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Microsoft Given Nod by DVD Forum

4 Mar, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The DVD Forum, a Tokyo-based association of hardware manufacturers and software firms promoting the DVD format, has given preliminary approval to Microsoft's Windows Media 9 video compression technology as a mandatory element in HD-DVD, the nascent successor to the MPEG-2 format found in today's DVDs.

The decision, which is subject to a revision in 60 days regarding licensing terms and conditions, would be a coup for Microsoft, which wants to expand its multimedia technology beyond PCs. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, which last year submitted its technology for similar scrutiny by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), seems willing to go to great lengths to appease industry critics who have long lamented the company's alleged heavy-handed business practices.

“They did very compelling demonstrations to all of the DVD Forum members we have spoken with,” said Richard Dougherty, director, digital media research, with The Envisioneering Group, a Seaford, N.Y.-based media consultancy. “It may be the stuff of legend when we have HD-DVD that [Microsoft] came in so late and still won over so many technologists to their value.”

Dougherty said that when Microsoft opened up about their technology secrets a year ago to SMPTE without subjecting experts to phone-book-sized contracts, the response was palpable.

“That's about as close to open source as Microsoft has ever gotten,” Dougherty said. “I don't think the DVD Forum endorsement would have happened without that.”Regardless, skeptics remain.

No matter how altruistic Microsoft's intentions appear, legal analysts such as Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, said the company still operates as a monopoly, standardizing around a control that forces everyone who wants to interact with the technology to license from a single player or consortium.

“There are business cases for licensing technologies on a royalty, non-proprietary basis that assume the innovations will benefit everyone in the market,” Seltzer said. “I don't see that happening here, because in the [evolving] DVD space companies tend to use a web of patent licenses, trade secret licenses and copyright claims to lock down the technology so that only a few players have access, and that access can be conditioned to implement copy controls that end up harming the consumer.”

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