January 8, 2003 10:39 AM PST

Microsoft to tweak Smart Displays

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Microsoft is already preparing an update for its Smart Displays technology, which is due to launch late Wednesday during company Chairman Bill Gates' keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show.

It will be too late for the first buyers of the technology, previously code-named Mira, but an important upgrade is under way and will be available later this year, said Nancy Nemes, European product manager for Smart Displays. So-called smart displays are portable screens for reading Internet material on the go.

Buyers of the first version may come across certain multiuser glitches, such as finding that their main PC closes up when they undock their smart display to use it remotely. "There are limitations in version one," Nemes acknowledged.

The update will fix that issue and will be available as a software upgrade on products such as ViewSonic's Airpanel V110 and V150 portable monitors.

Another limitation of smart displays involves video streaming over a wireless network known as 802.11b, or Wi-Fi. 802.11b transfers data at 11mbps, which, Nemes said, will not "give a great experience" for streaming video. The next version is expected to support 802.11a, which at 54mbps will make watching DVDs and other streamed video on a Windows-based smart display much more practical.

Nemes said Microsoft is working on the fixes, and while she declined to give a date for the next version of the software, she indicated that it should be ready "within a couple of months."

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ViewSonic will release its smart display this week in the United States; others will follow with products for Europe and Asia. The initial smart displays will cost around $1,400, but will drop toward the $600 to $700 range in a year or so, said Megan Kidd, product manager at Microsoft.

"We don't see this as a mass-market product in the first version," she said.

Microsoft said Samsung has joined the list of companies making Windows-powered smart displays. Philips Electronics will launch a smart display in the United States during the first week of February. Both Philips and ViewSonic are expected to be among the first partners to unveil similar products for the European launch in March.

ZDNet UK's Matt Loney reported from London. News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.


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