Microsoft to detail Media Center updates

Gates expected at to launch new features next month

Microsoft plans to introduce several new consumer products next month at an event in Los Angeles. The announcements are expected to include an update to Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2004 and the first devices using Media Centre Extender technology.

The software maker has hosted events in September or October for the past two years to introduce new Media Centre products for the December shopping season. In 2002, Microsoft announced the first version of Windows XP Media Centre Edition, followed by an update, Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2004, last year.

This year's event at The Shrine Auditorium and Expo Centre in Los Angeles will include a presentation by chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates. Several Microsoft partners, including hardware makers Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, are expected to attend.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed that the company has scheduled an event for October 12 to talk about consumer products and that the current plan is for Gates to speak. He declined further comment.

Windows XP Media Centre Edition is a superset of the Windows XP operating system, designed to make the PC the media and entertainment hub for the home. The PCs come with a remote control and a TV tuner card. Users can watch DVDs; manage digital audio, video and picture files; and play, pause and record live television; in addition to using the PC for traditional tasks.

An update to Windows XP Media Centre Edition has been in the works for a while. The product, code-named Symphony, has been in beta testing since early this year. The end-product is expected to be called Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005.

The update includes a host of new features, including support for more portable media players, DVD burning, high-definition television and an improved user interface. A key new feature is support for wireless technology and in particular Media Centre Extender, a new technology that lets users wirelessly connect TVs to the Media Centre PC.

Media Centre Extender was first announced by Gates at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. Microsoft at that time said hardware makers including Dell, Gateway, HP and Samsung would deliver products incorporating the technology by the end of 2004.

Media Centre Extender technology will be offered in set-top boxes as well as in new TVs, Microsoft has said. At CES, Gates demonstrated one HP flat-screen TV with the extender built in. The technology supports 802.11a and 802.11g for wireless transmission of data from the Media Centre PC to the Media Centre Extender device.

Microsoft has gradually expanded the Media Centre product as well as the geographic market it is sold in. Initially ,Windows XP Media Centre Edition desktops were only sold in the US, Canada and South Korea by HP. The product has since expanded to laptops and many more manufacturers and countries.

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