RealTime IT News

Windows XP Media Center Takes a Bow

With the all-important holiday shopping season on the horizon, Microsoft has started shipping its Windows XP Media Center Edition to PC makers in the United States and Canada.

The Windows XP Media Center, which brings heady promises of turning the PC into a home entertainment center, has been distributed to Hewlett-Packard Co. and Samsung Electronics, two PC makers serving the U.S and Korean markets.

The Windows XP Media Center Edition, a product formerly known as "Freestyle," offers a separate interface via remote control to let users access multimedia tools -- from a personal video recorder (PVR) to digital music, videos and photos.

Microsoft first announced the XP Media Center would ship in time for the holiday and, once it is marketed by PC makers, the software giant hopes to cash in on the growing wave of digital media applications and content, and the slowly building penetration of broadband into the home.

The company is working with the manufacturers to load the media hub onto the PC, with a remote control to make it work in a similar fashion to a TV or stereo. It said the XP Media Center could be used to combine the computer, TV and DVD players. It is also fitted with a PVR, a digital-music center, a digital photo album, a video collection and a DVD player.

The release of the Media Center comes just a few weeks before the Redmond, WA-based Microsoft is scheduled to launch the beta of its Windows Media 9 player (formerly known as 'Corona').

The launch of WM9 is expected to set off a dogfight with RealNetworks in the digital media space. Microsoft is due to launch WM9 at the Windows Media 9 Series Technical Summit in Los Angeles this week.

With the spotlight trained on its digital media efforts, Microsoft talked up its XP Media Center Monday. "Every digital media enthusiast, every college student, every teenager, every apartment dweller, will love this technology," said Jim Allchin, group VP of the Platforms Products Group at Microsoft. "Windows XP Media Center Edition takes the great photo, music and video experiences introduced last fall with Windows XP to the next level and adds a new TV experience that only the power of the PC can deliver," he added.

Microsoft hailed support for the new offering from tech companies including Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), Intel Corp. Dolby Labs has integrated its audio technology within the XP Media Center and Microsoft said the technology would be added to the DVD viewing experience to enable consumers to configure Dolby audio using the Media Center interface. ATI Technologies and NVIDIA Corp. have also hopped aboard to bring the DirectX video card interfaces.

Hewlett Packard is preparing to unveil a brand new PC brand in time for the holiday season. The Calif.-based firm announced it would roll up an entire suite of entertainment products into the new HP Media Center PC.

The new computer from HP is expected to retail in the range of $1,700 to $2,000.