Microsoft Corp is expanding its multimedia support with a new multimedia applications programming interface strategy based around its existing DirectX set of programming interfaces for games developers. In its new guise, DirectX has been expanded to create two distinct service layers: DirectX media, a new layer of high level, cross platform services to enable developers to integrate and stream video, audio and three dimensional animation; and DirectX foundation, the low level hardware acceleration services already used in the game and entertainment markets. Microsoft said that the enhancements will let DirectX integrate Internet-ready services beyond entertainment, to include authoring tools, Internet publishing and real-time communications. DirectX now takes advantage of Microsoft’s DirectX files, the native file format for the DirectX application programming interfaces providing support for the import of pre-defined multimedia objects into interactive applications. The files are records that can be incorporated into container file formats such as VRML 2.0 virtual reality markup language. The DirectX files offers developers the chance to license their multimedia assets for incorporation into titles, removing the need to create original art and media objects. A second file format, the ASF Active Streaming Format, is a streaming container file format that lets content and tool developers stream multimedia objects at distinct bit rates from 14.4kbps to 6Mbps over the Internet and intranets. These objects include audio, video, stills, URLs, HTML pages script commands and executable programs. Streaming enables multimedia files to be rendered as they are received, rather than after the file is fully downloaded, so playback can start sooner. The enhancements will be included in DirectX version 5.0 scheduled for final release this June, along with advanced support for Microsoft’s Talisman rendering technology and support for Intel Corp’s MMX instructions. DirectX, launched alongside Windows 95 in the autumn of 1995, was Microsoft’s second crack at supporting the Games market, after the disasterous WinG, deservedly spurned by most Games developers. DirectX originally came with four direct support application programming interfaces – DirectDraw for fast video, DirectInput for joysticks, DirectSound for low latency sound and DirectPlay for multi-player games over the Internet, along with a generalised Direct3D 3D rendering interface. Despite some initial trepidation, it has been adopted by games developers more used to writing direct to the hardware. Over 250 DirectX- powered games shipped over the Christmas 1996 period, claims Microsoft.