Microsoft Kicks Off CES

Tina Reilly
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – In keeping with tradition at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Bill Gates kicked off the expo with his typically groundbreaking predictions for the year to come and the unveiling of Microsoft’s newest technology ventures.

The computer giant’s direction in the coming year, according to Gates, will be gaining market share in the home entertainment and digital television space, a direction many technology experts have been predicting for years will serve as the ultimate point of convergence for home and business technology.

Other companies like Gateway have already released similar products on a smaller scale, but this week’s announcement marks Microsoft’s first full-scale play toward the home electronics market as a complement to its already successful Media Center edition of the Microsoft platform.

Analysts are already predicting that the digital television space will be a $24 billion industry by the year 2004, according to statistics. The industry is currently only raking in an estimated $7 billion.

According to USA Today, Microsoft unveiled a new piece of software at CES that enables televisions to play video, music, and store photos on a computer regardless of the proximity of the computer and the user’s home entertainment system.

The idea behind Microsoft’s new venture is to wirelessly connect the television with the Internet, or the entire home network with the PC, creating an interchangeable multi-media forum for the home user when it comes to merging the Internet, its content, with the more traditional uses of home entertainment.

The product is slated to hit the market sometime in mid-2004 for an undisclosed amount of money, although critics are already saying that the price is unreasonably high for the average consumer and could deter general acceptance.

The new software is applicable only to PCs running on the Media Center edition of the Windows operating system, according to USA Today, which is designed to play television shows with advanced graphics via either a high-speed or wireless connection.

Media Center typically sells on the market for around $1,000.

Additionally, Microsoft’s new home entertainment software product can only function if the user’s television is digital or comes with a digital set-top box.

According to USA Today, Xbox users will be able to utilize Microsoft’s new product by purchasing an attachment that turns it into a set-top box.

Microsoft also announced at CES that it plans to enhance it MSN portal with free streaming video from partners like ESPN and NBC, USA Today reported.