Show fuels digital media revolution

Based on the wide range of announcements at CES, it looks like the digital media revolution is just beginning.

Judging from products and services announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and comments from industry movers and shakers, the digital media revolution is just beginning.

Intel and Microsoft rolled out products and services connecting PCs to entertainment devices and content , a variety of vendors weighed in with music players and services to rival Apple Computer, a new Wi-Fi telephony product will give users yet another mobile communication option, and game technology made yet more inroads into the automotive arena. And those were just a fraction of the announcements by the end of the first official day of the CES exhibit Thursday.

A confluence of new products and enthusiasm from early adopters of digital consumer products will work to bring interoperable digital media devices more than ever before into the mainstream, according to industry heavyweights.

"When we look back five or 10 years from now I think we'll look back and say that the period in the middle of this decade was a period in which things really broke through," said Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, in an interview with IDG News Service.

On Thursday, Microsoft executives disclosed two new Windows Live services that connect to Windows Media Center PCs. The services, one in beta and another one due out in a few months, are designed to allow users to remotely record television shows, get program information and share show favorites with buddies in their MSN Messenger social network.

On Wednesday evening, during his traditional opening keynote, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced, among other things, new partnerships including one with MTV Networks. That deal calls for the integration of MTV's Urge music service with Windows Media Player 11, which in turn will be integrated into Windows. In a breakthrough for the company on the handheld front, Gates announced the first Palm device to run Windows Mobile. The Palm Treo 700w is available now from Verizon Communications for US$399.

Adding heft to the long-expected, formal announcement of new chips and entertainment machines based on its Viiv consumer PC platform, Intel lined up big-time content providers. For example, Intel and DirectTV said they aim to deliver a set-top box, based on Viiv technology and capable of receiving DirectTV satellites content, in 2006. The company also premiered notebooks running the Centrino Duo chip, which had been code-named Napa, and revealed the name of the dual-core Pentium M chip code-named Yonah and now formally dubbed Core Duo.

Giving users more choice in the digital music market, several companies challenged Apple's lead in the digital music arena. Sandisk Thursday, for example, showed off two new flash memory-based MP3 players: the Sandisk Sansa e200 series players, due out in March and offering up to 6GB of storage, starting at US$199; and the smaller Sansa c100 series players, starting at US$119.

Carrier Verizon Wireless said that by the end of January, it will offer a music site where customers can download songs directly to their phones for US$1.99 each and to Microsoft Windows XP PCs for US$0.99 each.

Other first-day highlights of the show included:

-- The move by Nintendo Co. to license Game Boy Advance technology to auto electronics maker Visteon. The Dockable Family Entertainment System to be released in April, looks like a DVD player, will be able to play game cartridges for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance as well as DVDs. Pricing was not available.

-- Skype, the Internet telephony company bought by eBay last year, announced a Wi-Fi Internet connection deal with Netgear. The Netgear Skype phone, due out later this quarter, is designed to let users make calls on the Internet via Wi-Fi. Skype calls between Skype applications users are free. Pricing was not yet available.

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Marc Ferranti

IDG News Service

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