Streaming Already the Rage at Consumer Electronics Show

Microsoft’s Bill Gates and his team of presenters used a significant portion of Gates’ annual CES keynote address to focus on streaming video and audio, regardless of the Microsoft platform used. Showing that graphical and human user interfaces really do matter, Microsoft demonstrated the ability to plug an Xbox controller into a Vista-enabled Windows PC and use the handheld unit as a replacement for a mouse for Xbox-centric content. Microsoft even went so far as to replicate the Xbox interface in Vista.

The big news for the real Xbox 360, though, was its graduation from multiplayer gaming console to IPTV passive entertainment system. Microsoft has shown off Vista’s capability to display streaming content in a channel-guide like interface, but Sunday’s keynote also showed off the ability to flip a software switch and turn the millions of Xbox 360 consoles out there into IPTV set-top boxes.

On a less-positive note, the Microsoft keynote had a more disturbing emphasis for those who weren’t fortunate enough to attend the event live, playing up the question of both DRM’s efficacy and its implementation.

Proving that the best DRM solution is a physical kill switch, Microsoft's video stream of Bill Gate's CES 2007 keynote abruptly jolted to a halt just as Gates was about to show HP's Windows Media Smart Server.

The glitch wasn't technical in nature. Instead, those watching the event live via a Windows Media stream were greeted with dead silence and an ominous warning that might be prescient of the type of warning that might greet those trying to use HDMI outpus if their devices HDCP license key is suddenly revoked. The statement said: "In respect to the Intellectual Property being demonstrated on-stage, we are temporarily suspending the audio and video portion of this broadcast. Normal programming will begin shortly. Thank you for your patience."

Gates came back on after about 3 minutes, talking about what everyone in the audience had just seen, but leaving the majority of attendees clueless to what he was talking about (it is estimated that approximately 30 times the number of physical participants were viewing the event live via streaming at the time the "blackout" occurred). In an ironic twist, the very next Microsoft speaker discussed at length why entertainment needed to be both connected and communal, from music to games to movies.

One other device alluded to in Sunday’s keynote is also worth noting: OQO’s Model 02, in the Ultra Mini PC category, follows closely on the heels of Sony’s UMPC offering, which has 32GB of flash memory. These two devices are intended, according to Gates, to be "second computers" and sport full Vista functionality and multiple wireless connectivity options that could push Windows Media delivery into markets the Zune and iPod aren’t yet able to penetrate.

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