Microsoft has lined up four hardware partners to deliver devices enabling the streaming of multimedia content -- including cable TV programming -- from Windows Vista computers to high-definition television sets.
The software kingpin, pursuing its strategy of putting Windows machines at the center of the home-entertainment universe, is also expanding the free content available to Vista PC users with the launch of an "Internet TV" service with more than 100 hours of full-screen video.
The four manufacturers of the forthcoming "extender" devices for Microsoft Windows Media Center are Cisco Systems' Linksys division, Hewlett-Packard, D-Link and home-theater systems vendor Niveus Media. Microsoft's own Xbox 360 gaming console was the first such extender.
The basic concept is similar to the one embodied by Apple TV, which has the capability to pull videos, photos and music from a personal computer over a home network to a TV.
But Microsoft's take is different in at least one crucial respect: The Windows Media Center Extender devices will be able to stream live cable and broadcast TV programming from computers to TV sets, provided a user's PC with the Vista operating system is set up to receive that content. Sony Electronics, Dell and HP have announced CableCard-enabled Vista PCs with tuners to receive cable programming.
The Media Center Extenders also support on-demand Internet content from Microsoft's Media Center Online Media partners, which include MTV Networks' Nickelodeon, Showtime Networks and Starz Entertainment's Vongo.
Meanwhile, Microsoft announced the impending launch of a beta test of Windows Media Center Internet TV, which will offer more than 100 hours of ad-supported video from its MSN Video site.
Starting Sept. 28, U.S. users of Windows Vista Home Premium edition and Windows Vista Ultimate edition will be able to access the Internet TV feature, which "will allow people to enjoy a range of television and video content on their PCs and TV sets without a TV tuner in their PC," according to Microsoft. The video content will be supported by an advertising platform from YuMe Networks.
Microsoft's Internet TV content will include full-length episodes of TV shows, such as Fox's Arrested Development; news segments from MSNBC; clips from Fox Sports; music concerts by artists such as Snoop Dogg, Elton John and John Mayer; and movie trailers.
Microsoft and its partners provided previews of the Media Center Extender devices earlier this month at the CEDIA Expo, and now they've provided details on the products.
Cisco's Linksys DMA2200 Media Center Extender ($350 estimated street price) includes a DVD player and a dual-band Wireless-N connectivity. The Linksys DMA2100 ($300 street) is a smaller-footprint device that omits the DVD player. Both devices, scheduled to become available in November, provide HD connectivity and digital and optical audio outputs.
D-Link's DSM-750 MediaLounge HD Media Center Extender ($350 suggested retail price) has a 17-inch, black aluminum chassis, and connects to the home network using Ethernet or dual-band Wireless-N networking.
HP's MediaSmart LCD HDTV will support Extender for Windows Media Center technology through an optional software download, expected to be available in early 2008.
Niveus' Media Extender Edge, to be available in early November, provides up to 1080p HD video, digital audio and the same 3-D user interface in the Niveus Media Center. Pricing was not announced.
"These products are the initial third-party devices that can wirelessly connect a TV with a PC, with features including live high-definition TV, PVR, movies, pictures, music and online services," Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices eHome Division, said in a statement.
The Media Center Extenders, among other features, allow users watching a recorded TV show in the living room to pause it and resume the program from another room--if both TVs are connected to the Microsoft-compatible set-tops.