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Toy or Tool?

Microsoft has spent a great deal of effort to promote Windows Media 9, and many software manufacturers have included the program in their products. With

Toy or Tool?

Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM,
Brent Harshbarger

Microsoft has spent a great deal of effort to promote Windows Media 9, and many software manufacturers have included the program in their products. With Windows Media 9 poised to become omnipresent, what should systems contractors know about it?

Windows Media 9 not only supports six channels (5.1) of 24-bit/96K audio, it also includes digital-rights-management (DRM) technology to protect content creators. Content creators can also obtain a DRM software development kit from the company’s Web site.

Now that the stage is set, systems integrators must realize that Windows Media 9 will be an inescapable tool. Content creation determines the methods of storage, finding and retrieving, distribution, and consumption of media. This is where system integrators become a segment of the IT business. The methods of delivery are expanding. Our customers gather and share company information on DVDs, and video is recorded to and played from a hard-disk array, the Web, and wireless communication devices, whether they are PDAs or cell phones.

As such, systems integrators need to understand the various ways to digitize media, catalog it, store it, and make it accessible to clients and their audience. These technologies include familiar hardware such as screens and projectors but also devices such as servers, storage area networks, and LAN/WANs as they relate to real-time media. The previous systems are considered more hardware technologies making the physical connections of these systems, but they won’t be very useful if you can’t get them to communicate with each other. The communication and other value-added work comes from the software technologies like XML, .NET, Web services, databases, media encoders/decoders, and streaming technologies.

Manufactures are starting to use the term IP in many of their marketing materials, because the Internet technology train has already arrived. But after looking a bit closer, all they are doing is providing control data over IP, which is not terribly exciting. But what if a video projector uses IP streaming technology, takes a video stream from an IP network, and decodes it into HD video? With Windows Media 9 available to the world, it won’t be long before people are using their PCs as media centers and just hooking up their plasma viewer and audio outputs to a 5.1 amp/speaker combo. Just say, “Select movie” for the movie database, call out the name of the movie you want to watch, and give it the Play command. (If you are at the office, you’ll say, “Start presentation.”)

Windows Media 9 along with the new Windows Server 2003 brings a solid architecture for making Windows Media family of products a tool set for every professional. If you look closely at the work that Microsoft is doing in the background, the company is aligning itself to be the leader in digital cinema, with the root of the technology being Windows Media 9.

As an integrator, you will want to get to know all of the features available in Windows Media 9 and the third-party software companies that are working to support it. The roster is growing in both the professional and consumer arenas. Your software staff should be familiar with the software development kit and then begin to align the new services and features to your company’s core competencies.

Brent Harshbargerhas worked for Peavey in the development of MediaMatrix. He can be reached

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