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CES: Gates headlines

Microsoft lays its cards on the table

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates yesterday presented a host of consumer-oriented technologies at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. But his keynote address touched on just one previously unannounced product.

Windows Media Center Extender, a technology that will wirelessly link computers running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition with televisions, headlined as the only really new product announcement from Microsoft in Gates' sixth year keynoting at CES.

Media Center PCs allow people to use a remote control to provide access via TV to photos, video and music stored on their PC, as well as selected internet services such as movie downloads. The Windows Media Center Extender removes the need to physically connect the TV to the PC or even have it in the same room.

Although the extender is new for Microsoft, it is not a new idea. Sony and HP introduced similar products last year, while earlier yesterday morning Philips unveiled a flat-screen television, home theatre system and extender boxes that do much the same as Microsoft's Windows Media Extender.

Microsoft hardware partners including Gateway, Dell and Samsung will sell the extenders, which should be on the market by the end of the year and will come in the shape of set-top boxes or built into televisions. The boxes should cost between $300 and $600 (£165 and £350).

HP and Gateway will offer TVs that incorporate the technology, Gates said. One HP flat-screen TV with the extender built in was demonstrated on stage.

Microsoft will offer an Xbox Media Center Extender kit for its Xbox game console to connect to Media Center PCs. This kit, which will work much like the Xbox Music Mixer, is expected to sell for under £50, according to Microsoft.

Gates also demonstrated a Microsoft Portable Media Center, previously known as Media2Go. He announced that when the portable audio and video players become available later this year, Windows Media Player will be updated with synchronisation technology. Media2Go was renamed Portable Media Center last year and release of the devices was pushed back by a year.

Also expected was the announcement of watches with Spot (smart personal objects technology) and the MSN Direct service for those watches. Spot uses a portion of FM broadcast radio networks to deliver snippets of information about weather, news, stock prices and sports scores to wristwatches equipped with the technology.

Gates tied all the new products into Microsoft's "seamless computing" vision, whereby various devices work well together and information flows seamlessly form one device to another.

"The home is going digital," Gates said, adding software plays a key role in a fast-moving world of flat-screen TVs, broadband internet access and digital still and video cameras.


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