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Gates Bids CES Adieu

6 Jan, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

LAS VEGAS—As a 10-time keynote speaker at CES, Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates has seen and been part of his share of CE hype.

So it was perhaps fitting as pre-show keynote speaker Jan .6, Gates pulled out the stops in announcing the show will be his last as he is retiring.

A humorous video depicted Microsoft personnel describing their visions of Gates' last day in the office. Actors, musicians, directors and politicians from George Clooney, Jay Z and Bono to Steven Spielberg, Hilary Clinton, Barrack Obama and John Stewart poked fun at Gates' fictitious attempts to get into shape, acting, music and politics.

“What money can't buy,” muttered Spielberg on the phone in one scene. “There's nothing I can do. Lose my number,” deadpanned commentator Bob Costas regarding Gates' humorous attempt to join NBC's Summer Olympic broadcast team in China.

While there was no mention of Warner Bros.' decision to support Blu-ray Disc exclusively (Microsoft backs HD DVD), executives touted 17.7 million Xbox 360 units shipped to date.

“We are on track this year in the U.S. to have the biggest year ever in video game history,” said Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment devices division. “We did $3.5 billion in business through November. That's a billion more than Nintendo did on the Wii. And $2 billion more than Sony did on the PlayStation 3.”

He said Xbox Live had passed the 10 million-member mark, six months ahead of projections.

Bach said Xbox Live will offer episodic programming from ABC TV and Disney, including “High School Musical,” “Hannah Montana,” “Lost,” “Grey's Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives.”

In addition, Bach said MGM will soon offer its entire movie catalog as streams on Xbox Live, including the “Rocky” and “Terminator” titles, Legally Blonde and Silence of the Lambs, among others.

He said Live will offer more than twice the amount of on-demand HD content as is offered by satellite and cable providers.

“It's quite clear that online distribution is going to be a powerful force in the future of video,” Bach said.

He said Samsung Electronics and Hewlett-Packard (HP) will include so-called “extender” devices from Microsoft in their HDTVs for future Web-based connectivity.

Microsoft's Mediaroom technology is bowing “DVR Anywhere,” which lets consumers record content and distribute it to other televisions connected on the network in the home.

Bach said the company is working with Showtime, TNT and CNN to develop customized interactive programming options, including the ability to watch a particular racecar in an event or view the action from the pit area.

He said Microsoft will sell the Zune music player for the first time outside the United States in Canada beginning this spring. Updates include Zune Social, a beta tested interactive community for music fans.

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