COMDEX: Microsoft, MP3 duke it out

In an effort to avoid being completely overshadowed by MP3 music technology, Microsoft has revealed a number of music-related agreements at Comdex, including a joint announcement with Sony.

In an effort to avoid being completely overshadowed by MP3 music technology, Microsoft has revealed a number of music-related agreements at Comdex, including a joint announcement with Sony that Microsoft Windows Media Audio will be compatible with Sony's copyright protection technology, OpenMG.

Sony and Microsoft will also collaborate on making the Microsoft audio compression technology work with Sony's new VAIO Music Clip (MC-P10), the portable pen-size digital audio player Sony has unveiled at Comdex. Both OpenMG and the VAIO Music Clip already work with MP3 music files. Sony's own proprietary ATRAC3 format will also support Windows Media Audio, the companies said in a joint announcement.

In the race to bring high quality digital music from the Internet and the PC to portable players, Microsoft has lost a lot of ground to MP3 in terms of playback, recording and transfer capabilities. The MP3 file format and related player technology also has technology for secure digital music transfers.

Though Microsoft says files using its technology require half the amount of storage space that an MP3 file needs, the MP3 technology was out of the gate first and continues to enjoy a renegade reputation that Microsoft's CD-quality music transfer technology finds elusive.

Microsoft also announced an alliance with BMG Entertainment, a division of Bertelsmann AG. Fourteen BMG artists, such as The Foo Fighters and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, will release singles that can be played online using the Windows Media Audio format.

Each month, a new BMG artist will be featured on the BMG Artist Showcase at the online media guide WindowsMedia.com, with video and audio downloadable exclusively in the Microsoft music format. Entire songs will not be available for download, only "previews" of audio as well as video clips. Currently, song previews of Prince's new CD "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic," are available online while the Foo Fighters newest effort, "There Is Nothing Left to Lose," will get its preview showcase on Nov. 22.

It is not unusual for entire songs to be released in the MP3 format. For example, music label Matador Records, posts entire MP3 singles from such artists as Pavement and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

While S3 was demonstrating its news Rio MP3 player in Los Angeles at the Webnoize conference, Microsoft and Diamond Multimedia (a division of S3) demonstrated Windows Media Technologies 4 on Diamond's SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) capable Rio portable music players. The third generation of Rio players will also build in support for Windows Media Device Manager technology for secure music transfer, the companies said.

Microsoft also announced at Webnoize that TVT Records will make its entire music catalog of 100 titles available to download for a fee. Singles will cost 99 cents each and entire CDs will run $US9.99. All music can be securely downloaded using the Microsoft technology, the companies said.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, is at +1-425-800-8080, or at http://www.microsoft.com. Sony, in Tokyo, can be found on the Web at http://www.sony.co.jp. BMG Entertainment can be contacted at http://www.bmgentertainment.com/.

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