CNET UK’s Crave blog sums up Bill Gate’s keynote at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show quite nicely:
The Gates soft-shoe shuffle at CES kicks off the gadget show each year with the same forlorn regularity as a Windows blue screen of death. It’s comforting to watch Bill climb up to the stage, but prepare yourselves, people: this can’t go on for ever. Gates began his remarks by saying that next year’s keynote may well be his last.
This year’s keynote didn’t hold many too many surprises. There was the usual self-satisfied purring about what a long way we’ve all come, baby, in what Gates is now calling “the digital decade”. There was also some quite staggeringly unhip video showing what were supposed to be hip and cool consumers using Microsoft products to have connected experiences.
I always get a laugh out of the “digital future” concept demos they put poor Mr Gates through. This year even he was laughing at the schtick where he, the world’s richest man, was reading interactive ads at a bus stop and checking out recipes projected on a kitchen counter after setting a forlorn bag of RFID tagged flour on it.
Also, someone please get Robbie Bach a public speaking coach – he seemed like a deer in the headlights. Of course, it is a trifle embarrassing to warmly endorse parental controls for gaming on Vista and then run a montage of games that mostly involved shooting other people.
The main event was news of a new home server as well as some cutesy Media Center PCs in quirky form factors (round and white anyone?). There was also the intriguing news that Microsoft will allow its Xbox 360 games console to act as a link to its Internet Television service, or IPTV.
And that’s about it in a nutshell. Some more details from the general press release and elsewhere:
Update: Paul Thurrott has more details on the Windows Home Server including that it is based on Windows Server 2003 R2 and that the operating system can be purchased without hardware.
Clarification: Ken Fisher at Ars Technica:
One challenge facing Windows Home Server (WHS for short) is that it is an OEM-only product, meaning that you won’t be able to head out and buy WHS at your local retail joint. And much like Media Center in the early days, we don’t expect specialty shops to carry an OEM version of the software anytime soon. This is disappointing news, because the early-adopter segment isn’t particularly interested in paying top dollar for OEM creations when do-it-yourself delivers a better experience. That said, I discussed this briefly with a Microsoft representative who said that Microsoft is aware that there’s a big enthusiast crowd out there, and a retail release of the OS isn’t out of the question.
In the original match-up of the PC Titans, it was all Microsoft, but now that the return bout has shifted to personal entertainment gadgetry, Apple is showing some fancy footwork. Microsoft dominates the entertainment PC space with Windows XP Media Center Edition (particularly since they let OEMs ship it in PCs without TV tuners), but the problem is that entertainment PCs are still hanging out in the home office of most consumers and not with the stereo and TV. Meanwhile, Apple hit Microsoft with a roundhouse they didn’t see coming in the form of the iPod personal media player and iTunes music store which knocked down Microsoft and its PlaysForSure hardware partners.
For the next round, Microsoft has been talking tough with its Zune personal media player, but Apple came storming out of its corner yesterday and went right for the living room with a new appliance to bridge the PC to entertainment center gap:
But then Apple made what can only be called a highly unusual move for a company that forbids employees from even speculating publicly about forthcoming products. Jobs unveiled the iTV, a product he’s hoping will bridge the chasm between those movie downloads and the TV set in the living room. Thing is, it won’t be available until early 2007. When released, it will sell for $299.
“Apple is in your den, Apple is in your living room, Apple is in your car and, of course, Apple is in your pocket with iPods,” Jobs told the audience at the San Francisco event. “I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea where we’re going.”
Where Apple is going—or hopes to go—is territory that rivals have so far failed to conquer. Apple says iTV is capable of moving music, movies, and other content from a computer to a television, or another entertainment device. This would be done using wireless technology—probably some variant of wireless fidelity, although Apple didn’t explain further.
And iTV is supposed to work with both Macs and Windows PCs. By itself, this isn’t new other than the promise to support HTDV which will require the bandwidth of some variant of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard which hasn’t been ratified yet. Indeed, Microsoft currently has two offerings in this area:
Now there’s no claim of HDTV support for the above, but it isn’t like Microsoft left the space empty. The Apple value proposition seems to be like that for the iPod: a simple and foolproof device coupled with simplified video pricing and ordering at the iTunes store.
Speaking of video at the iTunes store, Apple also announced yesterday the availability of a selection of Disney movies (640×480 resolution) via iTunes with further studios expected in short order. (There have already been some complaints of long download times and you can’t start viewing until the download is complete.)
Finally, Apple also raised the bar for Zune with a revamp of the iPod line including brighter screens, more storage, and new iPod video games.
