Gates Extends Media Center, SPOT at CES

During his keynote address at the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Bill Gates shed light on Microsoft's "seamless computing" vision.

Windows Media Center Extender Technology will spark the evolution of Media Center Edition PCs into entertainment workhorses that broadcast digital media throughout the entire home. Gates also exploited the CES spotlight to announce Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) - wired gadgets that utilize Microsoft’s MSN services.

Rather than confining a customer's experience with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 to where their PC is located, Microsoft has extended its vision of the PC as a hub for home entertainment to the living room through a mix of set top boxes, TVs and Xbox game consoles. These consumer products coalesce with the extender to embody the current state of Microsoft’s PC-centric "eHome" vision.

Commenting on the technology, Joe Belfiore, a general manager in the Windows eHome Division, said, "Consumers are telling us that they don't want to be tied to the room where their PC lives to look at their digital pictures or view a program recorded on their Media Center PC. With industry partners, we are meeting this demand by developing innovative products that give consumers the freedom to enjoy their digital entertainment experiences anywhere in the home."

Windows XP Media Center Edition was refreshed from its initial 2002 release October, 2003 to meet the US holiday season. Media Center has a specialized interface which showcases categories of imagery, music, video and television programming ahead of the traditional Windows task-oriented interface.

A variety of hardware form factors will support the extender technology. Bobsled is the code-name for set top boxes that connect wirelessly to PCs. Bobsled will be built into some TVs and other display devices. This program has been known around Redmond as "Luge."

Microsoft's Xsled is software programmed for Xbox consoles that transforms the gaming system into Bobsled. It is currently unknown whether or not Xsled will operate with non MCE editions of Windows.

Microsoft has enlisted vendors including Alienware Corp., Dell Inc., Gateway Inc., HP, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Tatung Co. and Wistron Corp to participate as early adopters of the technology.

At CES, Gates also christened watches developed under the auspice of the SPOT program as "Smart Watches" with MSN Direct. MSN Direct is the online component of the device that tracks weather reports, sports scores, stock prices, and other personalized selections.

Industry watchers have already begun to weigh in.

"Of the products that are expected for the fourth-quarter holiday season in 2004, devices that allow you to distribute your recorded television programs, movies, digital music and photos throughout the home and on the go appear to have the greatest potential for the hit of the season," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

Enderle continued, "What will make the difference is a high level of integration between the PC and displays throughout the home as is evident with Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition and Windows Media Center Extender technology. This integration translates into extreme ease of use, and extreme ease of use remains the one critical aspect for products targeted at the general consumer."

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