Microsoft chairman Bill Gates unveiled the company’s latest version of its online streaming software, along with content and technology deals with about 60 companies, in a flashy Wednesday evening event in Hollywood.
With the event, Microsoft released the Series 9 version of the Windows Media Player for public testing; a final version is due by year’s end. The player boasts dozens of changes, including substantially improved video quality up to high-definition levels, 5.1 channel surroundsound on downloads, and file sizes that are 15%-50% smaller.
The company also announced:
- Integration of third-party online subscription services into the player — beginning with audio and video providers FullAudio, Pressplay, CinemaNow and Intertainer.
- A deal with BMW Films to use Windows Media Player for digital projection in at least 25 theaters on its next round of short films by top directors. The shorts will be shown in conjunction with digital versions of full-length indie features over the coming year. First short will debut Nov. 15 with Artisan Entertainment docu “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”
- A deal with National Public Radio to use the format for Webcasting its programs. Microsoft said it has tweaked audio portions of the player to provide better sound quality at very slow connection speeds.
Streaming-media competitor RealNetworks welcomed the Microsoft announcement. The company recently incorporated the ability to play back Windows Media Player files through its own software and servers, and Real prexy Larry Jacobson said the latest player would be made compatible with its software by week’s end.
“Our view is that when innovation comes from Microsoft, it just makes our product stronger,” Jacobson said. “If they’re stimulating the marketplace, it’s good for us.”