Microsoft Girds for Vista Debut

Jan 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

In the quest for the holy grail of gadgets that finally integrates the computer and the living room flat screen, Microsoft plans to unveil new entertainment partners for its upcoming Vista operating system launch.

Microsoft, the world’s biggest software company, said it will demonstrate programming from Starz, Nickelodeon, Fox Sports and Showtime using Vista at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

With a planned Vista release date of Jan. 30, Microsoft is betting that the redesigned user interface will finally convince consumers to plug their computers into their televisions and vice versa. Also, computers with Vista installed come with their own remote control to navigate entertainment content on the PC. Those twin factors could potentially expand the audience for TV shows, letting users watch Internet video clips on the TV or TV shows on the laptop.

Microsoft has already sold 30 million Windows Media Center PCs to date and said that 80 percent of all computers peddled during the holidays were Media Centers. Vista ups the ante for convergence. The user experience is optimized for high-definition viewing on a TV set, said Arvind Mishra, senior product manager with the computer maker.

For years now, computer manufacturers and gadget purveyors aimed to unify computers and TV. But products like Microsoft’s Web TV failed and more recent services such as Intel’s Viiv technology, which is used to deliver digital entertainment to laptops, PCs, handheld devices and the TV itself, haven’t taken off. TiVo has tinkered in the area with little success and the Akimbo box that delivers niche content via broadband isn’t widely used. Apple has tilted at the market with its iTV product, which will link the iTunes Web download store with living room sets. Also, some experts believe convergence isn’t necessary. Most consumers are content to watch TV shows through their cable box, and get their bells and whistles via video-on-demand or a digital video recorder, said Todd Chanko, an analyst with Jupiter Media.

“What will motivate them to start monkeying around with systems that work pretty well?” he asked. “They are searching for a problem that doesn’t really need solving.”

Some TV executives disagree. Starz, for one, has been keen to find an easy way for consumers to watch its monthly broadband movie service Vongo on the television set. Now, Vista users can connect the computer to an Xbox gaming console to watch Vongo on the TV in a plug-and-play fashion, said Bob Greene, executive VP of advanced services for Starz Entertainment.

That could give Vongo a boost because the biggest complaint of users is that they can’t watch the movies on a TV. With the Xbox factor in play, Mr. Greene expects Vongo can expand beyond business travelers and tech geeks.

Microsoft said it had expected to have shipped more than 10 million Xbox units by the end of last year.

Nickelodeon is making its TurboNick broadband service available on Vista and has optimized it for the living room TV experience, said Steve Youngwood, executive VP of digital media for Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group. His goal with the partnership is to expand the reach of the TurboNick service.