Today is a big day for Microsoft as the company launches its Windows XP Reloaded marketing campaign with the releases of Windows Media Player (WMP) 10, Portable Media Centers (PMCs), and the MSN Music preview. But this isn't all that Microsoft has planned for third quarter 2004. In addition, the company is also participating in several initiatives and will unleash a second wave of XP Reloaded products and services by mid-October. Other important announcements include a new Napster subscription service, a broad set of Windows Media Video (WMV)-compatible TV tuners from a variety of companies, and the acceptance of Microsoft's WMV format as a key part of the Blu-ray Disc (BD-ROM) specification for video playback equipment.

Today, online music service Napster is launching a new version of the Napster Premium service that's based Microsoft's new Digital Rights Management (DRM) platform, code-named Janus. Napster Premium subscribers can now download any of up to 750,000 tracks to any Windows Media Audio (WMA)-compatible portable device. The service costs just $14.99 a month--about $5 more than the previous Napster Premium service, which didn't let subscribers copy music to devices. Napster also offers an a la carte per-download service, similar to other online music stores.

Microsoft also announced today that new TV tuners from ATI Technologies, Hauppauge Computer Works, NVIDIA, Pinnacle Systems, and SnapStream Media will "enable consumers to record television content into WMV 9 format and make it automatically ready for transfer to a Portable Media Center device, removing the need to transcode content for faster transfer from the PC to the device." These WMV 9-compatible tuner cards will be available later this year.

Also, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has agreed to include the VC-1 advanced compression video coder decoder (codec), a proposed Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) standard based on WMV 9, as a mandatory codec in the Blu-ray Disc BD-ROM specification for video playback equipment. Video codecs compress and decompress video content, letting users fit much more video on a disc than would be otherwise possible. Microsoft's WMV format has been widely hailed as a leading video codec, both for its high quality and small file sizes.

These announcements, especially taken within the context of today's release of WMP 10, PMCs, and the MSN Music preview, are fairly exciting. But for the XP Reloaded marketing campaign and the consumers interested in Microsoft's upcoming plans, the best is yet to come. Sometime soon, Microsoft will release its next-generation XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) software, along with several Media Center Extenders, devices that Microsoft partners have created that extend the reach of Media Center content into any room in the home. Microsoft will also ship an Xbox software product that will provide Media Center Extender capabilities to its video game platform, and a new networking interoperability technology, called Windows Media Connect, that will let a new generation of smart devices intelligently interoperate with the digital media content stored on XP-based computers. Microsoft also plans to ship the final version of MSN Music later this year.

Sorting through all the products and services that make up XP Reloaded can be somewhat confusing.  For a helpful front-end to all of this information, please visit my new XP Reloaded activity center on the SuperSite for Windows.