In typical Bill Gates fashion, the Microsoft Corp. front man was working the crowd at the Hollywood and Highlands Complex yesterday when he unveiled the beta version of Windows Media Player 9 Series.

Gates had James Cameron and LL Cool J at his side while he demonstrated the software giant's latest introduction into the audio and video streaming sector, the Windows Media Player 9 Series.

Formerly code-named "Corona," the platform streams audio in full 5.1 surround sound. It is a next-generation digital media platform, with player, codecs, server and new software development kit, according to Microsoft. As is, however, the product only supports MP3 files in a limited capacity.

The player's Services tab gives users access to various music and video subscription services, including pressplay, Full Audio, Cinema Now and Intertainer. pressplay, which is backed by Microsoft, said it will use the player's Fast Streaming technology to virtually eliminate buffering for broadband users.

Microsoft said more than 60 companies have committed to develop digital media products and services on the Windows Media Player 9 Series platform. Avid, ViewCast and Loudeye are among the 60 companies that range from hardware manufacturers to entertainment providers.

Not to be outdone by its rival, RealNetworks Inc. announced yesterday that its RealOne Player version 2.0 supports the Windows Media Player 9, but pointed out that the new Microsoft platform is only a beta version.

In July, RealNetworks took the open-source approach with the introduction on a digital media software that supports various file formats for audio and video, including MP3s, Microsoft's Windows Media technology and Apple's QuickTime.