Gates envisions wireless home entertainment

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates has presented a host of consumer-oriented technologies at the Consumer...

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates has presented a host of consumer-oriented technologies at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.


The main product announcement in Gate’s keynote address was Windows Media Centre Extender, a technology that will wirelessly link computers running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Centre Edition with televisions.


Media Centre PCs allow users 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 Centre 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 Hewlett-Packard introduced similar products last year and Koninklijke Philips Electronics have also 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 Dell and Samsung Electronics 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 (£165) and $600.


Gates also demonstrated a Microsoft Portable Media Centre, 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 Centre last year and release of the devices was pushed back a year.


As expected, Gates also officially launched MSN Premium, software designed for multi-user households with broadband access that offers firewall, antispam, antivirus and enhanced e-mail and instant messaging options. Microsoft also offers a dressed down version for single users called MSN Plus.


Towards the end of his presentation Gates demonstrated a futuristic way of managing collections of photos and video clips on a PC. The software analyses images and can display them by characteristics, such as images taken indoors or outdoors, and pictures that include faces or landscapes. However, he added that this software will not be available to users for many years.


Gates tied all the new products into Microsoft's "seamless computing" 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.


Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service


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