Microsoft upped its multimedia arsenal today with the release of Windows Media Audio and Video 8, updates that help improve software performance for companies that provide digital media content to users. Microsoft also released a new media player for Macs. The Windows Media Audio and Video 8 release updates the company's digital media compression/decompression technologies, used by digital media content providers. Microsoft's Video 8 codec technology allows near-DVD quality video images at 500kbps, with 640-x-480 pixel resolution at 24 frames per second, according to a Microsoft news release. For a 500kbps connection, users would need a broadband Internet connection about ten times faster than dial-up access, equivalent to midrange DSL (digital subscriber line) connections. Users can maintain near-VHS quality at rates of 250kbps with 320-x-240 pixel resolution at 24 frames per second, the company said. The audio codec format can compress a music file for delivery with near-CD quality sound on a 48kbps connection, and provide CD-quality sound at 64 kbps, the company said. A typical MP3 music file is compressed at 128 kbps, making Windows Audio 8 files almost three times smaller by comparison, according to Microsoft. Windows Media Audio and Video 8 technologies are compatible with Windows Media Player 7, which can be downloaded from the Windows Media Web site. They also work with version 6.4 of the player, as well as with the new Windows Media Player 7 for the Mac released Wednesday. Both new codecs incorporate digital rights management features absent in the more commonly used MPEG and MP3 file formats. Digital rights management prevents users from unauthorized copying and distribution of the files, as has happened on the Napster Inc. file-sharing service. Windows Media Audio and Video 8 will be supported by the upcoming version of the Windows operating system, Windows XP, which will include Windows Media Player 8, now in beta 2.