Gates touts TiVo deal at CES

Amid speech that serves as state of union address on Microsoft's digital media strategy, firm's chair talks up TiVoToGo deal.

LAS VEGAS--Delivering the first keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates touted a partnership with TiVo during what was mainly a state of the union address on Microsoft's digital media strategy.

The television recording pioneer has enlisted Microsoft in its new TiVoToGo effort to offer mobile versions of TiVo-recorded programs. The service will allow owners of recent-vintage TiVo boxes to transfer programs to a Windows XP PC, from which the programs can in turn be shuttled to Microsoft-powered portable devices, such as Portable Media Center video gadgets and Smartphone mobile phones.

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Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft

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Gates started out by giving an overview of Microsoft's digital media strategy, assisted by talk show host Conan O'Brien. Gates said Microsoft would continue to make it easier to unite digital experiences.

"If you look at today's living room, you have five remote controls and you still can't get your music where you want it," Gates said.

The presentation was marred by several technical glitches, including a Windows XP Media Center slide show that couldn't be launched and an Xbox game demonstration that abruptly ended with a blue-screen memory error.

"Right now, nine people are being fired," O'Brien joked after the first snafu. "Who's in charge of Microsoft?"

Despite continued strong growth, TiVo has been challenged recently by a number of new services that record television programming for on-the-go consumption, while Microsoft has seen slow acceptance for the television-recording capabilities built into Windows XP Media Center, Microsoft's entertainment-focused version of its PC operating system.

Gates hailed the ability to easily move TiVo content to portable gadgets as emblematic of Microsoft's push to let consumers experience their digital media anywhere they want it. "We're really seeing the portable video message move into the mainstream," he said.

Not surprisingly, Media Center was less of a focus at this year's CES. Gates said PC makers have sold 1.4 million Media Center models so far, steady growth from a year ago but still a drop in the overall Windows XP bucket. Microsoft did announce several new broadcast partners providing expanded program listings for Media Center PCs, including the Discovery Channel, which helps explain the ubiquity of the "American Chopper" dudes at this year's CES.

Instead, several of the new partner products Gates highlighted rely on Windows Media Connect, Microsoft's technology for shuttling digital media from a plain-vanilla Windows XP PC to compatible consumer electronics devices.

Gates showed off the first plasma screen television--from home entertainment specialist DigiTrex--to support Windows Media Connect. He also touted a new combination DVD player and digital video recorder from LG Electronics that connects with both regular Windows XP and specialized Windows XP Media Center PCs.

Also on the television side, Gates touted growing support for Microsoft's software for TV set-top boxes, including new partner BellSouth. And he revealed a new partnership with MTV Networks, which will format selected content for downloading to Portable Media Center players and Smartphone devices.

Gates said Microsoft now has 61 mobile carriers in 28 countries supporting Smartphone.

Gates disappointed video game fans by staying mum on plans for the next version of the Xbox. Instead, he touted huge sales--6.3 million copies to date--for the Xbox game "Halo 2," which has accounted for 69 million hours of game playing so far on Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service.

"These are the successes we'll build on as gaming moves into the next generation of hardware," Gates said.

More incremental progress was reported for Microsoft's "Plays for sure" campaign to label portable audio players as Windows-friendly.

Gates said 50 devices and eight music download services now support the program, which launched last summer.

O'Brien added a sorely needed air of levity to what has become a familiar recitation for CES audiences, even taking a few well-aimed swipes at Microsoft breakthroughs from previous CES shows, such as the first clunky versions of Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) watches introduced two years ago.

"Those things looked like you were wearing a bread maker on your wrist," O'Brien quipped.

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