Hollywood Bill and the Media

For now, home movies, MP3s and free downloads are what's driving this market.

There was no subtlety in the Hollywood launch of Windows Media Player 9, the audiophile-quality upgrade of Microsofts media player.

Windows Media Player 9 has dozens of enhancements, none of them readily apparent to 99 percent of the population. MP3s dont sound better, and most videos still begin the buffer process before playing. I suppose enhancements to the integrated CD burning feature will let some users avoid purchasing Roxios EZ CD Creator, but thats about it.

Thats not to say there are no differences. MP3s sound slightly fuller and have less treble than when played through Winamp with Winamps preamp off. Microsoft apparently "tuned" Windows Media Player 9 for a certain configuration—probably flat-panel speakers with a small subwoofer. Video performance is only slightly different. Its disappointing that Microsoft still does not include an MJPEG codec, although the player does handle a large number of formats. The clarity of video and the fact that the player still buffers almost 100 percent of the content already encoded makes Media Player alone a tough sell, even if its free.

To Microsofts credit, Ive seen "Corona" (the alpha version of Windows Media 9) in action, and its very nice. The problem is that for Windows Media Player 9 to work as advertised, the content has to be encoded to the Windows Media 9 specification. There are many reasons for content providers to do so—files are smaller and are equal in quality to those recorded at much higher bandwidth.

The biggest enhancements, however, come from the Windows Media 9 platform, most of which ships in .Net Server and with the fast-streaming, instant-on technology. The former allows producers to have greater control over how media is delivered. The latter improves end-user perception of performance.

Most of this technology matters less than the hype built around Windows Media 9. But Hollywood thrives on hype just like the tech industry does. Eventually, first-run movies will commonly be delivered to consumer devices. Its not going to be in five years, but it may be in 10, and Windows Media 9 is Microsofts short stake in shallow ground. For now, corporate egocasts, home movies, MP3s and free downloads are whats driving this market.

Why havent you downloaded it yet? Write to me at john_taschek@ziffdavis.com.