REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 24, 2001 — In October 1991, when Microsoft first shipped the Windows 3.0 operating system with Multimedia Extensions and introduced audio playback capability, many consumers were still getting used to CD players as a way of experiencing music. Few envisioned the heights digital media would scale over the next decade. Fast-forward to fall 2001, when digital-music downloads are popular, hit movies can be viewed online and today’s PCs double as home video-editing machines.
The evidence is abundant: digital media has arrived. So it’s no surprise that as Microsoft officially launches Windows XP this week, digital media is a centerpiece of the new operating system.
Windows XP incorporates more than a decade of Microsoft expertise in developing the best software for enjoying digital media. Following Windows 3.0, the digital media experience evolved with Windows Media Player versions for Windows 95 and Windows 98. In 2000, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) marked the debut of Windows Media Player 7 — the first all-in-one digital media player. Today, Windows XP is setting new benchmarks for convenience, speed and quality in digital media.
PressPass spoke with Dave Fester, general manager of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft, about some of the new worlds that Windows XP opens in digital media.
PressPass: Why is digital media such a big part of Windows XP?
Fester: Digital media is a huge part of people’s lives, and it’s growing more pervasive every day. More and more music fans are getting into digital music every day, and millions of people are watching movies online. The spread of digital cameras, portable music devices, CD burners and camcorders are bringing digital media in all forms to more people than ever before. To get the most out of digital media, people need an operating system that’s built from the ground up to handle it.
With Windows XP, we’ve reached a critical turning point, where PC hardware and software have gotten powerful enough and easy enough to use that everyone can experience the choice, convenience and flexibility that digital media offers. Windows XP will make digital media mainstream for every PC user.
PressPass: What’s now possible for digital media with Windows XP?
Fester: Windows XP is like a fine-tuned machine designed from the ground up to improve all aspects of viewing and creating digital media — from listening to digital music and watching digital video and DVD movies to creating home movies and more. It’s going to revolutionize how people think about music and videos, and it’s going to open up all kinds of new entertainment experiences.
We reached this point by investing years of research on advanced digital-media technologies and spent countless hours working with consumers and office users to understand what they want. Windows XP brings the best of all this hard work together to deliver the best performance, the best quality and the greatest ease of use.
The performance results illustrate some of the fundamental improvements we’ve made in how Windows XP handles digital media. Click on Windows Media Player in the Start menu of a typical PC and it’s up and running in less than 2 seconds — about half the time it took previous versions to start, and less than a third the time it takes other media players to start. It also starts playing music sooner, and it burns CDs faster. Users can start the player and burn six tracks in less than four minutes — while listening to music at the same time. Other players take almost two-and-a-half times longer.
Audio and video quality are essential, and Windows XP shows our innovation at work by using the latest Windows Media technology to deliver crystal-clear sound and video. Users can copy a song using Windows Media and get CD-quality audio at half the file size of MP3. Our video quality is second to none. Users will enjoy watching high-quality DVDs in full screen or movies delivered over the Internet from companies such as Intertainer . We’ve added some nice touches that users will really enjoy, such as full-screen controls, that appear when the video is viewed in full screen.
On top of the performance and quality enhancements, we also spent countless hours in usability labs to make digital media activities accessible for users of every level.
PressPass: What’s new in Windows XP for digital music fans?
Fester: We talked to many different types of users — students, parents, professionals, even children — to understand what they’re doing with music today and what they want to do in the future. Then we applied that learning to the whole range of digital music experiences, making Windows XP easier and smarter from end to end — from music discovery and playback to management and carrying music on custom CDs and new portable audio devices.
For example, we made discovering and managing music much easier by introducing a new “My Music” folder, which was added to the Start Menu alongside the “My Documents” and “My Pictures” folders. “My Music” features include album art thumbnail images to quickly and easily identify a favorite album. Users can even play albums and burn CDs right out of the folder. We spent a lot of time improving the overall playback experience — it’s fast and it’s fun with the visualizations, album art and even lyrics support. Smart features such as Intelligent Media Management automatically keep track of music files — even when they move around in a computer, so play lists and media library always stay up to date. That’s a big hit with power users and something that no other media player offers.
