Microsoft Focuses on Home Entertainment

Microsoft's new software platform to be released this fall will enable PCs to serve as home entertainment centers.

Seeking to integrate itself into the center of everyday family life, Microsoft Corp. today formally unveiled a new software platform to be released this fall that is designed to enable PCs to serve as home entertainment centers by offering TV/stereo functionality – including remote control.

Microsoft says it will ship Windows XP Media Center Edition, code-named Freestyle, with new PCs in time for holiday shopping. The software will be available only as part of specially configured computers and will not be sold separately to the general public.

Hewlett-Packard Co., NEC Corp. and Samsung Electronics Inc. are among the first computer makers that have pledged to offer the special PC-software platform.

Media Center is seen as furthering what many analysts expect will be personal computers migration from the workplace to the home.

"Future PCs for the home will look more like entertainment devices, and Windows XP Media Center Edition has been designed to run on new hardware types built specifically to enhance the entertainment experience," said analyst Roger Kay of International Data Corp.

Designed for operating from across the room, Media Center will let users access TV shows or digital music on their PCs using a special software-compatible remote control.

"The PC has evolved from a tool for productivity to a device capable of entertainment, communications and so much more," said Michael Toutonghi, vice president of the Windows eHome Division at Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash. "Consumers desire more fun and enjoyment from their PC and want it to contribute to their lives even more creatively than it does today."

In addition to showing TV shows or playing digital video from DVDs, the Media Center can record TV programs as well. Using an electronics program guide, users will be able to scan scheduled TV shows and program the PC to automatically record shows.

For music lovers, Media Center will offer access to digital music collections via remote control, a capability currently missing from todays PC platforms.

Microsoft didnt reveal any pricing for the new software, but analysts expect early systems will sell for between $1,500 and $2,000.