All those rumors that suggested a new handheld device that would let you carry movies around was coming out this week… were true.
But instead of the idea coming from Apple Computer in the form of a video version of its iPod, it was Microsoft that has come up with idea of the personal media player (PMP). The company will market the device under the “Media2Go” moniker.
At his keynote Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Bill Gates unveiled a prototype of the device with a 4-inch screen. Small enough to fit in a coat pocket, the device would allow people to take video, still pictures and music with them anywhere they go – on the plane, train, or bus, to the gym, or hand it to the kids sitting in the back seat of the car during a long drive. Microsoft said the first Media2Go units could be ready later this year.
Similar to his address at COMDEX Fall 2002, Gates reiterated the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant’s vision for “Smart Living” in what the company is calling the Digital Decade. Gates also introduced a new generation of watches based on Microsoft’s Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), Windows-powered Smart Displays, new Pocket PCs as well as a portable Xbox video game console that could come out in three years.
Media2Go is based on Microsoft’s Windows CE .NET operating system. Along with partners like Intel (providing the 400MHz XScale processor brains in the demo version) and OEMs like Sanyo, Samsung and ViewSonic, the new players will feature with ports to connect them to television sets for broadcast-quality playback. Different types of media can be transferred to the player from a PC or a Personal Video Recorder using a fast USB 2.0 connection.
Intel said it has been working on the PMP concept since Spring 2001. Intel’s Emerging Platforms Lab developed much of the new device’s framework including high-performance video software (H.264/MPEG 4 Part 10 video codec), a USB 2.0 implementation, hard-drive caching algorithms that let batteries live longer, and working PMP prototypes and reference designs. In September 2002, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant partnered with SONICblue (Quote, Company Info ) on just such a device that would put XScale chips into a ReplayTV . Intel said it is still helping SONICblue with its version.
On the SPOT
With its SPOT initiative, Microsoft is putting its technology in everyday items like alarm clocks, wristwatches, refrigerator magnets, pens and key chains. Partnerships with Fossil, Suunto Oy. and Citizen Watch have resulted in Dick Tracy-style units that have customizable watch faces, access to personal messages and appointments, and the ability to receive up-to-date news, traffic, weather and sports information.
Microsoft said the watches would receive data streamed over its DirectBand network The system includes a custom radio receiver chip, a wide-area network based on FM subcarrier technology leased by Microsoft and new radio protocols. The watches could debut as early as fall 2003.
“The only screen you carry around with you and you can just glance at is a wrist-sized screen,” Gates told Reuters. “If we get five percent or 10 percent of the people who have watches, it’s a huge, huge number.”
Gates helped launch Windows Powered Smart Displays by announcing the retail availability of the ViewSonic airpanel V110 and 150 and said they could be programmed to let consumers control appliances from anywhere in the home over a wireless network. He also showed the Philips desXcape 150DM, expected to be available in the U.S. the first week of February. Microsoft also announced that Taiwan-based cell phone maker BenQ Corp. and Samsung have joined its team to deliver Smart Displays. Finally, Microsoft said it would collaborate with Hewlett-Packard (Quote, Company Info) on the development of future Smart Display applications for the home.
Eager to maintain its foothold in the PDA sector, Microsoft unveiled new Pocket PCs from Samsung and Hitachi (Quote, Company Info), which include built-in keyboards and digital cameras. The devices are among the first to use the CDMA (define) version of Microsoft’s Pocket PC Phone Edition software.
Gates also discussed strong progress on the company’s Xbox video game system and even suggested that a portable version of the platform could be available in about three years.
Since the introduction of Xbox Live less than two months ago, Microsoft says more than 250,000 starter kits have been sold. The kits allow gamers to connect their Xbox consoles to the Internet and play each other.
Gates also demonstrated home video content created with the new Windows Movie Maker 2 for users of Windows XP on a Polaroid prototype DVD player. The player, which uses hardware from Aeon Digital Corp, and EQUATOR Technology’s Tetra platform, is the first to support the company’s recently released Windows Media Video 9.