ADT at CES: Gates launches CES with push for PC-TV connection

Attendees at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) received a pre-event pep talk and some product previews from Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, who spoke to a packed Hilton Theater in Las Vegas this week to open the annual extravaganza. Gates used the CES stage to continue promoting Microsoft's ''seamless computing'' concept, telling attendees that his company wants 'to make it easy to have the same information on the devices you have at work and the devices you have at home.'

Gates' basic pitch is that software is the solution to the challenges facing developers of increasingly interconnected consumer devices. Faced with ebbing revenues from traditional PC sales, Microsoft and other industry heavyweights, such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, are moving aggressively into the market for digital home entertainment.

PC makers constitute a greater presence than ever at this year's show, which a Gartner senior analyst told ADT is further evidence of the convergence of personal computers with home entertainment devices. For its part, Microsoft wants to ''bring the power of software to the world of consumer electronics.'' Microsoft's strategy is to provide ''software breakthroughs that deliver unified digital experiences and make the technology in consumers' lives work as a connected whole.''

During his presentation, Gates demonstrated Microsoft's newest Media Center technologies, unveiled expanded MSN services, and displayed a growing catalog of watches based on the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT).

Microsoft debuted the first version of its Windows Media Center software about a year ago. The new Windows Media Center Extender expands on the original offering, providing software designed to allow digital photos, movies, and music stored on a PC to be sent to TVs and other devices. The idea is to allow multiple users to access different functions from the same PC, Gates said.

Several vendors plan to offer set-top boxes and television sets equipped with the new Media Center Extender technology, Gates said, including Alienware, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Tatung and Wistron. Microsoft plans to provide support for the software in its Xbox game consoles, he noted.

Gates showed off a handheld video player, dubbed the Portable Media Center, which Microsoft plans to market later this year. Formerly called Media2Go, the device actually debuted at last year's show. Creative Technology plans to be the first to market with a PMC-based device, which will play movies, music and other digital content, Gates said. Some industry watchers view that particular announcement as a challenge to rival Apple Computer's growing strength in the consumer electronics arena. (Apple unveiled a new version of its enormously popular iPod portable MP3 player just a day earlier.)

''Five years from now you're going to have a hard time remembering when there were just audio-only players,'' said Frank Barbieri, Microsoft group product manager for the Portable Media Center.

Midway through his presentation, Gates was joined onstage by ''Tonight Show'' host Jay Leno. ''Bill and I go way back because we introduced Windows 95 together,'' Leno quipped. ''Who would have guessed back then that this computer thing would catch on.'' Leno announced that his NBC show would be available exclusively on Microsoft's MSN Web portal.

Gates entertained the crowd with a send-up of Microsoft's ''Great Moments at Work'' television commercials, which featured Gates and some 'co-workers' digitally linking a swarm of devices, including a toaster. The sight of Gates leaping for joy, mimicking the actors in the real commercials, drew laughs and applause from the crowd; the sight of Gates dancing brought the house down.

CES is the largest event of its kind in the world, drawing more than 100,000 people to Las Vegas annually, according to the city's convention and visitors' bureau. This year's show is expected to fill the Las Vegas Convention Center, with exhibits at the Riviera hotel-casino and the Alexis Park Hotel. The 2,300 scheduled exhibits will cover 1.384 million square feet -- ''maxing out'' the convention center, in the words of one event staffer. In fact, two of the Convention Center's parking lots will be filled with exhibits.

The Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association held its first CES event in 1967, and a second one in 1978. For a while, the association held two shows a year -- one in Chicago and one in Las Vegas. In 1994, the group cut the Chicago show and has continued with one annual event.

According to the association, last year's show drew approximately 117,000 attendees.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].