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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 08:28 GMT
Rivals battle for connected world
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News, Las Vegas

Bill Gates
Bill Gates will be centre stage at the start of the Consumer Electronics Show
Technology giants Microsoft and Apple will set out their rival visions of the digital future at two separate events in the coming days.

On Sunday Bill Gates will open the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas with a speech focusing on Microsoft's role in the connected world.

The digital home and the move to a high definition age will dominate the agenda at CES, say analysts.

On Tuesday in San Francisco, Apple boss Steve Jobs will address Mac devotees.

Devices which move digital content around the home - from PC to PC and to TVs, hi-fis and other products - have been available for some years but the digital living room battleground is still to be won.

Companies such as Netgear, D-Link, HP and Intel are all expected to unveil new products at CES which make it easier to hook up the digital home and share content such as films and music.

Apple will not be physically present but will cast a huge shadow over the show
JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg

These companies have allied themselves with Microsoft's vision of connectivity and on Sunday evening Mr Gates will deliver the opening keynote of CES and is expected once again to concentrate on the themes of digital content in the home and beyond.

Microsoft has partnered with a number of companies around the world - including BT in the UK - to help deliver video content via the net, called IPTV, and to offer a platform for sharing content built around its new operating system, Vista.

Analyst Michael Gartenberg, Jupiter research director, said: "I expect a strong push from Microsoft relating to Vista.

The networked home is such a complicated technology
Sean Wargo, Consumer Electronics Association

"This will also likely be Bill Gates' final CES. It will be his swan song and I expect a lot of nostalgia during the evening."

He added: "Apple will not be physically present, but will cast a huge shadow over the show."

In fact, there may well be a mass exodus from CES on Monday night to San Francisco ahead of Apple chief executive Steve Jobs giving his keynote speech.

'Critical part'

"Apple has gone from being just another computer manufacturer to being a critical part of the consumer electronics industry," said Mr Gartenberg.

Steve Jobs
Apple boss Steve Jobs will deliver his speech on Tuesday

Apple is tipped to give more details about its iTV device, which shares video and other digital content around the home; a key part of its digital home strategy.

Analyst Sean Wargo said: "The networked home is such a complicated technology - you've got networking infrastructure that needs to be in place, you need devices that can tie into that network and you need content.

"Each year there has been developments in one or all of these areas. The latest development has been around the interface you use to interact or manage that content."

With Apple choosing its own path in San Francisco and many companies in Las Vegas securely attached to Microsoft's vision for the digital home, with Vista at the centre of plans, there are two key rival strategies for the future emerging.

Swarming

More than 140,000 people will attend CES, swarming over more than three million square feet of conference halls, housing the latest digital devices and gadgets

Mr Wargo, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association, the organiser of CES, said: "One of the other major themes of this year is the services and content that feed the networked home."

Mr Wargo said the drive for higher resolutions and "beyond hi-def" displays, cameras and games consoles would be the stars of the show.

"High definition TV is driving industry growth now - in the US we are going through a massive display upgrade cycle.

"We're seeing unprecedented volume of TV selling through retail right now. It's pushing that market to new heights. It is now the single biggest product category."

Mr Gartenberg said the focus of CES would be the ongoing move from analogue to digital lives, both in the domestic and business worlds.

'Huge content'

"There will be a lot of stuff related to the digital home - especially for people who have problems with building and managing these huge content libraries of video, music and photos."

Mr Wargo said next generation DVD would certainly be part of the buzz of the show. A lot of people I would expect would be talking about the two formats and whether they will persist for a considerable amount of time."

Blu-ray and HD-DVD are rival and incompatible high definition DVD formats and have a number of different backers.

Sony is the flag-bearer for Blu-ray while Toshiba and Microsoft are firmly in the HD-DVD camp.

Samsung TV
High definition TVs will dominate the show floor

Mr Wargo said: "Attendees will be looking for signs of one format pulling ahead of the other or if both formats can coexist."

The battle may be altered following the news that Korean giant LG is to announce a DVD player which can play both formats.

The appearance of Yahoo and Google at last year's show reflected the rising importance of content and services to the digital home and Mr Wargo said he expected 2007 to be no different.

"We are seeing two fronts maturing - the hardware and operating system that will control this system and the content that will feed it.

"There's a story of how the online community is emerging as a potential competitor to the cable, satellite and packaged media industry.

The fact that Walt Disney and CBS are giving keynotes tell the story of how this market place is really growing beyond the boundaries of hardware and moving into content and software."


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