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Microsoft updates digital media package

The software giant releases an updated version of its Plus Digital Media Edition software that now lets people create photo slideshows on the PC and watch them on a DVD player.

Microsoft started selling an updated version of its Plus Digital Media Edition entertainment software on Tuesday that now lets people create digital-photo slideshows on the PC and watch them on a DVD player.

The software, which sells for $19.95, is designed for people using Windows XP who want more features for editing and playing media files such as digital photos, music and home movies.

The most prominently promoted new feature is Plus Photo Story Two, which lets people create a digital photo story--complete with music or narration--copy it to CD, and play it back on most DVD players. Using Microsoft's video compression technology, Windows Media 9 Series, the software also lets people shrink the same slideshow and e-mail it to friends or relatives.

"We see that as a big innovation--now you can create photo stories and not only share them via e-mail, but also watch it on the TV set," said Gabe Knapp, product manager in Microsoft's Windows digital media division.

The software aims to capitalize on the growing interest among consumers in using the PC for home entertainment. Microsoft started selling the software in January to offer people who own standard PCs the features of an entertainment-friendly system without them having to turn to Apple Computer iMacs or upgrade to more expensive systems like Microsoft's own Media Center PC.

Though Microsoft would not say how well the software is selling, the latest enhancements were made at the request of customers and are timed for the holiday season, Knapp said.

The software will go on sale in stores before the holidays and via download at online stores such as Amazon.com. The Plus Digital Media Edition is Microsoft's first downloadable software for sale online. People with the existing software can also download the new features for free.

Other new features of the software include the ability to save and edit slideshows, and sorting tools for digital photos that let people sift through pictures by day or title. The company also added new digital "dancers," or animated images that dance to music on the desktop. For example, it created a rave dancer and a '60s-era dancer. Knapp said that there have been about 2 million downloads of dancers that were offered free to Digital Media users.

Standard features allow people to host a digital music "party" on the PC. Called Plus Party mode, the technology provides a password-protected environment for people to mix collections of music, add visual effects or create an interactive guestbook.