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Microsoft to introduce Windows Media 7

The company is set to show off its latest media technology in hopes of edging past competitor RealNetworks in the battle for Internet audio and video software dominance.

Microsoft today will show off new Windows Media technology in hopes of edging past competitor RealNetworks in the battle for Internet audio and video software dominance.

As previously reported, Microsoft will unveil its technology at this week's National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. The updates are tailored for training professionals; computer users with high-speed, or broadband, connections to the Internet; and content providers concerned about copyright protection.

The technology will be released in test form as Windows Media 7 in May. Like RealNetworks' Jukebox software, the new Windows Media Player organizes, stores and plays digital media on personal computers.

The Windows Media updates come as Microsoft plays a hardscrabble game of catch-up with RealNetworks, which has thus far dominated the consumer market for streaming media players.

According to recent measurements from Nielsen/NetRatings, Microsoft came in third in Internet users' choice of audio-video Internet software for the month of November, accounting for only 3.2 percent of consumers' choices.

RealNetworks' RealPlayer was the choice of 12.1 percent of consumers, and Apple's QuickTime was chosen by 7.4 percent.

But few analysts doubt that Microsoft is chipping away at its rivals' leads, and with today's announcements, the company seeks to demonstrate that it is bringing its considerable engineering resources to bear.

The company says that its latest update will display a frame rate of 60 frames per second over a 300-kbps (kilobits per second) connection and faster. That compares with 30 frames per second in existing players, according to Microsoft.

Calling Windows Media 7 a "broadband-ready media platform," Microsoft's general manager of marketing for digital media, Dave Fester, said the company is preparing for a mass migration to broadband connections.

"With WindowsMedia.com, we're seeing about 25 percent of visitors to the site selecting broadband content as the default," Fester said. "The whole market is moving very, very rapidly to broadband, and we're going to be positioned to be there."

Microsoft is plugging the increase in video frame rates as a step toward the convergence of TV and Internet media, suggesting that Internet broadcasters can deliver video quality comparable to that seen on traditional broadcast networks.

The company also is updating its digital rights software for letting content providers add security protections against illegal copying. One addition to the Windows Media Rights Manager is "secure audio path" technology, which protects audio content at every step of the way, from the server to the listener's computer.

Another feature of the Rights Manager will let content providers establish "business rules." These will let publishers set parameters for use, such as how many times a video can be watched or whether a credit card account can be automatically billed.

A third addition to the Windows Media Player is Windows Media Screen, which lets people such as technical instructors or software demonstrators stream screen captures, or a series of still shots, of the computer desktop.

Microsoft also will offer a new software developer's kit, tools that let Web developers customize Windows Media Player technology.