Panasonic to use Windows Media in consumer devices

Panasonic to use Windows Media in consumer devices

Matsushita Electric Industrial will support Microsoft's Windows Media technologies in a range of consumer products including a DVD (digital versatile disc) player due out next month, furthering Microsoft's goal of pushing its multimedia format beyond PCs and into a range of consumer devices, the companies announced Monday.

In a speech at the Consumer Electronics Show here Monday evening, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is expected to show how consumers for the first time can burn a CD using Windows Media Audio (WMA) and then play it back on a Panasonic DVD player, officials said. Panasonic is a brand name of Matsushita.

Some users like to play music CDs on their DVD players because they are often hooked up to high-fidelity audio systems.

Panasonic's first player to support the Windows technology, the DVD-RV32, is slated to go on sale in the US next month for US$199.95. Panasonic will also support Microsoft's audio format in its SV-SD80 digital music player and will make chips for its DVD and CD players that work with the Microsoft technology, Panasonic officials said.

Apex Digital also announced a DVD player that supports WMA, while Toshiba and China's Jiangsu Shinco Electronics Group Company Ltd. said they will release Windows-compatible DVD players later this year, Microsoft said in a statement.

Some DVD players already let users play CDs recorded in the MP3 format, including models from Panasonic. Adding support for WMA will be good for consumers because the Microsoft format is more compact, meaning users can store twice as much music on a disc as they could using MP3, according to Michael Aguilar, president and chief operating officer of Panasonic.

"Consumers will be able to store 17 albums on a single CD, or over 22 hours of music," said Mike Fester, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Digital Media division.

The deal is not exclusive, meaning Panasonic can support competing media formats from Real Networks and Apple Computer down the line, Aguilar said in an interview. The electronics maker is initially supporting Microsoft's audio format, but expects to support its video technology in the future, he said. It will include software with its DVD players for navigating and playing songs.

Microsoft is trying to position its media format as a reliable platform that lets consumers transfer music and video easily among a range of devices without having to worry about compatibility issues, said Richard Doherty, director of the research company Envisioneering Group, in Seaford, New York.

However, security problems that have dogged its desktop software mean the company may face an uphill battle to win the confidence of consumers and device makers, he said. In addition, Microsoft's cross-device strategy isn't seamless, he said: Its Xbox game console, for example, doesn't support the playback of recordable CDs.

The news will likely stir the debate about copyright protection and the rights of consumers to copy digital media and share it among friends and devices. Microsoft has "worked very hard" on the copy protection in WMA and the recording industry is "pretty comfortable" with it, said Reid Sullivan, general manager of Panasonic's Entertainment Group.

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