Microsoft Evolves DirectX Multimedia API Services

REDMOND, Wash., March 31, 1997 — Microsoft Corp. today unveiled the eagerly awaited unified Microsoft® DirectX
™
multimedia system services, an expansion of the company’s highly successful DirectX game APIs. Enhancements make the DirectX set of APIs the industry’s first multimedia architecture to integrate Internet-ready services for four key markets – entertainment, authoring tools, Net publishing and real-time communications. The enhancements will be included in DirectX version 5.0, scheduled for final release in June 1997.

The new DirectX architecture provides language-independent COM-based low-level and high-level services through two layers: DirectX foundation, a set of low-level APIs that provides transparent hardware acceleration, and DirectX media , a set of high-level, cross-platform services including media streaming, animation and behavior services. A key component of the Active Platform, DirectX provides the essential multimedia system services for a new generation of distributed applications and tools through ActiveX
™
Controls and Java
™
Applets.

The new multimedia strategy reinforces Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to the software development community. “We consider our multimedia strategy to be not just a Microsoft initiative, but an industrywide development effort,” said John Ludwig, vice president of the Internet client and collaboration division at Microsoft. “While DirectX provides the enabling technologies, the key to providing better software applications for consumers lies with the millions of talented developers creating those solutions. Our role at Microsoft is simply to provide the tools and support they need to leverage their abilities.”

“Developers have been crippled by a lack of consistent APIs and are hungry for unified solutions,” said Omid Rahmat, vice president of Jon Peddie Associates, a leading marketing and management consulting firm for the computer and multimedia industries. “By extending the reach of DirectX beyond games to mainstream applications, Microsoft is executing the first comprehensive initiative to bring disparate multimedia developers together under one banner. The new cross-device, Internet-ready DirectX allows developers to speed application development, create once and distribute to many across multiple platforms, and leverage their media assets – the way most multimedia developers are choosing to go.” The enhancements to the DirectX architecture are developer-centered services that address three common requirements across the entertainment, authoring tools, Net publishing and real-time communications markets:

  • Rapid multimedia development. Significant reduction in the amount of time invested in creating multimedia content

  • Author-once scalable content. Services and file formats that allow content to be scaled to the processing power of the playback device and available bandwidth

  • Unparalleled access to consumers. The ability to deliver content on a wide range of devices – PCs and also specialized devices

DirectX Foundation

DirectX foundation provides support for 2-D, 3-D, sound, 3-D sound, input and networking features. By writing to DirectX foundation, software developers exploit transparent access to hardware and take advantage of true device independence. By the same token, hardware manufacturers using DirectX are free to develop new acceleration technologies without fear of incompatibility, by writing drivers that interface to systems through the DirectX Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL).

Over the past 18 months, PC-game developers have rapidly adopted the technologies now incorporated into DirectX foundation to create dynamic games with full stereo sound, high-performance 3-D graphics, and rich interactivity through new forms of user interfaces. This unprecedented adoption has transformed DirectX into a standard API set for PC games, with approximately 250 DirectX-powered games shipped for the 1996 holiday season.

With the new features in DirectX foundation, developers can take advantage of the same high-performance, full-media interactivity and device independence for all types of multimedia applications. New DirectX foundation services for release with DirectX 5.0 include these:

  • Advanced support for the rendering feature code-named “Talisman,” including anti-aliasing, anisotropic textures filtering and range-based fog

  • Support for Intel’s MMX Pentium processor

  • AGP support

  • Enhanced 3-D features, including DrawPrimitive services, shared z-buffer support, and asynchronous execute buffer support for hardware optimization

  • DirectSound® API-based 3-D hardware acceleration

  • Enhanced audio features including audio capture and improved streaming

  • New input device support including force feedback joysticks

  • Support for multiple monitors

  • Support for hardware video codecs such as MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 chips

  • Unified driver model for the Windows® 95 and Windows NT® operating systems for audio, video, 3-D and input

