Microsoft’s Media Center targets living rooms

By : |October 1, 2003 0

Reed Stevenson

REDMOND: Microsoft Corp. launched a major upgrade to its multimedia personal computer software, aiming to bring more computers out offices and into people’s living rooms.

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 is the latest variant of Microsoft’s flagship Windows XP operating system that doubles as a digital video recorder, music player and image viewer.

Rather than being used mainly with a keyboard and mouse, Media Center PCs are all equipped with a remote control that allows users to control multimedia functions.

Touching the mouse causes the computer to revert to the Windows desktop.

In a sign of increasing confidence among PC hardware makers of the software platform, Dell Inc. and Sony Corp. said they would build Media Center PCs. Sony has long promoted its own multimedia designs, and Dell’s endorsement of the product signals that it believes the platform is achieving wider acceptance.

The world’s largest software maker has been trying for years to move its products beyond offices into living rooms. It launched the Xbox video game console to compete with Sony’s PlayStation video game machines, and the Media Center represents another foray into people’s homes.

More than 40 hardware makers have signed on to make Media Center PCs, said Jim Allchin, Microsoft’s Group Vice President in charge of Windows.

“We’re morphing the beige box into a breakthrough combination of hardware form factor (physical dimensions), software, and services,” Allchin told reporters at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington headquarters.


Among the newest features in Windows XP Media Center is the ability to print and edit digital photographs, listen to the radio and also download digital songs and movies from content service providers.

Users will be able to pause live radio and rewind it, similar to the functionality provided by TiVo Inc. for television.

Depending on the hardware setup, Media Center PCs start at just below $1,000 but can cost upward of $3,000.

“The upcoming holiday season will be pivotal to establish momentum for Media Center PCs going into 2004,” IDC analyst Randy Giusto wrote in a report issued on Tuesday. “With the consumer segment poised to make up the lion’s share of growth this year in the PC market, all eyes are on Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 to help propel consumer PC growth well into 2004.

In addition, Toshiba Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled laptop computers configured for Media Center, hoping to attract users that want to take their home entertainment with them on the road.

Microsoft also said that customers who bought the older version of media center will be able to upgrade to the latest version for free.

Dell, which recently launched an initiative to offer more consumer-focused products, including large flat-panel display and a music download service, said that Media Center was part of its overall consumer strategy.

“The decision was based on customer demand and the fact that broadband (high-speed Internet) is becoming more widely adopted,” said Gretchen Miller, a Dell marketing director.

Sony, whose VAIO PCs have long offered multimedia functionality, said that is aiming to use Media Center as a starting point to offer its own innovations.

“We believe we can use Media Center as a platform to build a variety of different features,” said Yoshihisa Ishida, head of Sony’s U.S. VAIO business, adding that Sony was looking into developing models that are “virtually invisible” or with unique form factors.

© Reuters

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