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Microsoft's compression format enhances content distribution

In the upcoming year, the broadcast industry will begin to filter into two camps for next-generation DTV encoding and decoding technology: VC-9 and MPEG-4, or the H.264 standard. Microsoft has a role in both. B&C recently spoke with Jason Reindorp, group manager of Microsoft's Digital Media division, to discuss the technology's benefits.

What is Microsoft's view on the next-generation DTV landscape?

VC-9 has been deployed in the market for more than a year and has enjoyed widespread acceptance in the industry. In addition, VC-9 decoding is two to three times less complex than H.264, which is a big benefit of VC-9 for PC playback.

Our vision is that digital-media consumers should be able to access whatever digital content they want, when and where they want, on whatever device they choose.

If Microsoft backs H.264, then why have VC-9?

There are three major benefits of VC-9 over H.264. First, it is up to three times faster so it can do HDTV on a PC; H.264 is not practical in software and is also difficult to implement in hardware. Second, VC-9 is optimized for all resolutions, including high-definition, while the H.264 design focused only on low-definition and low rates. And third, VC-9 has been used by tens of millions of consumers for more than a year and is best for near-term deployment. H.264 implementations are just beginning beta testing and field trials and may take years to reach a comparable level of maturity.

Windows Media 9 is currently under review at SMPTE for standardization. When will that be completed?

The draft specification Microsoft submitted to the committee in late September 2003 is still under review, and we're encouraged by the progress so far. The final approval process usually takes around 12 months.

What does that process involve?

The SMPTE scope of work includes specifications and tools, such as reference bit streams and implementations, which will make it possible for implementers to test conformance and interoperability. In the meantime, we're offering the VC-9 source code for licensing. More than 140 companies have already signed and obtained it, which is why so many chips and device manufacturers have adopted VC-9.

Why is standardization important?

In order for manufacturers to build products and services on their own, they need two things. One is confidence that the Microsoft technology they incorporate into their own products will not change in the future, making it incompatible with older versions. The other is a detailed blueprint of our technology in order to optimize their own solutions/products. And that is precisely why we have submitted VC-9 to SMPTE.