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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 7, 2011 at 2:22 PM

CES 2011: The new Microsoft based TV boxes unveiled

LAS VEGAS — I was beginning to worry after I predicted earlier this week that Microsoft would be showing “connected TV” boxes, based on embedded version of Windows, at CES.

Steve Ballmer didn’t mention them during his keynote, and they weren’t on display in the company’s booth. In both venues Microsoft emphasized what’s available now, more than what’s coming.

But deeper inside the booth, in the sealed-off meeting rooms, there was a whole stack of the TV boxes and a flat-screen TV with the new Microsoft TV system built in. Microsoft also issued a press release describing the products.

The devices are based on Windows Embedded Standard 7, with the Windows Media Center interface and program guide.

It wasn’t secret stuff — there just wasn’t room to show the stuff elsewhere in the booth, explained Mark Pendergrast, senior product manager. He wouldn’t say anything at all about the next version of Windows shown on Wednesday or any plans for simiilar gear based on that software or ARM processors.

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The set-top boxes shown ranged from a paperback-book-sized Acer Revo prototype to a Gateway set-top box with six digital tuners, based on a new tuner card from Kirkland’s Ceton. Gateway’s box has a proximity sensor that turns on the front-panel lights when a hand is nearby, plus a large volume and control dial on the case.

First to market will be a box from Reycom, a Swiss company, with a TV tuner, access to Internet content and a Blu-ray player. Reycom began selling a similar system based on Intel’s Atom processor and Nvidia’s Ion graphics system in Europe in December. It should be on sale in the U.S. in the first quarter.

Reycom’s “REC 100” will work as a digital video recorder and stream video around the home to PCs, Xbox 360 consoles and home servers. It can be controlled with a remote control or with a Windows Phone 7 device.

Acer’s device has an ATSC tuner and should go on sale later this year. It’s based on Intel’s “Sodaville” processor for set-top boxes.

Swiss manufacturer Prime Time used the software to build a small set-top box aimed at cable operators and phone companies delivering video content over the Internet.

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Also being demonstrated was a Haier LCD TV with the Windows software running on a built-in processor. Haier is showing two of the same sets on the show floor, along with a smaller set running Google’s Android software. A representative couldn’t say when or if the sets will go on sale.

The boxes were running and some had customized interfaces selected by the manufacturers. Microsoft decided not to include a browser in the basic software, but manufacturers can add one to their products. Haier’s TV included a browser could be used to access websites such as CBS.com to watch online video on the big screen.

Pendergrast also showed how the system works with Windows Phone 7. Using an LG phone that has DLNA media streaming capability, and a “play to” button on the menu, he selected media on the phone and clicked to stream it to the set-top boxes and appear on the big TV displays.

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