Because Windows XP has all this great technology, we’ve been able to create amazing new features in a companion to Windows XP. It’s called Microsoft Plus! and it includes a feature called Voice Command, which lets a user simply use the power of their voice to control the Windows Media Player. Just tell the player to call up a favorite artist or play list and it happens — all with a simple voice command. Users who want to create a custom CD cover will like the CD Label Maker in Plus!. If users want to get more out of their existing PC speakers, we have a new technology called “Speaker Correction” that boosts the fidelity of many popular desktop speakers. This effectively turns a $50 pair of speakers into a $100 pair of speakers.
PressPass: What does Windows XP offer MP3 users?
Fester: MP3 users are going to love Windows XP. The MP3 playback experience with Windows XP is great. MP3 users get the full benefit of all the great playback and management improvements we’ve made, with support for album art, album information, native CD burning, seamless transfer to portable devices and all the rest.
Windows XP now makes it possible to quickly add new MP3 Creation Packs that let users copy songs from CDs in the MP3 format — right from Windows Media Player for Windows XP. For US$10, users can create MP3 songs at a full range of quality levels.
PressPass: How does Windows XP help consumers create and enjoy home movies?
Fester: Just as Windows Media Player for Windows XP makes it easy to take put CDs on a PC, Windows Movie Maker makes it easy to take all your home videotapes and put them on a PC, where you can do much more with them.
Getting started is a snap. Users plug a camcorder in, and Windows XP instantly recognizes it and starts converting a user’s taped memories to digital form. That’s when the fun begins. Movie Maker automatically detects scene changes when users record the video onto a PC. Users can drag and drop their way toward a home movie masterpiece, picking and choosing the best scenes and adding still photos, music and more. Users can make their own music videos, create videos for school projects, share family vacations and keep grandma in touch with her grandchildren.
Because Movie Maker is built on Windows Media technology, the video quality is the best available. Using the latest Windows Media Video 8 codecs, Windows Movie Maker is able to store video that begins to rival DV quality in one-twelfth the size. That means high quality videos small enough to share on the Web or even through e-mail.
For Windows XP, we have improved Movie Maker with performance enhancements, technology that eliminates dropped frames, new high-quality video output, and even an option to save movies in DV-AVI for import into DVD creation programs.
We found that people who use Movie Maker watch their movies more than ever before. I know that’s true for me. I use Movie Maker all the time to send home movies of my daughters’ most important moments to my friends and family.
PressPass: How does Windows XP help consumers enjoy music and video on devices beyond the PC?
Fester: It’s extremely easy to burn audio CDs using Windows XP. Users can create a playlist of their favorite songs, and in moments, transfer it to a CD for playback. And with the new CD players that support digital music files directly, 20 hours of CD-quality digital music fit on a single CD.
Windows XP makes working with portable music devices easier than ever. Just plug in a Windows XP-compatible device (such as the Compaq iPaq, Diamond Rio, Iomega HipZip and many more) and Windows XP automatically recognizes it, making it instantly ready to transfer music. With Windows XP, users can transfer both MP3 and WMA music files to the device extremely fast. WMA-ready music devices store twice as much music in Windows Media format as in MP3 format, so it’s like doubling the music for free.
PressPass: What is a good starting point for finding great digital media content to enjoy on Windows XP?
Fester: The Media Guide in Windows Media Player takes users to great content at WindowsMedia.com, a tremendous resource for finding digital music and video. It’s the most popular guide to audio and video on the Internet. Millions of people go there every month to find the best broadband content, music downloads and videos, music news, album information and more than 2,000 online radio stations from all over the world. It also offers a comprehensive movie guide with movie trailers, short features and even full-length movies available online for streaming or download.
The digital media features in Windows XP will set new expectations for enjoying digital music, videos and much more. Once you move to Windows XP, you’ll never look back.