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Gates Sees Decline in Shrink-Wrapped Media

8 Jan, 2004 By: Gary Arlen

LAS VEGAS — Proclaiming that the “vision is becoming a reality,” Microsoft chairman Bill Gates opened the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with a lineup of home and portable video devices, network management tools, games and Internet products that continue to extend the Windows brand well beyond the desktop.

In his sixth annual appearance as a CES keynoter, Gates also predicted that the “Digital Video Recorder will become commonplace” and that physical media — including DVDs and discs or memory sticks for photo albums — will become “less common” as broadband and networked storage flow through these new digital devices.

He did not put a timetable on that forecast.

Gates acknowledged the need to “strike the right balance in managing digital rights” while making it easy for viewers to access on-demand video and other services.

“It's a very tough problem,” he said, and recommended to the overflow crowd of 1,400 attendees that “we've got to drive the speed of [such] technology forward.”

A Hollywood studio technology executive told Video Store Magazine after the speech that Gates' reference to digital rights management means the producers' message — they're not responsible for protecting content — is getting through to the technology providers.

Many attendees agreed that Gates' presentation this year was much lower key than his previous appearances, and that the product lineup was sparser. Under the umbrella theme of “Seamless Computing Experience,” Gates unveiled several Windows Media Center Extender (MCX) prototypes. These devices can be connected via wired or wireless home networks so that viewers, gamers or listeners can access entertainment from a primary media server PC in different rooms in homes.

Windows Media Video HD, a high-definition TV implementation, was also in Gates' lineup, as were a portable media center and a handheld device about the size of a wallet that can be loaded with videos as well as music.

Gates said Microsoft will introduce a “next generation of Windows Media Player” software later this year and suggested that the next iteration will deepen his company's ties with content producers.

True to form, Gates shared the stage with Microsoft product managers who touted each item — from MSN Premium, a $99 annual subscription version of Microsoft Networks optimized for video to a digital picture frame that displays downloaded photos.

TV comedian Jay Leno also made a surprise appearance, to add his viewpoint about digital directions — a clever endorsement, but one which many attendees believed to be only a pleasant time-filler to compensate for Microsoft's paucity of breakthrough developments.

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