Posted by: kurtsh | January 6, 2006

NEWS: DirecTV and Microsoft make love connection

Las Vegas — At last night’s keynote, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates outlined his vision for the connected home of the future. As expected, Windows Media Center is one of the centerpieces of the software giant’s plans. A new partnership between Microsoft and DirecTV alluded to last night by Gates and confirmed tonight at DirecTV’s press conference here at CES is good news for owners of Windows Media Center PCs.
DirecTV and Microsoft have signed a long-term agreement that will tightly integrate DirecTV’s programming with PCs running Windows Media Center edition, the Xbox 360, and some portable devices. Most significantly, HTPC owners will be able to forego usage of DirecTV set-top boxes, as their PCs will be able to function as a DirecTV receiver. This includes all of DirecTV’s high-definition content, which makes this the first time DirecTV’s HD programming will be available without using a receiver.
Here’s what the partnership means: Xbox 360 owners will be able to access DirecTV programming from their console. That’s another step in the direction of making Microsoft’s new console a home entertainment hub in addition to a place to play games. Using a DirecTV set-top box, subscribers will be able to view images, watch movies, and listen to music on their TVs, streamed from their PCs. That’s similar to what Verizon has planned for its FiOS customers.
Along with that, HTPCs will be able to be record DirecTV programming and transfer it to supported portable devices. In addition, the DirecTV set-top boxes will include a USB port so that owners of some devices (those carrying Microsoft’s new PlaysForSure designation) will be able to download recorded content directly to their portable video players.
It’s a big move for Microsoft, as it gives Windows Media Center Edition and the upcoming Vista—which will have MCE functionality rolled into some of its seven different versions—full HD support. Currently, Windows MCE is limited to over-the-air HD content, meaning that subscribers to DirecTV, Comcast, and other services offering HD can’t reap the full benefit of the programming with an HTPC.
Connecting your TV and PC is a big theme at CES this year. Intel has a significant portion of its exhibit area devoted to Viiv and prototype Viiv-enabled set-top boxes. Microsoft has a gigantic Vista display and is preaching the media center gospel. Major PC manufacturers such as HP, Sony, Toshiba, Gateway, and others all have HTPCs featured prominently in their exhibits. Getting DirecTV to play nice with Windows may go a long way towards bringing the HTPC into the mainstream.


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