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Week in review: Video goes Vegas

Tech companies gather in Las Vegas this week to show off their big guns in the battle for your living room. Photos: CES gadget glitz Photos: TVs of tomorrow Video: Gates pushes Portable Media Center

Tech companies gathered this week in Las Vegas to show off their big guns in the battle for your living room.

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Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft

In 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 desktop, 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.

The presentation at CES 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," joked comedian Conan O'Brien, who helped host the session, after the first snafu. "Who's in charge of Microsoft?"

(That would be Gates, who, just before the event, spoke with CNET News.com about a range of issues, including Microsoft's consumer plans, the convergence of entertainment technologies, Firefox, Apple--and why he hasn't done a blog: "I've toyed with doing a blog myself," Gates said, "but I don't want to be one of those people who start and then don't finish it, and again I'm thinking maybe I could do one a month or one every six weeks--something like that.")

TV rules
Of all the gadgetry on display the week, the greatest buzz this week was commanded by television.

In addition to its TiVoToGo service, TiVo plans to introduce a high-resolution digital video recorder and deliver programming over the Internet, in an effort to differentiate itself from recording services offered by cable and satellite providers. The company also said it will embrace the CableCard initiative, which allows televisions to link to digital cable systems without the use of a cable set-top box.

For Samsung, the big picture was about--well, the big picture. The company demonstrated a 102-inch plasma screen TV. It also unveiled plans to bring to market a number of big-screen televisions, including an 80-inch plasma screen TV and another with a 57-inch liquid crystal display, as well as several new music players and DVD players or recorders.

Sony is splitting the difference by merging the television and the personal computer in its latest Vaio desktop. The electronics giant unveiled the Vaio V TV PC, an all-in-one desktop will allow people to watch television or view DVD movies on a 20-inch wide-screen TV--as well as record a TV program or burn a DVD--before switching to more traditional PC tasks such as writing e-mail.

Meanwhile, Orb Networks was thinking small for people who go through withdrawal when separated from TV for too long. Orb's technology lets people access video, music or live TV on their home PC though anything with a Web browser--a cell phone, a PDA or a work computer, for example.

Gadget manufacturers have reason to be optimistic about the market. Shoppers' appetites for big-screen televisions and gadgets such as portable MP3 players helped boost sales of consumer electronics by 11 percent in 2004 and should lead to an equally large bump in 2005.

Courting Apple
Even though the Macworld Expo kicks off next week in San Francisco, Apple wasn't left out of the fun this week.

Widespread rumors of an iMac for less than $500 prompted the Mac maker to sue the publisher of Mac enthusiast site Think Secret and other unnamed individuals, alleging that recent postings on the site contain Apple trade secrets. The suits also added credibility to several hot rumors, including one that Apple plans to offer its own line of office software.

In its suit, Apple specifically lists certain articles that contain confidential information, though it does not confirm which of the article's details are true.

The lawsuit is the company's third intellectual-property suit in recent weeks. In other court cases, Apple is suing two men who it says distributed prerelease versions of Tiger, the next iteration of Mac OS X. In a separate action, it is suing unnamed individuals who leaked details about a forthcoming music device code-named Asteroid.

Apple also found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from an unhappy iTunes customer who alleged that the company broke antitrust laws by allowing iTunes to work only with its own music player, the iPod, freezing out competitors, court filings showed. One antitrust expert called it a long shot, but Californian Thomas Slattery is hoping for unspecified damages for being "forced" to buy an iPod,

Meanwhile, Apple released a speedier version of its Xserve rack-mounted server, along with a final version of its Xsan storage file system. The company will now offer a version of the Xserve with two 2.3GHz processors, a model previously made available only to Virginia Tech, which used the machines as part of its System X supercomputer.

On the line
Things are heating up on your cell phone: A tepid version of strip poker for cell phones has debuted in the United States. And while there's no nudity--on the screen, at least--the game's distributor is preparing for complaints that it stretches the boundaries of good taste.

Wireless-game provider ThumbPlay said players first download the game onto their cell phones for a fee of $4, then play against a virtual female opponent. The game's most controversial feature allows even a player who loses, for 99 cents (each time), to click a "cheat" button that lets him or her--OK, him--buy garments off the virtual opponent. Losing players get to watch their virtual opponents change outfits.

Clothing isn't the only thing coming off cell phones. A new variant of the Skulls Trojan horse kills off all system applications from Symbian-based cell phones. But rather than turning individual application icons into skulls, as the first version of the malicious software did, Skulls.D tells people their cell phones have been infected by displaying a full-screen flashing skull.

The Trojan horse also prevents people from installing new applications, so the majority of people with infected handsets will need to reset their phones. This will leave the phone in its default factory condition and delete data such as address books.

For those feeling a little lost, MapQuest has unveiled a new feature called Send to Phone that is designed to let subscribers send color maps to their mobile phones. The feature--part of the company's MapQuest Mobile service--also lets users send driving instructions. Subscribers use the MapQuest Web site to find the maps and directions they want, then send them to their handsets.

Also of note
Various companies are currently trying to perfect the technology behind a new type of flat-panel display that will rely on diamonds or carbon nanotubes--two forms of pure carbon--to produce images...Microsoft is putting the finishing touches on its spyware killer, which is based on technology from a recently acquired company, Giant Software...Just weeks after legal attacks crippled the popular BitTorrent file-swapping community, an underground programmer from its ranks has stepped forward to announce new software designed to withstand future onslaughts from Hollywood...Transmeta, the mobile-processor manufacturer that has lost millions of dollars over the past four years, is seriously looking at getting out of chips.