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Microsoft Updates Media Center PC 2005

The refresh is considered a relatively minor upgrade. Its most compelling feature is a link to the upcoming Xbox 360 video-game console.

Microsoft on Thursday released what may be the final update scheduled for Windows XP Media Center a day ahead of a New York event where the company touted strong sales and announced new services from partners.

This is the first time in three years that Microsoft hasn't completely refreshed the Media Center OS -- the current version is called Media Center 2005 -- making the refresh, dubbed "Update Rollup 2," a relatively minor upgrade.

The most compelling new feature, and the one which Microsoft executives highlighted, is a link to the upcoming Xbox 360 video game console. Will Poole, the senior vice president of the Windows client group, said the combination would provide "fantastic interactive entertainment experiences" to consumers. Media Center PCs will now recognize an Xbox 360 connected to the network, said Microsoft, letting users access music and videos from a Media Center-equipped PC to Xbox 360-connected televisions, as well as stream high-definition content from the PC to the tube. High-def streaming is a first, but the former has been available in various forms, typically through add-ons to existing first-generation Xbox consoles.

Other enhancements and improvements in the rollup include support for external multi-disk DVD changers, additional support for HDTV tuners, and a new low-power mode, dubbed "Away," that will be built into upcoming systems from the likes of Acer, Gateway, and HP. The new Away mode will allow for recording of TV shows and streaming content to an Xbox 360 while the computer appears to be off.

On Friday at the DigitalLife conference in New York, Microsoft also touted Media Center's success, saying it had sold more than 4 million licenses to hardware manufacturers, and citing a research study that said Media Center-equipped PCs now accounted for 46 percent of all U.S. retail desktop PC sales.

The Redmond, Wash.-based developer also announced new services from eight partners, including MTV, Comedy Central, and AOL, that will range from delivering MTV content to providing AOL Radio to Media Center PCs.

Many analysts expect the Update Rollup 2 to be the last to Windows XP Media Center before the technology is absorbed into some of the editions of next year's Windows Vista.

Windows Media Center 2005 users can obtain the rollup from the Windows Update Web site.

Earlier this week, Apple Computer updated its iMac line with new software dubbed "FrontRow" and a new remote to better compete with Microsoft on the living room front.

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