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Microsoft Touts New 'Media Extenders'

Microsoft Corp. and its hardware partners are trying to bridge the divide between home computers and TV sets this holiday season with the release of several "media extenders."

These TV set-top boxes will connect wirelessly to computers running the Home Premium or Ultimate flavors of Windows Vista and enable users to use their TV sets to watch movies, TV shows and Internet video that is stored on their computers.

Microsoft planned to announce the prices and more details about the extenders Thursday at the DigitalLife trade show in New York.

The cheapest extender, from Cisco Systems Inc.'s Linksys division, will cost $300. Linksys will have another model with a built-in DVD player for $350, a price matched by D-Link's model, which lacks a DVD player but includes a USB port for viewing photos and other content stored on flash drives or hard drives.

Another extender is from Niveus and is aimed at home theater enthusiasts. No price was announced yet, but Microsoft product planner Hakan Olsson said it would be substantially higher than the other models.

Those four are expected to be on sale by the holiday season, and include remote controls.

As with some other hardware products in the past, Microsoft has been heavily involved in development of the extenders.

Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to provide a software download early next year for its MediaSmart line of high-definition TV sets that will expand their capabilities to match those of the extenders. The sets already can show content from PCs, but the updates will let the connected PCs do things like pause live TV.

Somewhat surprisingly, the HP and D-Link extenders will be able to play video in the DivX and Xvid formats, which are competitors to Microsoft's own Windows Media format and are often used to encode movies that are shared illegally online.

Microsoft launched a different line of extenders a few years ago for the Windows XP Media Center Edition, but it never took off.

The only extender available so far for Windows Vista been the Xbox 360 game console, but it's notoriously noisy. Olsson said customers have expressed their wish for a quieter alternative.

A prototype of the D-Link extender demonstrated by Microsoft this week was inaudible in operation.

Other companies also are making extenders. Apple Inc. in March introduced the $299 Apple TV, which shows content from a user's iTunes library on a TV set.

Microsoft also announced a new feature to be available on its Media Center PCs Friday: a trial version of "Internet TV," a service that will provide free, ad-financed videos of concerts, TV shows and MSNBC news segments.

The videos will be viewable both on PCs and through extenders, including the Xbox 360.

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