January 7, 2005 5:39 AM PST
MSN debuts portable video downloads
That's the software giant's pitch as it unveiled a new video download service at this week's Consumer Electronics Show here. The service is meant to boost the slowly growing line of portable video players based on its nascent Portable Media Center software.
Microsoft's MSN Video Downloads will offer a daily changing selection of video clips from sources such as Fox Sports and iFilm. Portable Media Center users download clips to their PC and then dump them onto the portable gadget with a single click.
The service is meant to alleviate one of the most commonly cited headaches with the Portable Media Center software, which Microsoft introduced two years ago. While Portable Media Center devices can handle video from a variety of sources, all clips have to be encoded in the special-purpose media format Microsoft developed for the device, a time-consuming process that can thwart grab-and-go TV watching.
James Bernard, Microsoft product manager for Portable Media Center, said the encoding process comes with the territory.
"To optimize the video for a screen of this size and hardware like this, you really need to do some compression," Bernard said. "We've made it really easy to set that up to happen in the background, but it is more convenient if you have things ready to download in our format."
The MSN service will try to serve that function with what Bernard expects will be a rapidly growing menu of programming choices, as Microsoft works to recruit new partners.
"One of the first challenges we had was getting the devices out there," Bernard said. "Now we're really going to work over the next 12 to 24 months on getting more content. There are a lot of cool things we can do with content providers, and they're really seeing value in what Portable Media Center does."
Besides the MSN service, Microsoft announced a partnership with video recording pioneer TiVo that will allow owners of recent TiVo boxes to shift programs to any Windows XP PC and then to a Portable Media Center device.
Portable Media Center initially focused on Windows XP Media Center, Microsoft's operating system for entertainment-centered PCs, for grabbing TV programming using TiVo-like functions built into the OS. But the seamless entertainment Microsoft seeks with Portable Media Center means taking content from a variety of sources, Bernard said.
"The platform was never meant to only work with Media Center PCs," Bernard said. "We still think Media Center is kind of the premium experience for getting everything to work seamlessly, but we want to provide a number of ways for people to have access to content."