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CES 2011 presence with Microsoft moving to SoC & screen level slot management that is not understood by analysts/observers at all

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Microsoft’s CES 2011 presence is summarized in two detailed parts below, one for the System on a Chip (SoC) support announcement and the other based on the Steve Ballmer’s CES 2011 opening keynote. The first one has, however, been a source of great confusion among the company watchers, analysts and observers, therefore before we start the detailed overview in these two parts we should look into that situation first.

Update: Microsoft’s next step in SoC level slot management [May 27, 2011]

While the company has clearly stated that Microsoft Announces Support of System on a Chip Architectures From Intel, AMD, and ARM for Next Version of Windows [Jan 5] even such an ardent Microsoft watcher as Mary-Jo Foles interpreted this as a simple message that CES: Microsoft shows off Windows 8 on ARM [Jan 5]. No wonder that Computerworld has written an article that an Analyst ‘baffled’ by Microsoft talk of Windows 8 on ARM [Jan 6]:

Microsoft’s announcement yesterday at CES that its next version of Windows will run on the ARM chip architecture was the wrong message at the wrong place, said an industry analyst.

“I’m baffled,” said Michael Cherry, the analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft whose specialty is Microsoft’s operating systems. “I just don’t get what they get from this.”

“This is the Consumer Electronics Show, right?” said Cherry, emphasizing the first word of the monster trade show’s name. “It’s not COMDEX,” he added, referring to the long-defunct computer show that Las Vegas last hosted in 2003. “And it’s not the Professional Developers Conference.”

Microsoft picked the wrong stage to talk up Windows and chips, Cherry contended.

“CES is like a car show,” Cherry said. “When I go to the auto show, I don’t mind seeing a couple of concept cars, but what I really want to know is what can I buy at the dealership now? This is a consumer electronics show. It’s not about processors, it’s about features. And I didn’t hear anything about that.”

“I think they can do it,” he said, confident that Microsoft could pull off porting Windows to the ARM architecture, and in time for next upgrade. … But he’s mystified why Microsoft would want to migrate the entire operating system to a tablet platform.

“Do you really gain anything by taking the entire client OS of today and porting it across?” he asked. “Why do they think that the power consumption [of Windows] will be any better on ARM? It’s still going to be running a lot of processes.”

In an accompanying analysis article IDG News Services has even up the ante by declaring that Microsoft must get ISVs onto ARM bandwagon, Microsoft has a lot of work to do moving Windows to ARM chips [Jan 6]:

When Microsoft announced plans to release a version of Windows for ARM processors, it created a lot of work not only for itself, but for all the independent software vendors who sell Windows software as well.

Microsoft will need the support of these ISVs to make the ARM version of Windows a success, warned Dan Olds, principal analyst of the Gabriel Consulting Group.

Microsoft engineers have a lot of work ahead of them, Olds predicts. The ARM instruction set is very different from the x86 instruction set that Windows now runs on. And because ARM processors are not as powerful as x86 ones, the engineers will have to be more careful as to how the operating system consumes resources.

But crafting a version of Windows for ARM is only the first challenge facing Microsoft. Another one is getting ISVs to rewrite their Windows applications to run on ARM. “For ISVs, it will not be trivial to port applications to a new platform,” Olds said.

Yet ISV support will be essential for Microsoft’s success. The success of any operating system depends on the number of applications that have been written for it. The applications were what made Windows a success in the first place, Olds said.

Apple itself faced a similar challenge in 2005 when it announced it was switching to the Intel processors for its Macintosh computers. Apple was successful in moving its own ISVs over to the new architecture, and it has been one of only a few companies ever to survive a switch of platforms. … Microsoft’s task of getting its ISVs interested in porting their software to ARM will be an order of magnitude larger than Apple’s. There are many more Windows software vendors that could supply software. “How do you get them to switch and get them to do it right?” Olds said.

That’s the challenge that awaits Microsoft.

This is all absolutely wrong. The truth is that Microsoft made a strategic decision of moving its core slot management approach to the key System on a Chip (SoC) vendors. It is a decision of enormous significance because up to now the company was managing the slots created by the PC vendors. That is Microsoft had been trying to ensure all along that the client PCs shipped to the market, the “slots” in terms of Microsoft internal way of thinking:

  1. Are best when they are running Microsoft system software.
  2. Have that software already installed when the devices are out of the factory floor (with OEM versions)

From now on Microsoft will do a kind of similar thing on the SoC level (and on the screen level as well), this is my conclusion as I carefully compiled all the available information in the two parts available below. This became absolutely obvious to me as I compared the below details with the radically new “slot situation” represented in my previous post Changing purchasing attitudes for consumer computing are leading to a new ICT paradigm [Jan 5].

