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Microsoft, Panasonic sort media mess

The two hatch a technology designed to eliminate the difference in how PCs and consumer-electronics devices display digital files stored on a compact disc.

Microsoft and Panasonic are trying to get PCs and consumer-electronics devices to play well together when it comes to digital media.

The two companies will announce on Friday a new technology designed to let consumers easily sift through and open photos, music files and other digital content stored on a compact disc, whether they're using a PC or a consumer-electronics gadget such as a CD or DVD player.

Consumer-electronics devices have traditionally differed from PCs in the way they display and open digital files on CDs, making crossover use of compact discs a random and confusing experience for consumers, according to Michael Aldridge, a Microsoft spokesman.

The two companies are trying to smooth that wrinkle with their co-developed High-performance Media Access Technology (HighMAT). They'll license the technology and also use it in their own, respective products. Fuji Photo Film has signed on as an early licensee. Though HighMAT will initially work only with compact discs, the two companies are evaluating plans to extend it to other storage formats.

"As digital entertainment continues to evolve in the home, we see many opportunities for PCs and (consumer electronics) devices to enhance each other through faster and easier interoperation," Will Poole, Microsoft vice president of New Media Platforms, said in a statement.

HighMAT is yet another technology, such as Universal Plug and Play, on which PC and consumer-electronics companies are working to bring their respective worlds together. The move is meant to take advantage of the increasing popularity of digital content and encourage consumers to purchase new consumer-electronics devices and PCs that can help them create and use that content.

"HighMAT allows (consumer electronics) makers to capitalize on the large base of PC users while it helps Microsoft to enhance the PC as a hub for digital home entertainment," said Susan Kevorkian, analyst with research firm IDC.

Microsoft will add HighMAT support in its final version of Windows Media Player 9 and in a future version of Windows Movie Maker. Panasonic will add it in CD and DVD players due out in 2003.

Aldridge said CDs created using HighMAT technology will be compatible with older players and PCs, but they won't enable those older devices to share a common interface.

Aldridge would not disclose the other companies Microsoft is working with to add HighMAT technology to their products.

Panasonic is a brand name for Osaka, Japan-based Matsushita Electric Industrial.