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Graphics giants take a shine to Corona

Microsoft has added chipmakers ATI and Nvidia to its list of supporters for Corona, a technology the company says will bring dramatic enhancements to video playback on the PC.

Microsoft has added two top graphics chipmakers to the list of supporters for its Corona format, an as-yet-unreleased technology that the software giant says will bring dramatic quality enhancements to video playback on the PC.

ATI Technologies and Nvidia said they plan to announce support Tuesday for new Microsoft DirectX technologies in their graphics chips and cards that take advantage of Corona.

DirectX is a standard for speeding up multimedia applications on Microsoft's Windows operating system that is frequently used in PC games. According to the companies, the new cards will take up some video-processing tasks normally handled by the PC's central processor, providing a boost for video resolution.

"Now they're enabling Corona to be decoded on the video card, essentially doubling the video processing power of the PC," said Michael Aldridge, lead product manager in Microsoft's Windows Digital Media division. "This will enable high-quality video playback at 1,080 pixels--the resolution of HDTV (high-definition television), but on a PC."

Microsoft has made a major push into the digital media arena, which it sees as a key front for extending the reach of its Windows operating system, currently used in some 90 percent of the world's PCs. The media play is not only important on the desktop, but in the server market-- where Microsoft has fought an uphill battle against powerful rivals such as Unix and Linux--and in the burgeoning market for home entertainment devices.

Microsoft has not announced a release date for Corona, but that hasn't stopped the software giant from lining up pledges of support from numerous partners. Tuesday's announcement follows several endorsements of Corona by major professional audio and video production developers. Two weeks ago, Adobe Systems, Avid Technology, Creative Labs, Discreet and Thomson Grass Valley Group, among others, announced that they would adopt the technology.

Microsoft intends to introduce a test version of Corona by late summer, Aldridge said. ATI and Nvidia have yet to announce when Corona decoding capabilities will be available in upcoming graphics cards.

Microsoft said support is gathering for the Corona codec--or compression and decompression technology--because it is said to compress video more efficiently than available alternatives. Aldridge said that with Corona, broadcasters can achieve the same quality of resolution in at least half the size of the industry standard, MPEG-2. Newcomers such as MPEG-4 and the latest version of Apple Computer's QuickTime format claim similar improvements.

ATI and Nvidia will embed Windows Media Video Corona in their upcoming chips. The adoption of the technology will allow consumers to upgrade current PCs rather than force them to buy new high-end computers to view better-quality video. The enhanced cards will let consumers watch video encoded with Corona via Internet streams or downloads.