Look for example how PC vendors were underrepresented in the keynote compared to what had been before (see my earlier posts: Windows slates in the coming months? Not much seen yet [July 13 – Oct 6, 2010] and Windows 7 tablets/slates with Oak Trail Atom SoC in December [Nov 1 – 24, 2010]) as well as how on the electronics industry level things had been changed recently (see my earlier posts: Marvell ARMADA beats Qualcomm Snapdragon, NVIDIA Tegra and Samsung/Apple Hummingbird in the SoC market [again] [Sept 23 –Nov 4, 2010,] and Intel’s industry position and prospects for years ahead [Dec 9, 2010]).

Notes:
– Mary-Jo Foley started to discover some, but only some real motives in her latest With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact? [Jan 7]. There she mused about the really significant fact of the cancellation of Microsoft OEM chief’s planned appearance at the J.P. Morgan Tech Forum at CES (see the final agenda where Microsoft is missing) which was much anticipated by the investor community.
– Although for me that sign is important as well, the fact that HTML5 related announcements (as was anticipated in my previous post of Windows 7 slates with a personal cloud based layered interface for touch-first HTML5 applications on the CES 2011 [Dec 14, 2010] post) were postponed has even much bigger significance. Whatever will come regarding that upto the MIX 2011 of April 12-14 will be equally important to clarify the rest of the new strategic Microsoft picture. Particularly I am expecting that Silverlight technologies will nicely join the already known IE9/HTML5 push in a new platform technology setup.

Part I. The SoC support announcement

Microsoft Announces Support of System on a Chip Architectures From Intel, AMD, and ARM for Next Version of Windows [Jan 5], (emphasis is mine):

Microsoft Corp. today announced at 2011 International CES that the next version of Windows will support System on a Chip (SoC) architectures, including ARM-based systems from partners NVIDIA Corp. [Tegra platform], Qualcomm Inc. [Snapdragon platform] and Texas Instruments Inc [OMAP platform]. On the x86 architecture, Intel Corporation and AMD continue their work on low-power SoC designs that fully support Windows, including support for native x86 applications. SoC architectures will fuel significant innovation across the hardware spectrum when coupled with the depth and breadth of the Windows platform.

At today’s announcement, Microsoft demonstrated the next version of Windows running on new SoC platforms from Intel running on x86 architecture and from NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments on ARM architecture. The technology demonstration included Windows client support across a range of scenarios, such as hardware-accelerated graphics and media playback, hardware-accelerated Web browsing with the latest Microsoft Internet Explorer, USB device support, printing and other features customers have come to expect from their computing experience. Microsoft Office running natively on ARM was also shown as a demonstration of the potential of Windows platform capabilities on ARM architecture.

Next version of Windows on Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM demo at CES 2011 Ballmer keynote -- Jan 5, 2011

SoC architectures consolidate the major components of a computing device onto a single package of silicon. This consolidation enables smaller, thinner devices while reducing the amount of power required for the device, increasing battery life and making possible always-on and always-connected functionality. With support of SoC in the next version of the Windows client, Microsoft is enabling industry partners to design and deliver the widest range of hardware ever.

Next Version of Windows Will Run on System on a Chip (SoC) Architectures from Intel, AMD and ARM [Jan 5]
(emphasis is mine) Q&A: In a technology preview at CES, Microsoft demonstrates Windows running on new SoC x86 and ARM-based systems.

The Microsoft News Center team talked with Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, in advance of the announcement.

Microsoft News Center: Can you give us an overview of what led you to make this announcement today and what the specific news is?

Sinofsky: We are making this announcement now to allow greater collaboration across our expanded partner ecosystem so we can bring to market the widest possible set of PCs and devices, from tablets on up, with the next generation of Windows. We’re at a point in engineering the next release of Windows where we are demonstrating our progress and bringing together an even broader set of partners required to deliver solutions to customers.

We’ve reached a point in technology where everyone really does want everything from their computing experience — the power and breadth of software for today’s laptop, the long battery life and always-on promise of a mobile phone, and the possibilities from a new generation of tablets. Bringing these capabilities together to meet customer demand requires innovation in hardware as well as a flexible, evolving software platform to bring it to life.

Microsoft News Center: Tell us about your partners on ARM-based systems. How were they selected and what do they bring to the table?

Sinofsky: It takes experienced partners to help deliver Windows to a whole new set of devices and we’re pleased NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have joined us in this technology demonstration. We look forward to even more robust collaboration between silicon partners and a broader set of partners as we work together to bring new PCs and devices – from tablets on up – to market with the next version of Windows.

Microsoft News Center: You’ve talked about these new systems being ready for the next version of Windows. What does this mean for future hardware innovation on Windows 7?

