Microsoft's Home Theater Trojan Horse?

What looks on the surface to be an announcement for a new video-game platform may turn into an attempt to control the implementation of interactive services in the digital home. Last week, Bill Gates announced at the annual Game Developers Conference that Microsoft is entering the world of video games with the introduction of a "future-generation" dedicated video game console, currently code-named X-Box, designed to deliver "action-packed" games.

Microsoft says it is allocating significant resources in technology, developer support, and marketing for X-Box, which is slated to launch in fall 2001 and will initially compete with Sony's new Playstation2 (recently hit with problems playing DVDs), as well as systems from Nintendo and Sega. The new machine features computer and home-theater-like technologies, including an Intel Pentium III processor, 64MB of RAM, a 3D audio processor, an 8GB hard drive, a 4x DVD drive with movie playback, a "proprietary" A/V connector, and 100 MBps Ethernet networking connectivity.

Coinciding with Microsoft's announcement was one by Thomson Multimedia, which markets digital consumer electronics products through its RCA and Thomson brands. Thomson pledged its support of Microsoft's X- Box, which it says is expected to fuel even more demand for interactive digital products and services. In a statement, the company says that "Thomson sees the definition of home entertainment dramatically changing over the next few years, with innovations in hardware, software, and content delivered to an ever more demanding consumer through advanced platforms."

Thomson's Enrique Rodriguez adds that "we sell thousands of digital products around the world each day, including digital televisions, DVD players, satellite receiving systems, digital music players, and digital cable modems. Thomson sees the X-Box as a critical step in bringing advanced software and graphics features to digital entertainment products. There is no space more demanding than video games, and X-Box will bring the ultimate in performance. We envision this technology as an integral part of new television, DVD, and interactive devices aimed to broaden the home entertainment experience."