So how does the bout stand? Apple got in a few good punches yesterday, but this round’s not over, much more the fight.
There were rumors earlier this month that Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP would ship in September, but if so, they’ll have to work fast because beta 2 was released yesterday – you can download it here. What’s new:
In addition to allowing users to download music from MTV Networks’ Urge and a host of other online music services, Microsoft also has added eMusic, VidZone and Music Giants stores to Windows Media Player 11. This brings the total number of online stores that a user can access from within the software to 14.
Microsoft also added Windows Media Connect functionality to the player in beta 2 as a new feature called Media Sharing. Windows Media Connect allows users to stream the content of their Windows Media Player library to networked devices such as the Xbox 360. More information about how to use Windows Media Connect and what digital receivers support the technology can be found here.
The Microsoft Media Connect download site is here. WMP 11 will also be in Vista when it ships.
Update: While on the subject of Media Player, I should mention that Microsoft is working on a patch to fix a hack that surfaced this month that strips the digital rights management copy protection from Windows media files:
Microsoft is preparing a fix for a program that strips the digital-rights-management protections attached to its Windows Media file format, representatives said Monday night.
Armed with the program, users could theoretically download an unlimited amount of music via MTV’s Urge music service, as well as other sites that offer music for download.
The FairUse4WM program was released earlier this month, and advertised as a tool to remove the rights restrictions from files encoded with Windows Media Player 10 or 11. The program’s creator, “viodentia,” published the orignal file to a message board on August 19, and the file has been quickly mirrored around the Web.
Update 9/7: Windows Media Player won’t stream video to Xbox 360:
With this week’s release of Beta 2 of Windows Media Player, Microsoft caused a little bit of excitement in the so-called blogosphere with this quote:
If you have a home network (wired or wireless), you can use Windows Media Player 11 to stream the contents of your library to networked devices. For example, if you have an Xbox 360 or other digital media receiver (DMR), you can use Windows Media Player to stream music, pictures, and videos from your computer to that device.
The upshot was that you could use WMP to stream video to an Xbox.
After seeing this touted at a few other sites, I decided to fact check it and drop Microsoft a line. The bad news is that it was an error on their part. While WMP does support Windows Media Connect for pictures and music, video is not supported.
The Bill Gates (et al.) keynote is still going on as I write this, but the press releases are out. The overview in Microsoft Showcases Windows Innovations to Help Customers Navigate Through the Digital “World of More” is frankly rather clearer than the rushed presentation (narrative version here). Skipping to the new news:
DIRECTV. Microsoft and DIRECTV Inc. will announce a multiyear agreement that will enable the flow of DIRECTV digital content between Windows-based PCs, DIRECTV’s digital set-top boxes, PlaysForSure™ devices and the Xbox 360 system. Consumers will also be able to use a Media Center PC to enjoy high-definition DIRECTV content.
Sky Networks. Microsoft and British Sky Broadcasting (Sky), the leading pay-TV provider in the U.K. and Ireland, today announced an agreement to create a Media Center PC version of Sky’s forthcoming broadband content service, Sky by broadband. The core service will allow millions of Sky TV customers to access video content via the PC, with hundreds of movies to download and hundreds of sports clips to stream.
URGE music service. MTV Networks’ forthcoming digital music service, URGE, will be deeply integrated into Windows Media Player 11 and offer more than 2 million songs from the major labels and thousands of independents, as well as exclusive MTV Networks programming and original content. URGE will also be available through Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP.
URGE has it’s own press release, but the bottom line is that it offers a subscription service as well as individual item purchases.
For Media Center PC’s there are a variety of content deals with Comedy Central’s MotherLoad, mtvU, Showtime Interactive, Turner Broadcasting System Inc.’s GameTap, and VH1 VSPOT. There are also some new Windows Live services for Media Center:
Live.com TV gadgets. Live.com provides the ideal location for services that make it easier to find and manage TV-related experiences across multiple devices. Customers can easily see TV programs scheduled for recording along with best bets. These services provide a window into one’s Media Center PC from almost anywhere in the world.
Live.com TV recommendations. Live.com enables customers to easily rate shows they’ve watched on their TV via their Media Center PC. As users rate more shows, they get better, more personalized TV recommendations, which they can share with their community.
Finally, there were the gadgets:
Toshiba America Inc., Tatung Co. and LG Electronics have signed up to venture into the difficult territory of Portable Media Centers albeit with new media services like Starz.
Update: Peter Moore came on at the end with a rapid fire list of Xbox 360 facts and figures, but the big one is that they expect to ship up to 5.5 million units by June and have added a 3rd manufacturer to increase supply.