Bill Gates, like many years before, headed up the keynote for the Consumer Electronics Show 2005. Introduced with some light hearted comedy by TV presenter Conan O"Brian, Bill Gates keynote announced Microsoft"s plans for the "digital lifestyle" in 2005.
Gates, starting 10 minutes late, announced that many new devices are joining the "PlaysForSure" program. The company perceives there being problems amongst consumers in that many are unsure as to what music / content plays on what devices. Microsoft hope that any concerns on these issues will be alleviated by this program. Gates described music somewhat vaguely as "going digital", and suggested the company was "pioneering" in the area. He showed off the iRiver device, and the Samsung PMC. The ability to view photos on PMC devices like the Samsung was touched on by Gates, who discussed Microsoft"s advances in the area. He"s hoping to make it simpler to transfer digital content like pictures onto your PC and demoed a camera (Nikon D2X) with new transfer technology, as well as in built wireless connectivity. Gate"s looked rather frustrated when attempting to demo slide show technology on MCE 2005; unfortunately, despite numerous attempts (and comic suggestions from O"Brian) the slideshow failed to work until later in the show. It became clear later that the bit had been setup to provide O"Brian / MS PR team with an opportunity to Photoshop some photos of Gates for comedy value; all in all the keynote had three major failures, which combined with a few minor problems made for quite funny watching..
Gates focused on "choice", highlighting a commitment to letting people view content when they wanted, on whatever device they wanted. He described the centre piece for the drive as Windows Media Center Edition, and noted that1.4 million MCE devices were shipped in 2004. Products announced at CES included a MSN TV device, a DVD Recording device, new SPOT watches, IP-TV, and much more. Demoed was the MCE Extender for X-Box and MSN Remote Record (currently in beta, to be launched later this quarter). The DVD recorder was also demoed; the device records DVD"s and also has a TV tuner and a hard drive packaged together; the box is made by LG, and features a MCE-esque style layout, with a very simple functionality. This device is one of many new "integrated devices" that Microsoft is keen on launching with MCE 2005. It also became clear that the company is enthusiastic with High Definition (HD) TV devices, offering high quality content in the home. One of the presenters talked about voice, video and data coming through the same pipe to the home- a concept named "IP-TV", an exciting, high bandwidth (and perhaps futuristic) vision of content being offered in the years to come. Software was demoed showing a baseball game where users could control elements like angles viewed, made possible via IP-TV. The potentials did seem quite endless for the technology, with a demo being given on content being streamed from a MCE box onto a mobile phone, and a mobile phone interacting with the box, functioning as a big remote control. It"s re-assuring that Microsoft aren"t just focusing on delivering content to one device (MCE boxes) but much more; it"s also rather worrying that the company could be dominating in many more markets.
Gates also announced a partnership between Microsoft, music channel MTV, and Tivo. Microsoft"s relationship with MTV is key for its push into the media centre market. The company badly needs media providers like MTV to create unique content to get users on the Windows Media platform. As part of the agreement, MTV (and its sub-sites) will begin streaming content using WMV 10. The announcement comes with the launch of MSN Video, offering content for download straight to media devices like the Creative Zen PMC. Microsoft will offer a membership based download service from the site, charging $19.99 per year for un-limited access to content offered online. "We"ve declared our vision of enabling digital entertainment anywhere, and today we are delivering three more solutions to make that possible," said Blair Westlake, VP of Media at Microsoft.
Tivo"s recently launched "TiVoToGo" will be done in partership with Microsoft, allowing customers to transfer content recorded from TV onto their Windows PC. Content will be available from Microsoft partners like MTV, as well as CNBC, MSNBC, Fox Sports, Cookie Jar, Home and Garden TV, DIY Network, Food Network, Fine Living, iFilm, Want Media and Break TV. Content offered will be suitable for the range of "PlaysForSure" devices and will later be compatible with Smartphones and Pocket PCs that support video. Xbox news was limited to discussion about the products achievements over the past year, and he noted that the X-Box actually outsold the PS2. Gates highlighted Halo-2"s success, and said that there were 6.2m users playing the game. He noted a commitment to making it easier for developers to code games for the Xbox platform. Rumours that CES would see the launch of X-Box 2 were false; he touched on the fact that the next generation of Xbox would be taking advantage of much higher graphics power, which combined with HD-TV would produce much more enticing games.
All in all, Gates announced an impressive line up of new products at CES. Although MCE didn"t really take off as well as it might have last year, the company hopes that 2005 will see far more interest in the product. Microsoft hopes to re-assert itself in areas where it perhaps lagged behind, and the offerings shown at this years CES are certain impressive enough to make a good start.