Microsoft has updated its Windows Media Center, included with certain versions of its Vista operating system, to provide support for MHEG-5, an interactive television standard used in the United Kingdom and some other countries. The update is only being made available through resellers. IMPALA, the trade association that aims to promote MHEG, has expressed its support for the development.

“This update was primarily targeted at adding support for additional international broadcast standards, and MHEG-5 support was critical in our efforts to provide the best possible PC-based TV experiences in Europe through Windows Media Center,” said Ben Reed, responsible for product marketing for Windows Media Center at Microsoft.

The development has been welcomed by IMPALA, the trade association formed to promote the MHEG-5 standard, backed by Strategy & Technology, Cabot Communications and EchoStar Europe.

“Given the potential of Microsoft’s Windows Media Center and its TV capabilities this is significant further endorsement for MHEG-5,” said Giri Valliappan, director of market development for IMPALA. “We are very pleased the Microsoft has specified it.”

MHEG-5 was originally developed in the mid-1990s and was standardised through the ISO as part of the DAVIC effort to support interactivity and navigation for video-on-demand services. The latest version is also an ETSI standard.

MHEG-5 is still used on Freeview, the free digital terrestrial television platform in the United Kingdom, and has been adopted by Freesat, its free satellite counterpart. Over 30 million MHEG-5 capable receivers have been sold in the United Kingdom.

The MHEG-5 standard has also been adopted in New Zealand for satellite and terrestrial services, and is also being rolled out by TVB in Hong Kong.

One of the attractions of MHEG-5 is that it is an open standard, unencumbered by rights issues that have beset standards such as MHP, which was designed as a successor to MHEG and forms the basis of the Tru2Way initiative in the United States.

Although the MHEG-5 standard has been updated to support high-resolution graphics in full colour and broadband connections, its critics argue that it is relatively limited.

Provision of support for MHEG-5 in Windows Media Center will mean that interactive applications, such as the BBCi digital text service, will be supported on Windows Vista machines equipped with suitable tuners.

The latest update for Windows Media Center will also support Broadcast Markup Language or BML, used in Japan.