Microsoft to Open Windows Media Video

In a surprise move, Microsoft will submit the video compression technology in Windows Media 9 to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) for review.

The society will mull over the standard when its meet next week, initiating a month-long appraisal of the format's drawbacks and merits. If accepted, the WMV 9 codec will become an international standard.

Microsoft had planned to shelve news of the company's decision to walk about from its proprietary past until this week. However, details leaked out ahead of time.

A company spokesperson informed BetaNews that Microsoft's rationale for embracing standards -- in a nutshell -- is to provide the industry with better access to high-quality compression technology. This move would for allow easier adoption of Windows Media, as companies would no longer be forced to contact Microsoft directly.

Devices such as home video cameras or set top boxes could soon natively support Windows Media technologies, without Redmond's direct approval.

In any event, a licensing fee will have to be honored. According to Erin Cullen, Product Manager for the Windows Digital Media Division, "Licensing would be available per SMPTE requirements on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. Microsoft will offer a simple and low cost license for our patents included in a SMPTE Standard."

Any future improvements Microsoft makes to Windows Media Video will need to conform to the standard, if accepted.

Microsoft's Cullen clarified: "If Microsoft's underlying video compression technology becomes a standard, WMV 9 would simply be Microsoft's implementation of that technology."

Redmond competitors RealNetworks and Apple have already beaten down the path of standardization. Real is also the primary caretaker of the open source Helix Player, a project designed to bring the same quality playback of its flagship Windows RealOne series to alternative operating systems such as Solaris and Linux.

Meanwhile, Apple is pushing for MPEG-4, which forms the basis of its own QuickTime 6 format, to dominate as the next generation global multimedia standard.

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