Sinofsky: Windows 7 continues to be extraordinarily well-received by customers – consumers and businesses – using a broad selection of PCs for a wide variety of usage scenarios. There is no better place to see this array of choice and innovation than at a show like CES. At the Windows 7 launch, we saw a terrific line-up of new offerings from partners, and this CES brings another wave of great Windows 7 PCs across a wide range of form factors and capabilities, including new designs on Intel’s 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ Processor Family and AMD’s Fusion APUs. OEMs are delivering great designs and personalized selection across the wide range of PCs including convertibles, gaming rigs, all-in-ones, ultraportables, everyday laptops, and tablet PCs. We know we’ll see additional waves of hardware innovation over the next several seasons as well and we look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners.

Microsoft News Center: What exactly are you demonstrating today as part of this announcement with respect to Windows on ARM?

Sinofsky: Today’s demonstrations will highlight the work we have done on the architecture of Windows to enable the richness of the Windows platform to run natively on the ARM platform. That includes support across a full range of scenarios like hardware accelerated media playback, hardware accelerated Web browsing with the latest Internet Explorer, USB device support, printing, and other features customers have come to expect from their computing experience.

The underlying architecture and engineering work includes a significant set of capabilities to run natively on ARM across the low-level subsystems of Windows as we bring Windows together with this new hardware platform.

Today’s demonstration represents the first showing of the next release of Windows. We know many of our most enthusiastic supporters are interested in learning more about the user interface, programming APIs, and other new features to come in Windows. The announcement today is just the start of our dialog with a broad community around Windows and, as with Windows 7, we will be engaging in the broadest pre-release program of any operating system. So there is a lot more to come.

Microsoft News Center: What can you tell us about Office on ARM?

Sinofsky: We’re committed to making sure that Windows on SoC architectures is a rich Windows experience. Microsoft Office is an important part of customers’ PC experience and ensuring it runs natively on ARM is a natural extension of our Windows commitment to SoC architectures.

Microsoft News Center: What else can you say about the next version of Windows?

Sinofsky: What we showed today was a technology preview of how Windows can adapt to run on SoC architectures. We are making this announcement now to enable our silicon partners, including new ARM partners, to collaborate across the ecosystem to bring innovation to market with the next version of Windows. We’re hard at work on all the aspects of the next version of Windows and we’ll share more information when the time is right.

Update: Intel CEO Paul Otellini addresses Microsoft’s ARM move in the wake of record earnings announcement [Jan 13] (emphasis is mine)

The plus for Intel is that as they unify their operating systems we now have the ability for the first time, one, to have a designed-from-scratch, touch-enabled operating system for tablets that runs on Intel that we don’t have today; and, secondly, we have the ability to put our lowest-power Intel processors, running Windows 8 or the next generation of Windows, into phones, because it’s the same OS stack. And I look at that as an upside opportunity for us.

On the downside, there’s the potential, given that Office runs on these products, for some creep-up coming into the PC space. I am skeptical of that for two reasons: one, that space has a different set of power and performance requirements where Intel is exceptionally good; and secondly, users of those machines expect legacy support for software and peripherals that has to all be enabled from scratch for those devices.

Part II. The Steve Ballmer CES 2011 opening keynote and all other Microsoft related
– Footage from the Microsoft keynote with some relevant keynote transcript excerpts included
– New Windows Laptops, Tablets and Slates Showcased
– The Next Generation of Microsoft Surface – LCDs That Can ‘See’
– New Xbox Avatar Capabilities on Display
– Copy-and-Paste Coming to Windows Phone 7
– Additional details for the three PCs demonstrated in the keynote
– Other new PCs
– Hardware acceleration for cloud clients (browsers etc.): AMD Fusion APUs, NVIDIA GeForce 500M [Jan 14]
– Xbox and Surface 2 additional information
– Windows Embedded Standard 7: the first wave of OEM partners exploiting the included Windows Media Center

While the above press release and the accompanying feature story (the Sinofsky Q&A) was prepared for a press conference held by Steve Sinofsky a few hours before the opening CES 2011 keynote by CEO Steve Ballmer in the evening, it is certainly that keynote which provided the same SoC related information for the more general CES public. Unfortunately this was just understood as a simple platform extension for the next version of Windows client.

