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Microsoft unveils Xbox 360 HD DVD drive emulator

To the HD disc format what IE is to the web?

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Microsoft yesterday launched software that emulates on a PC HD DVDs played on its Xbox 360 add-in drive. It's a move that could give the software giant de facto control of the next-gen optical disc format.

The emulator software essentially allows companies mastering new HD DVDs to test them for compatibility with the Microsoft hardware. It pitched the code as a way of saving hundreds of hours of work, which will undoubtedly appeal to HD DVD makers.

But here's the rub: when developers focus their testing efforts on a specific device, that device tends to become the standard against which all others are measured.

Think about Internet Explorer and the way, even today, so many websites are constructed to be compatible first and foremost with Microsoft's software. That wouldn't be a cause for concern if IE stuck to the letter of the law as far as coding web pages goes, but it doesn't. IE incorporates extensions and adaptations of the HTML standard.

That's why browsers like Apple's Safari, which sticks rigidly to the HTML rulebook, sometimes shows web sites incorrectly. So does Firefox, but it's coders have attempted to take on board Microsoft's tweaks to ensure such problems are minimised.

The bottom line is that IE's version of HTML has become the de facto standard, and all other browsers have to match it or risk being unable to show every web page.

And if HD DVD makers focus on compatibility with MS' HD DVD drive, there's a risk the same situation will arise here.

To be fair, the same thing can happen in the Blu-ray world, as disc developers focus on the PlayStation 3's playback as the common denominator. And the HD DVD standard is more tightly defined than HTML, allowing MS less latitude to 'improve' it, should it choose to do so.

However, MS' move will provide conspiracy theorists like Transformers director Michael Bay with further opportunities to attribute the software giant with hidden motives.

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