HDTV in Windows
Microsoft Goes Hi-Res
By Grant Clauser
You and the family have just settled in for an exciting high-definition movie. The THX intro rumbles the house, but just when things are ready to go, a silent message pops up on screen: "Windows has experienced a fatal error and must be shut down." If this scenario sounds bad, imagine it's not your house, but your client's, and in minutes he or she is on the phone with you, demanding you fix the fatal error. A bad horror movie, or reality TV?
Even with all the attention HDTV over cable and satellite, D-Theater even Blu-ray formats has been getting recently, there's a little-known HDTV secret hidden in every home PC running the Windows XP operating system. That secret is Windows Media 9 video codec. That's right — even now you can watch HDTV on your Windows XP computer with a simple download of the latest Windows Media software, provided that the PC and the display it's connected to have the muscle to handle it. What about HDTV on DVD? No need to wait until Sony gets Blu-ray off the ground. HDTV DVDs are already available on DVD, encoded in the Windows Media 9 format.
Windows Media 9 uses MPEG-4 compression, which makes a high-definition ATSC signal fit into half the space with a 2:1 compression ratio, thereby allowing an entire movie to fit on one standard DVD or be downloaded via a broadband connection to the Internet. Hollywood is taking serious note of it because WM9 comes with Copyguard copy protection, to help prevent the Napster syndrome. Another plus for WM9 is that it is capable of resolutions up to 1,080p — that's double the resolution of the industry standard 1,080i.
One big fan of high definition à la WM9 is Joel Silver, president and founder of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), which trains people to calibrate home theater displays. ISF is largely responsible for alerting the industry and public to the need for higher quality standards in video displays, so Silver's excitement over WM9 is no small thing. "Even with primitive gear, it's good-looking enough to get my attention," says Silver.