Microsoft launched its own challenge in the race to distribute music online last night at a glitzy conference in the House of Blues, Los Angeles.
Windows Media Technologies 4.0 is here, a multimedia wonder that provides streaming video and audio through the ubiquitous Microsoft Media Player.
Microsoft has its finger on the pulse with this product with all the right people praising the technology at the launch. "This is the single most exciting development to come along for the advancement of streaming music in years," said Stephen Felisan, VP of technology and development, House of Blues Digital in a Microsoft press release.
William Hein, co-president of Restless Records in the US was also keen to praise Microsoft's efforts: "I'm impressed with the high fidelity of Windows Media Compression software and intend to use it aggressively as a marketing tool to reach new audiences."
Keeping the music industry bigwigs happy has always been a top priority for Microsoft: Audio 4.0 files are "copy-proof" to protect recording artists. Included with the player is the Windows Rights Manager which allows artists to request a licence from a consumer before playing a file, something Mike Edwards, director of operations at the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) says will make Audio 4 a popular alternative to MP3. "Security is what the music industry is looking for, so obviously MS Audio is important. Everyone (in the music industry) is looking at this."
So is it the end of MP3? Until there is widespread acceptance for Microsoft's new format, which is still in beta, Audio 4.0 will live in parallel with MP3 according to Matt Bettinson, an MP3 guru who is impressed with what he has heard so far. "It's far superior to MP3. I compared an MP3 file created in Xing software recorded at low/normal VBR mode and compared it to a 32Kbit MS Audio file." 32Kbit files, are according to Bettinson, usually fairly poor quality so the results came as a shock: "I expected the files to be of similar quality but the Microsoft file gave a really good FM recording, better than an equivalent MP3 file recorded at 64Kbps."
So what lays ahead for MP3? Bettinson is clear: "There will be no point providing MP3 -- it takes up twice the disk space and gives poorer quality sound than MS Audio. I think MP3 will dry up, it's inevitable in the face of better technology."
Asked if it was a bad day for MP3 fans Bettinson says no. "This is a joyous day for all MP3ers. We've got something better to work with now."
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