On the heels of its successful Halo 3 video game launch, Microsoft pitched its vision of tomorrow's media-saturated home last week at the DigitalLife technology expo in New York City. Microsoft's big picture: every television in a household connected wirelessly to a central PC running Windows Media Center on the Vista operating system, allowing families to access high-definition cable television, digital photos, pay-per-view movies and other media on any of their TV sets.
Microsoft will enable this through a set of wireless routers—which it calls Extenders—available from several different providers. Linksys in November will begin offering two different Extenders—priced $350 and $300—based on the company's Wireless-N router technology, which supports the 802.11n wireless protocol. Although 802.11n is still being finalized, Linksys's routers support an early draft of the protocol. Other Extenders include D-Link Corp.'s DSM-750 MediaLounge HD Media Center Extender—likewise $350—which comes in a 17-inch (43-centimeter), black aluminum chassis and connects to the home network using Ethernet or dual-band draft Wireless-N networking, and NiveusMedia's Extender-EDGE, expected to be available in early November, although the price tag has not yet been announced.
Hewlett-Packard announced at the expo that the company's MediaSmart high-definition televisions will support Microsoft's Windows Media Center Extensions through a software download available early next year. HP's MediaSmart TVs support 1080p video display resolution and 802.11n as well as DivX, XVid, WMV and other video formats without the need for its users to buy an Extender device from Linksys, D-Link or NiveusMedia.
"None of the Extenders have hard drives, they all rely on the PC for its hard drive, so all of the content is centralized," Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of entertainment and devices for Microsoft's eHome Division, said at the conference.
To make sure customers have enough content to keep them happy, Microsoft said it will offer a beta test version of its Internet TV service as a feature within Windows Media Center running on the Vista Home Premium and Ultimate versions of its Windows operating system. Internet TV is expected to offer more than 100 hours of advertisement-supported entertainment from MSN Video, including full-length shows, music concerts and movie trailers, which use the new Extender devices to reach all televisions and computer monitors in the home. Internet TV's streaming video content will be supported by an advertising platform provided by YuMe Networks, based in Redwood City, Calif.
In addition to boosting its support for Windows Media Center this week, HP emphasized its move into the gaming market dominated by Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony.
HP went public with its Blackbird 002 gaming system, displaying it for the first time at the DigitalLife show. The Blackbird 002 is strictly high end, ranging in price from $2,500 to $7,100, far more than Microsoft's Xbox, Nintendo's Wii or Sony's PlayStation.
HP also provided a peek into a new gaming technology called Mediascapes, which relies on a handheld computer with global positioning system technology that combines digital images, video and audio to let consumers play games that appear to be set in the players' actual surroundings.
In one prerecorded demonstration at DigitalLife, as a gamer moved through his neighborhood, the video game he played mimicked his movement and surroundings. It looked as though the gamer was strolling through a castle with corridors as long and wide as the streets and alleys through which he walked. HP has big plans for this experimental technology, including giving the gaming device the ability to detect the user's heart rate and to halt the game if the player stops moving. HP envisions the Mediascape technology can be used to create games, educational tools, historical tours and other applications.