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Microsoft to ship DVD software

The coming availability of DirectShow 2.0 could mean DVD-ROM titles with better quality and advanced interactive features by Christmas 1998.

    Microsoft (MSFT) will ship software by the end of November that will make programming DVD-ready applications easier.

    The coming availability of DirectShow 2.0 software means DVD-ROM titles with better quality and advanced interactive features should be available by Christmas 1998, according to Eric Engstrom, general manager of DirectX multimedia at Microsoft. One such feature is the ability to click on a part of the video to "drill down" for more information.

    DirectShow 2.0 is an application programming interface (API) for the capture and playback of multimedia content. If it catches on, programmers would use a single set of instructions that will work with any piece of DirectShow-compatible hardware.

    Currently, a PC vendor that ships a DVD drive in a system has to install special software that understands what the DVD drive is playing and knows how to control the underlying system hardware. Every time the drive is shipped in a different computer, the software has to be rewritten.

    Applications such as games and multimedia encyclopedias also have to be rewritten to ensure compatibility, something which quickly becomes an expensive and arduous process for programmers, with the end result being that programmers have been slow to adopt DVD as the platform of choice for writing new programs.

    Also this week, Mediamatics officially announced new software for playing back MPEG-2 video information on DVD players, as reported last week by CNET's NEWS.COM. The software uses DirectShow to enable DVD playback on a wide array of computers, including lower-end PCs that currently aren't offered with DVD drives.

    By tapping into the processing power of the computer's existing main microprocessor as well as the graphics chip subsystem, Mediamatics hopes to to offer its DVDExpress A/V Pak on multiple types of computer architectures, spanning both low-cost and higher-end price points. The technology can be used on processors including Intel's Pentium II, Advanced Micro Devices' K6, and Cyrix's MediaGX. It can also work with multiple graphics chips, the company claims.

    Finding a way to do MPEG-2 playback effectively with fewer components and at lower cost is the newest holy grail for the DVD industry. Currently, playing back data from DVD titles without specialized chips takes PC takes a prodigious amount of processing power--a 266-MHz Pentium II system is the minimum for doing software-only MPEG-2 playback, Mediamatics says.

    For companies shipping DVD systems with less powerful processors, the DVDExpress A/V Pak can also be used in conjunction with a MPEG-2 video decoder from IBM.