Microsoft Brings Back the Media Center Extender

With a market likely a little more open to the need for online video in the living room than it was three years ago, Microsoft on Thursday reintroduced the Extender line, meant to complement households with Windows Media Center PCs.

Microsoft first announced the Media Center Extender at CES 2004. However, the product line never took off as consumers balked at the need for another set-top box, and the user interface paled in comparison with the actual Media Centers.

The Extender platform saw a rebirth upon the release of the Xbox 360 in November 2005, which included a version that replicated the PC Media Center experience quite well.

In this iteration of the Extender, the devices will be produced by companies such as Linksys, D-Link, and Niveus Media. The new Extenders include high-definition, DivX, and Xvid support, and wireless networking capabilities.

The devices come in a variety of form factors and various price points, and will be compatible with the Windows Vista Premium and Ultimate editions of Media Center.

"With more than 60 million Windows Vista Media Center PCs in use worldwide, there are many customers eager to bring the simple and elegant Media Center experience to the televisions in their homes," Microsoft's eHome head Dave Alles said.

The Extenders will be able to send protected HD content from CableCard tuners, Microsoft said, and will be compatible with several online music stores. Parental controls are also be built into the devices.

Microsoft said that while it will only be working with the companies mentioned previously initially, it has plans to sign more partners as the market becomes established.

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