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FROM THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Gates Headlines Hollywood With Unveiling of Windows 9 Media Series

5 Sep, 2002 By: Chris Marlowe

Bill Gates took the stage in Hollywood on Wednesday evening to pull the wraps off of an array of new software tools that the Microsoft co-founder vowed would "power the next wave of digital media."

Oscar winner James Cameron, George Martin and LL Cool J were among those who joined Gates, Microsoft Corp.'s chairman and chief software architect, at Hollywood & Highland for the launch of the Windows Media 9 Series, the new digital media platform that is one of Microsoft's most ambitious projects.

Gates told the crowd of about 1,000 that the WM9 Series can provide high-definition video at six times the resolution of DVD, the first 5.1-channel surround sound streaming audio and a faster, more television-like experience with media on the Web. In addition, he said innovations in Windows Media Audio and Video 9 Series can reduce bandwidth costs by 20% for audio and up to 50% for video.

The world is moving faster into digital than anyone realizes, according to Gates, and Microsoft can now provide what it takes to go digital across the board. Gates noted that digital dailies, online sample reels and other applications already are changing the way the film production world operates.

"Windows Media 9 Series is the culmination of years of research and development designed to realize the true potential of digital media on the PC," Gates said. "Tonight we join our partners across the computer, entertainment and consumer electronics industries to celebrate the release of software that will help power the next wave of digital media."

The evening centered on demonstrations and discussion of practical entertainment applications. For example, the upcoming BMW Films Digital Cinema Series was announced as a joint initiative between Microsoft Corp. and BMW of North America Llc.

Artisan Entertainment's feature documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown and the second series of bmwfilms.com short films from Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, John Woo and Joe Carnahan will be screened in theaters using WMA Audio and Video 9 Series. The partnership will equip 25 theaters with digital projection equipment and will also work with conventional theaters in each market.

Cameron said his company's digital distribution arm, EarthShip.tv, has been broadcasting on the Internet for the past two years using Windows Media.

"Digital media is transforming our industry at every level, from the iterative process of creating the film itself with digital dailies to the promotion and distribution of our work via the Internet and on physical formats such as CD and DVD, even to the big screen of the theater itself with the promise of digital cinema," Cameron said.

Dave Fester, general manager of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft, said that WM9 Series represents a new way for independent films to reach their audiences because it "enables independent distributors and exhibitors to take advantage of the cost savings made possible with digital technologies."

He said that this technology could, for the first time, put a high-definition feature film with surround sound on a single DVD with room left over for extras. "We can provide six times the quality of a DVD in a fraction of the size of a DVD, three times better than MPEG2 at half the size," Fester said. "And it's completely scalable. We can scale our video from a cell phone up to your PC up to a digital cinema."

Another example Gates revealed was that recording artist Peter Gabriel's upcoming album, "Up," will use Windows Media Audio Professional (WMA Pro) to become the first album ever to be made available digitally on the Web with 5.1-channel surround sound audio. It will become downloadable simultaneously with the CD release Sept. 25.

"With a lot of my work, which uses many textures to create pictures in sound, it's often hard to hear all the information," Gabriel said. "At last, with 5.1, it's possible to put people right inside my music. Through this new technology, artists can deliver this experience directly and instantly anywhere around the world."

Consumers most likely will be introduced to the new platform through its Windows Media Player 9 Series component and its Smart Jukebox features. "Mainstream consumers will love the player, but we're also ensuring that high-end audiophiles will love it," Fester said.

The player includes a separate navigation tab that will spotlight what Microsoft calls tightly integrated subscription services. Existing Microsoft partners Full Audio, pressplay, Cinema Now and Intertainer will be included at launch on a non-exclusive basis, with more to be added in the near future.

"Windows Media 9 Series represents the most significant leap forward in terms of video quality that we've seen to date," said Jonathan Taplin, chairman and CEO of Intertainer, a video-on-demand provider. "This new platform is helping us to deliver on the promise of high-quality, secure video on demand while at the same time presenting our customers with new 5.1-channel home-theater experiences."

Will Poole, Windows Digital Media division vp at Microsoft, said that the new player offers "an easier, faster and more flexible experience" along with "the highest possible recording and playback quality."

More than 60 companies declared their support for WM9 Series, including Clear Channel Communications, MSNBC.com, National Public Radio, Creative Labs, Avid Technology Inc., Cakewalk, Discreet, Hiwire, Loudeye, PacketVideo, Roxio, Sample Digital, Serious Magic, Sonic Foundry, SRSWOWcast Technologies, Steinberg Media Technologies, nVidia, Pioneer Electronics (USA), Sonicblue, Yamaha Electronics , Digital Cinema Solutions and DuArt Digital Film Labs.

In related news, Tandberg Television said it will collaborate to develop the first hardware-based embedded encoding platform for Windows Media, based on the Windows Media Audio and Video 9 Series. This and other professional broadcast solutions supporting WM9 Series for the telecom and professional broadcast industries will be demonstrated at IBC2002 in Amsterdam from Sept. 13-17.

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