Microsoft to extend Media Center in 2005

Windows Media Center users in Europe will be able to share music and video files using a new extender technology, says Microsoft

Microsoft has said it plans to launch an 'Extender Technology' for its Windows Media Center PC in Europe next year that will allows users to share media files with other members of their household using a wireless network.

Media Center and Tablet PC, the other customised version of Windows XP, are taking on added importance for Microsoft, which is still years away from shipping the next major release of Windows, code-named Longhorn. The company has said it plans this year to bring out a new version of its Tablet PC software, code-named Lonestar. By contrast, the mainstay editions of Windows XP are only due for a service pack this year, adding security enhancements and other modest changes.

Microsoft's Windows marketing manager David Weeks told ZDNet UK that Microsoft's Extender Technology takes the form of a set-top box that can either connect wirelessly or using a cable to the main Media Center PC. "You need an extender box for each session and we will support up to five sessions off one PC. One could be accessing pictures, while another videos, while a third plays music, so dad can be working on his spreadsheet while little Johnny is playing his music from the same machine," he said.

Weeks explained that the ultimate goal of Media Center was to eventually replace single use consumer products such as hi-fis and televisions; he said the system can already replace a video recorder: "You can pause and record live TV on it and can work with terrestrial, digital, analogue and also with Sky. If you have a set-top box you can connect it into the Media Center environment and extend the session if you like -- and you can have one remote to control everything."

Microsoft expects the Extender technology to be available early in 2005.

CNET's Ina Fried contributed to this report