The DVD support is now being included in beta 3 of Windows 98, according to the two companies. Microsoft made the latest preliminary release of Windows 98 available to testers this week.
DVD-ROM drives, which are expected to be the catalyst for the "convergence" of consumer electronics and PCs, can play back titles but can not record. DVD-RAM drives, due in 1998, will be able to both play back and record.
DVD drives can hold up to ten times more data than CD-ROM drives and, for example, enable the viewing of high-resolution movies on a PC.
But for all the benefits the technology brings to users, the drives and titles for them have been slow in coming. One reason: PC vendors that ship a system with a DVD drive have to install special software that understands what the DVD drive is playing and knows how to control the underlying system hardware. When the drive is shipped in a different computer, the underlying software often has to be rewritten.
Commercial programs 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. The result is that programmers have been slow to adopt DVD as the platform of choice for writing new programs.
Windows 98 is expected to alleviate these issues by providing what Microsoft calls an "end-to-end architecture" for DVD. The result should be widespread adoption of both Windows 98 and DVD drives, according to analysts.
"From Microsoft's standpoint, it's [DVD support] a necessity to sell [Windows 98]. They're not going to get far if they don't include it," said Mark Hardie, senior analyst with Forrester Research.
With the weight of Microsoft behind DVD, Forrester predicts an installed base of 53 million DVD drives in PCs by the year 2002, while only 5.2 percent of households in the U.S. will own a standalone (non-PC) DVD-Video player.
DVD support in Windows 98 includes DVD navigation and playback applications, a data streaming architecture, and support in Microsoft's DirectX set of technologies for video playback.
Toshiba says it helped Microsoft build support for DVD navigation and is providing technologies to Microsoft, including DVD playback technology and a player application. Forrester's Hardie notes that other drive manufacturers such as Philips and Matsushita will soon follow suit in getting support for their drives added into the operating system.
In related news, Toshiba announced it is offering a circuit board for playback of DVD titles. The circuit board uses Toshiba's Timpani-I single-chip DVD system processor. This chip was used as a reference design in the Microsoft-Toshiba development process, according to the two companies.
Timpani-I integrates MPEG-2 video technology and hardware-based copy protection processing.
Intel also offers DVD playback technology running off its Pentium II processor. Unlike Toshiba, Intel's technology does not require an additional circuit board for playback, but it is not yet suited for use with current Pentium systems because it limits overall system performance. Mediamatics too has software for playing back MPEG-2 video information that taps into the main processor, but also allows use of graphics accelerators for improved playback performance.