Cirrus offers music chip for Microsoft Audio

Anticipating a hot market for portable devices that play music downloaded from the Internet, Microsoft has reached an agreement with chip-maker Cirrus Logic for chips supporting Windows Media Audio.

Readying itself for a hot holiday season market for portable devices that play music downloaded from the Internet, Microsoft has reached an agreement with chip-maker Cirrus Logic to deliver chips to manufacturers who will support Windows Media Audio music formatting software in the devices.

The Cirrus Logic Maverick chips will be available to manufacturers within two weeks so they can build devices using the Windows software by the holiday season, said Kevin Unangst, product manager for Microsoft's streaming media division.

While Microsoft's Windows Media Technology had provided audio and video formats for use on PCs, the software giant can now have a presence in the growing field of portable devices that can play music available for download online.

"There is a sonic boom occurring in the broad adoption and use of digital audio format for portable devices," Unangst said. "We are now at the cusp of the explosion." Usage of such devices is expected to grow from 850,000 units sold this year to 2.8 million next year, he said, citing a study by the research firm InStat Inc.

The licenses for the software will be provided to the manufacturers free of charge. The chips themselves will cost $US18.75 per chip in units of 10,000, said an official at a public relations company working for Cirrus who asked not to be named.

Microsoft sees its chief competitor in the race to provide audio formatting software as RealNetworks, Unangst said.

However, one analyst said Microsoft is really challenging MP3. MP3 is a rival data compression format that has helped drive the explosion of online distribution of music. Microsoft can use its leverage in the market to its advantage, said Malcolm Maclachlan, a media e-commerce analyst at International Data Corp., a research firm headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"Microsoft can get deals with chip makers to get their format in the chips," Maclachlan said.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080, or at http://www.microsoft.com/. In Fremont, California, Cirrus Logic can be reached at +1-510-252-6020, or at http://www.cirrus.com/.

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