An obscure contest over futuristic video technologies is beginning to unfold in the broadcast industry, with dramatic consequences for the future of television, Hollywood and Microsoft.

The battle for now is visible only on the fringes, where experts are carefully weighing the pros and cons of two new candidates for delivering emerging applications such as Internet movies on demand, video over cell phones and high-definition TV (HDTV) programming.

One candidate, known alternately as MPEG-4 AVC or H.264, is the latest successor to the standard video format currently used by virtually all cable and broadcast TV stations. The other is Microsoft’s Windows Media VC-9 format.


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