Microsoft Makes Movie Moves

Microsoft Makes Movie Moves

David Morgenstern

At the latest match between DVD clubs—held at last week’s Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans—DVD-R/RW United came from behind with a strong goal to achieve a draw, and now will proceed to the quarter-final. Less clear is are the chances for the many new Blue Laser teams, not to mention Microsoft’s stealth foray into movies on the strength of a homegrown video format.

Microsoft told WinHEC attendees that it will roll in native support for DVD-R/RW in Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP that is due in 2005. “With support for all the major writable DVD formats, users will find it much easier, less costly and more efficient to back up personal data, transfer files between PCs and share personally edited video on DVD-Video,” said Tom Phillips, general manager of the Windows Hardware Experience Group at Microsoft.

This so-called “neutral stance” is quite a turnaround from last year’s WinHEC presentations, where DVD-R was mostly ignored and DVD+R/RW given the royal treatment. Microsoft supported development of the Mount Rainier standard (a k a CD-MRW and DVD+MRW, with a new branding dubbed EasyWrite).

“Microsoft feels that DVD+RW provides a convenient option for the converging storage requirements of the PC and consumer electronics devices,” Mike Toutonghi, vice president of Microsoft’s eHome division, said at WinHEC 2002. “Our support of DVD+RW in Windows will be one way to satisfy the growing need for a high-density optical storage solution.”

In addition, Microsoft joined the DVD+RW Alliance in February. Microsoft’s level of support for the organization is at the highest level, joining the equivalent of the United Nations’ Security Council, as well as gaining seats on both technical and marketing working groups.

For these reasons, many in the industry had considered DVD-R/RW to be on its last legs. But, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the format still holds the top position for compatibility with consumer DVD players and data drives. And the benefits of Mt. Rainier are still awaiting hardware and software implementation. For all these reasons, Microsoft had to support DVD-R/RW. Still, it must have come as a shock to the +RW advocates.

The result was less clear about Microsoft’s support for blue laser drives and formats. The company is in the “continuing to evaluate support” phase, even for Sony’s Blu-ray format.

In related blue news, Toshiba Corp. this week will discuss a dual-layer version of its Advanced Optical Disc blue-laser format that will store 36GB. And Digit Life posted a review of Sony’s BDZ-S77 Blu-ray video recorder recently released in Japan.

While WinHEC attendees heard plenty about optical storage and drivers, I saw no mention of the company’s upcoming foray into the videodisc field. According to reports, Artisan Home Entertainment later this year will release two DVD titles with an interesting extra: Microsoft HD-DVD discs!

The new movies are designed to play on a computer instead of a DVD player—they use the Media Player 9 format. Quite a number of owners of home theaters already use computers to play DVD videos; a PC’s video card offers better resolution and a better interface to

digital projectors. Microsoft said the Media Player compression and picture is superior to ordinary DVD formats, although the resolution has nothing to do with the “high resolution” of HDTV. (The two films will be “Shadows of Motown” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”)

Perhaps MS execs look forward to seats at the Academy and Grammy award celebrations (as well as Hollywood parties): A Microsoft product manager said the company had submitted Windows Media technology to the DVD committees as the standard for high-definition video.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Storage Supersite.