Posted by Paul Mitchell 
General Manager of Policy & Standards, Entertainment & Devices Division

Paul Mitchell
Paul Mitchell

The recent International Consumer Electronics Show was a showcase for how the media industry today is being completely transformed by new digital production technology and hybrid distribution models. Consumers now have many new ways to access video using the Internet – from Hulu and Fancast Xfinity on PCs, to Netflix Watch Instantly through Blu-Ray players, digital TVs, Xbox and other game consoles.

But all these new options are not trouble free. While any DVD will play back on any DVD player, each of the new digital delivery systems has tended to use its own special format, which means that a file prepared for one system doesn’t work with another. This has created confusion in the marketplace and raised the cost and complexity of digital distribution.

The ease with which digital files can be copied belies the complexity involved in creating a robust portable media format that supports everything from high definition to video more appropriate for a mobile device. The format must work with closed captions and other accessibility aids, and with multiple language audio and commentary tracks. The format must work for a variety of business models such as retail sale, rental, video on demand, and subscription. It must support an ever-expanding list of target devices, from Internet-enabled TVs to Smartphones and Wi-Fi enabled tablets.

 

To help meet this challenge, Microsoft in September released the Protected Interoperable File Format (PIFF)specification for others to use under Microsoft’s Community Promise.

PIFF takes a unique approach by building on standards already in wide use (the ISO Base Media File Container Format and the Advanced Encryption Standard). It offers enhancements to accommodate downloads, broadcast and streaming (including multi-bitrate adaptive streaming) of content secured by any of several digital rights management technologies. The PIFF specification also allows various audio or other companion tracks to be combined dynamically at the client device. All this can dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of production and distribution.

We believe this approach, building on commonly used standards, can help fuel innovation and improve interoperability. In our view, a common container format such as PIFF is critical to realizing the “buy once, play anywhere” vision for the digital media marketplace. Microsoft is committed to working with our customers and partners to address this challenge and create opportunity for us all.