MSN TV 2 Debuts

Microsoft's MSN business unit has announced the MSN TV 2 Internet and Media Player (formerly WebTV). Aside from being crammed full of new features, MSN TV 2 plays an important role as part of Microsoft's three-pronged approach to gaining a foothold in the living room.

MSN TV 2 provides users with a broadband Internet experience, premium MSN content, and the option to share files from networked PCs such as files, music and videos.

Features include: MSN Video and Radio, a photo slideshow viewer, home networking, e-mail, specialized version of MSN Messenger and Chat, Internet Explorer 6, a custom MSN portal preset, parental controls, and automatic updates. Customers receive a primary MSN e-mail account with 2 GB of storage and 10 secondary e-mail accounts with 250 MB of storage per account both with the same spam protection as the regular MSN service. MSN TV 2 runs the Windows CE operating system.

In comparison to the first generation receiver, the hardware has been completely overhauled. MSN TV 2 is powered by a 733 MHz Intel Celeron, 128 MB of RAM and 64 MB of flash memory. Each unit is equipped with an ethernet port and two USB ports for accessories including digital media card readers, printers and wireless network adapters. Customers who opt not to sign up for broadband access are still able to connect through a built-in 56Kbps phone modem.

Commenting on the release, senior Jupiter analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews, "Microsoft has added many new features, like wireless support and content sharing over a network, that would make MSN TV 2 a friendlier citizen in homes with existing PCs. Long term, MSN TV isn't likely to become a mainstream product, but that doesn't diminish its importance to Microsoft.

MSN TV 2 also marks the debut of Windows Media Extender Technology which is the secret sauce that makes integration with home PCs possible. The Windows Media Extender concept was unveiled at the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

Essentially, Windows Media Extender functions as spoke branching out from Windows Media Center Edition PCs hubs to set top boxes, the Xbox gaming console and television sets.

Now that the Extender technology has materialized, Microsoft is fleshing out its "seamless computing" vision where digital media technologies paired with the Internet and mobile devices work well together. Redmond's "eHome" strategy consists of a core foundation for cable operators, the MSN TV set-top box as well as the Xbox, and Windows XP Media Center Edition.

"Microsoft is hedging its bets on these three means into the living room, which is good for its technology and brand. I would consider Media Center the centerpiece of Microsoft's strategy, but the TV is the incumbent in the living room. A multi-product, multi-technology strategy, that also embraces cable operators and set-top boxes, is the right approach," said Jupiter's Wilcox.

The MSN TV 2 Internet & Media Player is manufactured by Thomson under the RCA brand and includes a wireless keyboard and remote control. The suggest retail price is $199.95 USD plus monthly subscription fees.

Subscription plans carry a price tag ranging from $9.95 USD monthly or $99.95 USD a year for customers who bring their own broadband. Dial-up users can expect to pay $21.95 USD monthly or $199.95 USD annually.

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