Microsoft is expanding the reach of its Windows Media 9 player, announcing at the National Association of Broadcasters conference this week several partnerships and services that will use the codec, strengthening its viability as a standard for broadcast and future DVD products.

New Partners

Windows Media 9 first appeared in DVDs last year, in titles such as Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Earlier this year, 16 new titles made their debut, including discs from National Geographic and the surfing movie Step Into the Liquid.

Now Windows Media Player--along with Microsoft's digital rights management scheme -- will be used by video-on-demand services from Akimbo Systems, due to debut in June, and in the Rainbow DBS satellite service Voom. The service provides a variety of high-definition content nationwide; its current offering of about 30 channels could grow to 60, thanks to compression schemes such as the one in Windows Media 9. Rainbow is using other codecs as well as Microsoft's WMA. US Digital Television, which broadcasts digital TV over the air, will also use Windows Media 9 to deliver 12 of its channels in standard definition.

The codec's efficient compression supports transmission of high-definition audio and video in as little as 5 to 8 megabits per second, according to Erin Cullen, lead product manager for the Windows Digital Media division. It can deliver up to six times the resolution of standard DVDs today, Cullen says.

Mixed Reception

The codec also has a prominent place in Sonic Solutions' DVD Producer, WMV HD (Windows Media Video High-Definition) Edition. This modified version of Sonic's professional DVD authoring tool is in beta trial now and due out in September. The product lets pros create HD-DVD content for PC playback.

Don't expect your living room DVD player to read Windows Media content, however. The DVD Forum, one of the standards bodies for DVD hardware and media, has adopted the codec as one of several to be supported in next-generation blue-laser-based HD-DVD players and recorders; the support does not extend to current players.

Also, the Blu-ray camp is offering competing HD blue laser DVD players and recorders, which are not compatible. The vendors developing Blu-ray devices have not adopted the Windows Media codec.