Microsoft Aims Big With Media 9 Release

Microsoft's Windows Media Video 9 Series is now available for free download in a beta release.

And to make sure the public noticed, the software titan threw a Hollywood event and enlisted the aid of no less than LL Cool J, Sir George Martin (the legendary Beatles producer) and film director James Cameron to help demonstrate the new player, which Bill Gates hopes will out-muscle rival RealNetworks' latest offering in the streaming media wars.

Microsoft promised faster, higher-quality audio and video and an end to that annoying "buffering" delay typical to streaming media downloads.

Microsoft also said more than 60 companies - hardware, software, consumer electronics and media and entertainment - are on the bandwagon with their own Windows Media 9-compatible products, content and services.

Among the hot features of WM9 (as some companies are already calling the product) are a faster and more flexible user interface, a "Smart Jukebox" feature and an "Advanced Tag Editor" help users organize better organize their media. A new "Personal DJ" feature enables cross-fading and volume normalizing, the better with which to custom-burn CDs.

Microsoft also hopes to win fans with easy access to music and video subscription services from pressplay, Full Audio, CinemaNow and Intertainer.

The company claims improved video and audio quality, including 5.1-channel Surround Sound with Windows Media Audio 9 Professional at rates as low as 128 Kbps. The Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless codec copies CD audio data at one-half to one-third the original size.

Video can be improved up to 50 percent, or save large swaths of bandwidth on MPEG-4 or MPEG-2 data.

It's available for download at

Companies and organizations supporting Media 9 in products or services include Adobe Systems, Avid Technology, Inscriber, Loudeye Corp., PacketVideo, Thomson Grass Valley, Accom, Tandberg, Nvidia, Pioneer Electronics, Yamaha Electronics, SONICblue, ClearChannel and National Public Radio.