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MS pushes Media Center through Xbox

Extender kit reduces distance between PC and TV.

In his keynote address to the CES convention in Las Vegas this week, Bill Gates has revealed Microsoft's desire to push "seamless computing", starting with technology that will allow users to view movies and images and hear audio stored on their PCs, using a regular television equipped with a gadget from the Media Center Extender Kit (MCX) family of products.

In another example of Microsoft's ambition to control the lounge - the entire entertainment matrix of the home, in fact - as well as its traditional PC stomping grounds, MCX kits will give the end user wireless TV access to a raft of media stored on a suitable PC, and one way of connecting the two will be to use the Xbox Media Center Extender Kit, with its DVD and dedicated remote control.

However if you buy a PC later in the year then Microsoft will be hoping that you find yourself with an MCX set-top box or adapter right from the start. Having partnered with Gateway, Creative Labs, Samsung and SANYO amongst others to produce portable Media Center compatible devices supporting Windows Media Video and Audio 9, it shouldn't be long, Microsoft says, before the wireless bridge between PC and TV is a standard feature. Windows Media Connects, a series of application programming interfaces (APIs) on the verge of release, should allow even more consumer electronics firms to equip their devices to support automatic sharing with Windows Media Center, and we can certainly expect to find support built into the next generation of Xbox console.

Even at this early stage, we're already starting to see Media Center content appearing in high places, including media player applications on websites like those of American sports broadcaster ESPN. Over 8,500 software development kits for Media Center Edition 2004 have been downloaded since September, and the format is supported by various partners of MS, with film studios like Artisan, IMAX and National Geographic already producing a total of 16 films using the new Windows Media High-Definition Video (WMVHD) format, while MS is currently polishing up a version of Media Player with HDTV support.