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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 09:36 GMT
Microsoft's software targets TVs

By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor in Las Vegas

Microsoft chief Bill Gates addresses attendees of the CES in Las Vegas
Microsoft's idea is to make digital technology 'seamless'
Microsoft has stepped up efforts to turn PCs into home entertainment hubs.

In his annual address to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Microsoft boss Bill Gates announced software which lets TVs play video or music stored on a desktop.

The products are part of Microsoft's world of "seamless computing", where digital content can be access from anywhere by any device.

"We are taking that hub concept and making it a reality," said Mr Gates.

Mr Gates also gave details about a line of handheld devices, called Portable Media Centers which can play video, music and show photos.

Media anywhere

Microsoft has been looking at ways of extending its software beyond the desktop and push into areas traditionally associated with consumer electronics such as TV sets.

"We are working hard to get all these consumer electronic devices to connect together," Mr Gates told visitors to the Consumer Electronics Show, the world's largest consumer technology show.

"There is still have a lot of frustration about how these things work," said Mr Gates.

He outlined a program called the Media Center Extender which would allow people to play on a TV video, music or show photos stored on a computer's hard drive.

Microsoft's aim is to have desktops running its Media Center software as the entertainment hub of the home, with TV, stereos and other devices all hooked up to it.

Mr Gates also announced plans for an adapter kit for the Xbox to turn the games console into a media centre.

Video to go

Not content with just extending its presence in the home, Microsoft is also eyeing up portable entertainment centres.

Microsoft chief Bill Gates addresses attendees of the CES in Las Vegas
Microsoft wants products to work together
During his presentation, Mr Gates provided more information about portable video and audio players running Microsoft software called Portable Media Center.

The pocket-size devices, announced a year ago, were supposed to go on sale for Christmas.

They are now expected to be in the shops in the second half of this year.

Companies such as Samsung, ViewSonic and Creative Technology are working on versions of the devices which are expected to cost between $400 and $700.

Wrist action

The Microsoft chairman also announced the much delayed launch of smart watches based on the company's Smart Personal Objects Technology.

The watches were first demonstrated a year ago. But manufacturers such as Fossil and Suunto now have models on sale, starting at around $130.

They use Microsoft technology to gather news and weather reports and other information via radio waves.

The data service, called MSN Direct, costs $9.95 a month and covers 100 of the big US cities and five in Canada.

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