DirectX Media

DirectX media provides high-level, cross-device services that allow developers to seamlessly incorporate diverse media types, such as 2-D, 3-D, sound, animation and behavior, in interactive content. The integrated, time-based services of DirectX media offer developers an extremely powerful tool for synchronizing events to powerful effect – for example, positioning sounds in 3-D space to match the action of an animated character. With the consistent tool and approach to manipulating different media types, developers can easily achieve previously difficult integrated effects, such as texturing a video sequence onto a 3-D animated object or causing 2-D sprites (images, usually small elements such as particles, that can be moved independently in 2-D space within a scene) to interact with video characters. New DirectX media services for release with DirectX 5.0 include these:

  • ActiveMovie
    ™
    streaming and filter graph architecture becomes part of DirectX media. The name “ActiveMovie” will refer to the ActiveX Control used for playback that ships with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

  • Streaming services providing full-duplex Active Streaming Format (ASF) for server-based media streaming. This eliminates the traditional download-and-view model adopted in other architectures.

  • DirectX files, a media record file format, allows predefined native DirectX content and media objects to be integrated into applications.

  • New time-based services make it easy for developers to integrate 2-D and 3-D animation, video, audio and other media.

  • New animation and behavior services allow developers to attach complete behavior and animation sequences to media objects.

  • DirectAuthor interface offers tool vendors the ability to access the low-level DirectX foundation for in-place editing.

  • Extensive codecs provide plug-in capability for third-party codecs.

Unified Multimedia System Services for the Active Platform

DirectX is closely integrated with Microsoft’s Active Platform, a development platform with a comprehensive set of tools based on Internet-standard technologies such as HTML, Java, VRML and ActiveX. Developers targeting the Active Platform and DirectX will find it easy to build cross-platform applications with rich interactivity and true multimedia performance. By taking advantage of DirectX to accelerate media objects such as ActiveX Controls and Java Applets, developers can deliver high-quality interactive media to the Active Desktop. For example, the ActiveX Control VRML 2.0 viewer uses Direct3D
™
and DirectSound system services and hardware acceleration to deliver improved performance on playback of VRML files; this capability will become an integral part of the Active Platform. For the end user, the result is a rich, full-media environment in which information is only a mouse-click away, whether it resides on the desktop, a network server or the Internet.

New Market Opportunities for Developers

The enhancements to the DirectX architecture open new markets for interactive content and tool developers. Such opportunities include the following:

  • Net publishing. DirectX provides advanced services for media integration and streaming of 2-D, 3-D, video and audio. Media objects such as ActiveX Controls or Java Applets can be incorporated by developers in standalone or distributed Internet-based applications. Controls currently supported by DirectX include NetMeeting
    ™
    conferencing software, NetShow
    ™
    networked multimedia software, ActiveMovie and VRML 2.0

  • Authoring tools

    for authoring tool vendors in areas such as digital video production, DirectX media integration, streaming and animation services are required as core system services. Developers get access to the ability to create rich 3-D and video- and audio-based Webcast content. DirectX also supports standard video editing interfaces as well as industry-standard codecs such as MPEG-2, AC-3, DVD, digital video and MJPEG.

  • Real-time communications
    . DirectX will support industry-standard packet formats such as H.263 for audio- and videoconferencing, and enable two-way communication via full-duplex media streaming. In addition to traditional business communication applications, developers can create new forms of online applications for speech presentations, town hall meetings or online symposiums.

  • Entertainment
    . DirectX supports all the advanced media types, 3-D graphics, 3-D sound and MIDI required for next-generation titles. The DirectPlay® API delivers network services required to support online games. Accelerated games powered by DirectX can be injected with even more interactivity and realism using DirectX media services – for example, positioning sounds to match a visual event such as a rocket blast.

Availability and Distribution

The new unified DirectX multimedia architecture is scheduled to be available as
DirectX 5.0 in June 1997. Beta 1 SDK of DirectX 5.0 foundation is available this week on April 2. Beta 1 SDK of DirectX 5.0 media is scheduled to be available in April. For more information on

the evolved DirectX architecture, developers should refer to the DirectX Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/mediadev/ .

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (NASDAQ
“MSFT”
) is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.


Microsoft, DirectX, ActiveX, DirectSound, Windows, Windows NT, ActiveMovie, Direct3D, NetMeeting, NetShow and DirectPlay are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Java is a trademark of Sun Microsystems Inc.

Other product and company names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.


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