competitors, such as Real and the MP3 audio format, which will result in much quicker downloads for users. Microsoft will release a beta version of the new technology on Friday, according to the report, but it won't require a new release of the company's media player. Instead, users will be able to download some code into the present player to play back the new media and audio. Encoding capabilities will be available to users when Whistler ships in the second half of 2001

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