With VC-1 now a confirmed SMPTE standard, Microsoft has been able to put a heavier focus on its support for both DVB-H and HD DVD - two technologies that have weighty opponents, writes George Jarrett.
VC-1 compression and iHD are the key technologies behind the initial HD DVD series launch from Universal Pictures - the format's 30GB capacity allowing interactive menus to be laid over each movie. Asked why Microsoft had plumped for HD DVD over Blu-ray in the first place, Windows Digital Media Group Product Manager, Eric Schmidt, said: "From a support perspective we believe that HD DVD is more consumer friendly and more beneficial to consumers in both the short and long run.
"It is available today, and in the future we believe it will provide value for both consumers and content providers because of the interactivity model that is a part of the format specification," he added. "The interactive layer will give you realtime picture in picture, book marking, connectivity to the internet, and in-line directors' comments. Consequently, content owners can continue to add value once a movie is distributed to the consumer."
All of Universal's titles are encoded with VC-1, as are all the other HD DVD titles in the pipeline. On the agenda for Microsoft is HD DVD playback in PCs and on the X-Box. Looking at the continuing format war with the Blu-ray camp, Schmidt said: "There are other economic and business factors in HD DVD's favour, but from the market perspective consumer choice will determine what happens."
Along with Intel, Motorola, Nokia, Modeo and Texas Instruments, Microsoft was a founding sponsor member of the Mobile DTV Alliance. Now 23 members strong, this body has given DVB-H a huge status boost at a crucial time.
"We've been working on two fronts, one just on the traditional wireless front for the delivery of content over 3GSM. We work with carriers like Verizon and handset manufacturers like Motorola to make sure that WM audio, WM video and WM DRM work in those environments," said Schmidt. "They are not Windows environments, but we are committed to porting that technology in order to enable business models.
"The other front, the new broadcasting mechanisms specifically around DVB-H, is just emerging. Microsoft is a strong supporter of DVB-H for two reasons. One is the usage of WM technologies and being able to make sure that content flows seamlessly from broadcaster to device," he added. "And we will be there if content owners decide to evolve their business models and say, 'Well, if I broadcast that down to a device maybe I won't allow that person to record that content and move it to their PC, take it to their personal media player, or have persistent storage on their device to play it back'. Our technology is enabling those types of user experience."
As part of its support for DVB-H, Microsoft was a major player in delivering content from NAB HD studio output to mobiles on the show floor.
"We took that live feed into the booth using one of our encoding partners Winnov. It was encoded into WM video and then wrapped with WM DRM. That stream was then sent to Verizon, and it had an IP connection back to Modeo's operation centre in Pittsburgh," said Schmidt. Modeo's job was to MUX in the rest of the channels, put the stream in a DVB-H wrapper and shoot it up to a satellite. This fed a dish on the LVCC roof and DVB-H transmitters around the show. Modeo provided the handsets.
"One of the neatest things was Comview's work with Modeo to enable live recording off the cellular device. It records WM video on a device and then uses a back channel to send content back to Modeo's HQ. That was broadcast back to the show floor, which is great for reporters or people who want to do realtime video podcasts," said Schmidt. "They now have the device and they have the spectrum and infrastructure to broadcast to."