Gates unveils new range of media players

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Video, whether in high definition or transferred to a hand-held device, took centre stage on Wednesday night as Bill Gates delivered the opening address at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The Microsoft chairman announced a DVD player, based on the new HD-DVD standard, for the Xbox 360 games console, as well as new portable media players that will be able to display a widening range of movies and TV shows.

Mr Gates’s opening remarks traditionally mark the opening of the annual event where the world’s biggest consumer electronics and computer companies scramble to attract attention for their latest digital entertainment products – though this year, rivals Apple and Google are set to steal much of his thunder.

While Google earlier this week denied reports that it was to launch its own low-priced PC, a scheduled appearance by co-founder Larry Page on Thursday has already attracted much of the attention in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, speculation has been rife that next week Apple will reveal its first machines based on Intel chips, challenging the long-standing alliance between Intel and Microsoft. Last year Apple switched its chip supplier from IBM to Intel.

On Wednesday night, Mr Gates declared that widespread adoption of high-definition TV was close, with video games stimulating much of the demand. Independent research had shown that nine out of 10 buyers of Xbox 360, launched on November 22, either already own a high-definition TV or plan to buy one in the next six months.

A supporter of the HD-DVD standard, a rival to Sony’s Blu-ray, Microsoft is to sell an HD-DVD player, based on the technology, as a peripheral for the Xbox, though it will not announce a built-in player.

Mr Gates also unveiled a partnership with Advanced Micro Devices, which will make a version of the Media Center PC for use as an entertainment device.

Microsoft also announced partnerships, including one with Philips, to sell cordless telephones that will carry internet voice calls for users of its MSN instant messenger service, as well as regular telephone calls, a new departure in the competition between so-called VoIP services.

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