DVD Forum mandates Microsoft for HD disc spec

All your HD DVD belong to us

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The governing body behind the DVD specification has provisionally approved the incorporation of Microsoft's Windows Media 9 technology as a "mandatory" component of HD DVD.

The DVD Forum yesterday said it has granted "provisional approval of MPEG 2, Microsoft-developed Windows Media 9 and H.264 as mandatory for the upcoming High Definition (HD) DVD video specification".

So potentially the Beast of Redmond will take a cut from all future HD DVD players sold, in addition to what it makes out of the sale of all those PCs. Actually, since Intel and Microsoft believe future DVD players will be PCs in all but name, this may not make such a difference. Certainly, Microsoft's HD codec requires some hefty processing resources to run at a frame rate suitable for consumer electronics use.

But whether DVD players become PCs or not, anyone who writes a DVD player app for another platform will need to licence Microsoft technology, if the Forum codifies its recent decision.

It may not do so. The DVD Forum also said yesterday that the provisional approval is "subject to an update in 60 days regarding licensing terms and conditions, and a presentation by each of the respective licensing bodies at the next steering committee". In other words, it all depends on what terms Microsoft is willing to license Windows Media 9 under. Almost all standards require some degree of intellectual property licensing, what matters is how easy Microsoft makes that process.

If those terms prove sufficiently inflexible, the Forum's rules allow for the "possible elimination of any of the above codecs" at the next steering committee meeting. Indeed, it is believed that the consumer electronics industry favours the more open MPEG 2 and H.264 standards.

Meanwhile, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is meeting this week and is expected to discuss Microsoft's submission, made last autumn, of Windows Media 9 as a potential future digital TV standard. ®

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