BILL GATES opened CES with a clear statement of purpose, declaring that “All media will be software driven.” Gates handed the stage over to Microsoft president of Entertainment & Devices Robbie Bach to describe the company’s digital media initiatives. Bach announced that Xbox Live will gain content from MGM, Showtime, The Disney Channel and ABC. The service now has 3,500 hours of content available on-demand, which Bach said is twice the amount of any cable or satellite TV operator. Microsoft will also build interactive applications into its Mediaroom IPTV platform, partnering with Showtime, TNT and CNN. Viewers will be able to choose video angles during a Nascar race, experience interactive election coverage and more. Xbox will soon function as both a gaming device and a set-top box for British Telecom customers. Lastly, Microsoft will be partnering with NBC in a massive online video effort for this summer’s Olympics. The companies will offer 3600 hours of Silverlight-driven Olympics coverage, including 30 simultaneous live feeds. Robbie Bach ended his presentation with a clear jab at Apple’s TV efforts, which Steve Jobs has frequently called Apple’s “hobby.” Bach said “Building great connected TV experiences is not a hobby for Microsoft. This is something we take quite seriously.”
COMCAST announced that it will roll out the “tru2way” standardized cable platform for all markets by the end of 2008. Tru2way is the re-branded OpenCable platform, which will open up formerly closed, proprietary cable systems and allow interoperability with consumer devices. Cox will have “wide deployment” of tru2way this year and Time Warner is said to be even further along in adopting the new technology. At CES Comcast and Panasonic have unveiled new jointly-made devices based on the standard: the AnyPlay portable DVR and a plasma TV with a built-in set-top box. Both will work on any cable system supporting tru2way.
WARNER BROS. stole some pre-CES attention by announcing that it will release future HD titles exclusively in the Blu-ray format. Pundits are calling this the end of the format wars, with a clear victory for Blu-ray. Shortly after the announcement the HD DVD group canceled its scheduled CES press conference. Executives resurfaced after a couple of days, proclaiming that HD DVD was performing well and would continue to fight for dominance.
LG has announced “MPH” – a low-cost way for North American TV stations to broadcast their signals to cellphones and portable gadgets. Stations will need to install an inexpensive add-on for their digital transmitters to gain mobile broadcasting capabilities. Devices will require a reception chip to pickup the MPH signals. At CES the company unveiled prototype devices and announced that Nielsen is currently developing audio measurement technology for the MPH system.
SONY BMG has decided to offer DRM-free digital downloads, becoming the last major label to do so. The label is expected to offer unprotected music on the Amazon MP3 service and to participate in a major Pepsi promotion during the Super Bowl that gives away one billion songs. In related news, Napster will also drop DRM and begin selling all downloads in the unprotected MP3 format.
PLUS More announcements from CES:
– WESTINGHOUSE unveiled HDTV sets that can receive wireless HD signals from devices.
– LG has a new HDTV with built-in WiFi.
– SONY is selling an ultra-thin 11 inch OLED TV for $1,700 and pushing a new high-speed wireless protocol for devices called TransferJet.
– SAMSUNG offers new HDTVs with built-in games, online news-reading and more.
– SHARP has a new 108 inch LCD TV that goes on sale this year.
– ALIENWARE is offering a massive 2880×900 curved “wraparound” gaming monitor.
– SLING MEDIA has added a new Slingbox Pro-HD and plans Blackberry support.