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Microsoft's WC9 Morphs Into VC-1

"VC-1 isn't a standard yet, but the recent move by SMPTE to pass the codec from Committee Draft to Final Committee Draft is a major step," said Erin Cullen, Microsoft's lead product manager at its Windows Media division. Peter Symes, VP of engineering at SMPTE, said: "Most of the technical issues have been resolved, and a structured family of documents is evolving that will provide a sound basis for future work."

Cullen added that Microsoft is still taking a neutral position as far as its WC9/VC-1 compression technology is concerned. She was commenting following the news that the VC-1 codec would form a 'mandatory' part of the Blu-ray high-capacity optical disc specification (which does not rule out either Blu-ray or other HD-DVD players also carrying MPEG-4-based codecs). "Consumers do not want to be bothered as to whether a player has this or that codec," she added. "They don't even know what a codec is. It is important that interoperability exists, and that different manufacturers can use whatever they want to use in terms of HD compression."

Tandberg, Telestream, Tarari and Inlet Technologies all have end-to-end WM9 HD capture, software and hardware-based encoding, and acceleration units now at the show, along with STM, Sigma, Equator and TI chip-sets. Cullen said Telestream's kit was the industry's first to support the exporting and importing of WM9 files on Macintosh's OSX platforms. Tandberg's claim to fame covers the world's first hardware HD encoder (EN5980 unit) based on VC-1. Harmonic is missing from Microsoft's list, and Cullen said it continued to work with Harmonic, but Microsoft had tried to focus at IBC on that which is new and industry-ready.

Questioned on whether Microsoft had an additional window of opportunity because of unresolved anxieties over MPEG/LA's licensing deals, Cullen said it was clear that both formats would co-exist. "MPEG-4 and Windows Media are two solid codecs that meet two different needs. The licensing is one element that continues to be in process, but there's content out there in WM, and having the SMPTE progress is a great help. A year from now the HD activity in Europe and elsewhere will be huge, having moved forward very quickly, and we see WM being a strong part of that."
--Reprinted from the IBC Daily.