New versions of Media Player, Win-Jam up audio quality

Realizing a need to improve its audio offerings online to compete with close rival RealNetworks, Microsoft will announce today that the company is releasing a beta version of Windows Media Player 7 and the Win-Jam portable music player, both featuring amped-up sound for entertainment online.

Through a pact with SRS Labs, which provides SurroundSound-like audio, the next generation Windows Media Player will significantly boost the sound of video or music files played online.

Until now, RealNetworks’ RealPlayer has offered better sound playback online, while Windows has dominated in video quality, but new deal with SRS should change that while heating up the format wars between the two companies as Netcasters choose one or the other with which to distrib their content.

New Windows Media player will also offer users jukebox capabilities from CD recording and streaming of downloaded digital audio and video feeds.

“Windows Media Player 7 offers unparalleled ease of use and dramatic improvements in audio and video quality,” said Dave Fester, general manager of marketing for the digital media division at Microsoft. “These advancements open the door to digital media for millions of consumers.”

A relaunch of WindowsMedia.com will go live today to offer new content, including exclusive remixes from Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Phish, in conjunction with the revamped version of the Media Player.

The Win-Jam is the first portable music device that will exclusively play the Windows Media format. Microsoft and tech provider I-Jam Multimedia say the machine can carry music files that are half the size of a typical MP3 yet still maintain CD-quality sound.

Powered by two AA batteries and slightly larger than a deck of cards, the player will be available for pre-order over the Web and will be in stores in July.

Separately, RealNetworks is expected to announce today that its player was used by 28.9 million Netizens in March — more than Microsoft Windows Media Player and Apple QuickTime combined.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more