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Microsoft Digs Its Teeth Into Entertainment

Among this week's key announcements: Universal Pictures and Microsoft said they have collaborated on creating high-definition DVD discs using VC-1, the video compression standard recently approved by an entertainment industry trade group.

Microsoft Corp. made several key announcements Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 2006 conference in Las Vegas, cementing its place in broadcast industry.

Universal Pictures and Microsoft said they have collaborated on creating high-definition DVD discs using VC-1, the video compression standard recently approved by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and one of the mandatory codecs in the HD DVD specification.

Universal will tap iHD, which enables the entertainment company to enhance media content and build interactive features into new titles on DVDs. The launch of HD DVD players and titles last week in the U.S. represents the first broad market availability of high-definition optical media for consumers. Initial titles include "Serenity," "Doom," "Apollo 13," "The Bourne Supremacy," "U-571" and "Van Helsing."

With iHD, the studio will offer interactive menus without interrupting playback. Features now possible are user-defined bookmarks that stay with the title, picture-in-picture commentaries, and network access to download new features and HD movies trailers.

Microsoft will showcase features in the Windows Vista operating system also at NAB. A new set of application programming interfaces (APIs), called Media Foundation, will offer a "glitch-resilience architecture based on audio and video feedback" which gives higher priority to the processing infrastructure for streaming audio and video to ensure frames aren't dropped and playback isn't jittery, said Eric Schmidt, group product manager of Windows Media Technologies at Microsoft.

That feature will ship with Windows Vista in November for enterprises, and in January 2006 for consumers.

In other news, BBC Worldwide Ltd. will streamline internal systems that connect to global assets and distribution services through the Microsoft Connected Services Framework to link disparate systems which store digital content in multiple formats.

The strategy also will provide a companywide view of all content and distribution channels. BBC Worldwide will deploy the project in phases. The first scheduled for completion in April 2006 and will involve the integration of three disparate product catalogs. Microsoft Connected Services Framework is based on service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Microsoft also continues to expand its partner network. The Media & Entertainment Group and many of its partners will showcase at the NAB booth new solutions based on Connected Services Framework and other Microsoft technologies through demonstrations or sessions at the Digital Media Theater.

At Microsoft's booth, conference attendees will find OmniBus Systems, North Plains TeleScope, and Infosys Technologies. OmniBus Systems developed iTX, a software-only playout suite of applications with workflow features based on Connected Services Framework. North Plains TeleScope provides the central media management engine for applications, such as video on demand, broadcast automation and video publishing to the Web. Infosys Technologies offers a digital asset management and intellectual property (IP) management application.

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