Microsoft began unveiling its next-generation Windows Media Technologies (code-named Corona) at the Streaming Media East 2001 conference in New York. According to the company, Corona will dramatically improve streaming media through new features such as Fast Stream, which eliminates buffering delays for broadband users. Such features will provide a huge advantage for businesses moving to inhouse streaming for corporatewide announcements and training. The company is also introducing next-generation audio and video codecs, including Windows Media Audio (WMA) Professional, which delivers true six-channel stereo surround sound.

"For streaming on the Web to reach its full potential, it needs to break through today's limitations and provide a true broadcast-quality experience for broadband users who expect instant results and outstanding video quality," said Will Poole, vice president of Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division. "Windows Media Corona will deliver on this promise, and in so doing create profitable and cost-saving opportunities for companies looking to develop and deliver Web-based digital-media services."

The first Corona technologies are now available for testing in the Windows .NET Server beta, which includes Fast Stream, server-side playlists, optimizations for wireless streaming, and better scalability than earlier versions of Windows Media Services (WMS) include. Microsoft will roll out more technologies—including a new version of Windows Media Player (WMP), new WMA and Windows Media Video (WMV) codecs, a new Windows Media Encoder, and a new Windows Media software development kit (SDK)—throughout the year. Beta testing of these products will begin in the first half of this year.

The Corona technologies are surprisingly compelling, but their success relies on cable and DSL broadband adoption. Corona might not be an instant hit unless more users upgrade their connections to broadband by the time the product is finalized later this year.