Here is an – otherwise absolutely excellent – edited report from the almost hour long keynote, summarized into less than 8 minutes of video record:

[CES 2011] Footage from the Microsoft keynote [1-5-2011] by gumballtech (I’ve included some relevant keynote transcript excerpts as well to make the video more immediately usable):

Today was Microsoft’s annual keynote presentation, which was led by CEO Steve Ballmer. They’ve announced a number of new things, such as:
– Zune/Netflix/Hulu Plus/ESPN integration with Kinect
– avatarkinect
– Copy and paste for Windows Phone 7
– New laptops using Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors
– Windows 8 [?] running on SoC chips (such as ARM)
– Microsoft Surface 2.0
Check out my blog posting that contains this video and over 90 pictures from the event: http://bit.ly/hoZfBU
Here’s a timeline of what this video contains:

00:05 – Panning around…
00:10 – CEO of the CEA is up…
00:45 – CEO of Microsoft is up (Steve Ballmer)…
Good evening, and welcome. 2010 was a very, very exciting year for our customer. [ We launched Windows Phone 7, Office 2010, and Kinect, and we introduced Internet Explorer 9 and Office 365. We saw great growth in our Bing and Azure Services. And with the amazing success of Windows 7, it’s truly been a year like no other. For more see: 2010: A Year Filled with New Experiences for Consumers]

01:15 – Xbox 360 updates… [Ron Forbes, Program Manager on Kinect for Xbox 360 till November 2011, see also on LinkedIn; he could have a bigger role now within the Interactive Entertainment Business whose president is Don Matrick from Oct 1, 2010]
No waiting, no need to download. Today, our Zune Video Marketplace is available in 20 countries. So, let me show you other websites. As you can see here, all I have to do is wave and Kinect knows that I’m ready to get started. Now, there are several things for me to choose from on this menu, and I could use my hand to choose one. But, you know, there’s nothing easier than just using your voice. All I have to say is, Xbox, and Kinect is listening. So, when I say, suggest some movies. It takes me to previews of this week’s featured movies. So, here I can browse full screen trailers of movies that I can watch, like this first one, “Inception.” Awesome, awesome film. And I can easily swipe my hand to move it on to the next one.

02:00 – avatarkinect… [with Steve Ballmer’s avatar speaking]
… what about your facial expressions? As you can see, now Kinect can track features like your smile, your laugh, and even the raise of your eyebrows. Here’s just a little taste of what’s next on Kinect. We call it Avatar Kinect.
02:25 – avatarkinect video…
02:40 – Upcoming games for Windows Phone 7 (video)…
[= Xbox Live games only on Windows Phone 7]

03:22 – Some great WP7 features… [Liz Sloan, Senior Marketing Manager with Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business whose president is Andy Lees from Oct 1, 2010]
I can also see things like the weather in the city of my choice. And I can also see if they have mission critical information like apps like this one, five and a half months until Summer Solstice begins. And when you’re a Hawaiian native that lives in Seattle, you count every single day until summer arrives. We also surface simple things …
03:45 – Copy and paste on WP7 [Liz Sloan]
copy this up on stage with all of you and I’m going to go to one of my favorite shopping apps and do a little bit of research on this Xbox. As Steve mentioned, we have over 5,500 new apps in marketplace, which brings me to point No. 6, our fantastic apps, big name apps, like Bank of America, Travelocity, Fandango, and in this case Amazon.com. If you remember a few seconds ago I copied the Xbox that I was interested in. And since it’s a little bit long I’m going to paste it in and then I’m going to search …
04:25 – Steve’s back…
When I get a chance to show people a Windows Phone, the feedback that I hear is very, very gratifying. People tell me how snappy it is, easy to use, how personal it really feels. And perhaps as importantly, all in, simply how beautiful it really looks.

Acer Iconia the Winner of Last Gadget Standing at CES 1011 in the 2 Screen Web Browsing Mode

05:00 – A cool dual-screen computer… [Mike Angiulo, Corporate Vice President Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem whose role has very recently been greatly upgraded to include responsibility for Surface Computing, PC Hardware, and a variety of partner engagement programs such as WinHEC, the Logo programs for hardware and systems, and direct engineering engagements with OEMs, IHVs and ISVs as well]
… [here’s an example, this one is from Acer, and this is a dual-screen PC. So, you can see I have two 14-inch touch screens here. I can –] is that cool? Do you like that one? (Cheers, applause.) It looks really cool from here, too. And what’s neat is you not only have a lot of room for browsing, but I can take 10 fingers, put 10 fingers down on the screen, and immediately get a software keyboard that comes built-in. (Applause.) Go ahead, let it out. So, I can launch Word here. I have a track pad. I can do productivity scenarios.
05:20 – A nice Windows 7 tablet… [Mike Angiulo]
[This is the new Tablet PC from ASUS, and this is a full-power Windows PC. So,] this PC has a Core i5 processor in it. It ships with this wireless keyboard. It makes a great productivity workstation for maybe a small area like on an airplane or a student’s desk. And what you can see is that it responds well to Windows Touch, because it has a capacitive touch screen. But because it’s a Tablet PC, I can also take out the pen and use ink. And what ink lets me do is stuff like I’m highlighting here in Excel. I can take a pen and say, “This is great.” I can take an eraser, I can erase.
[And one of the cool things about ink and Tablet PC is a Tablet PC has handwriting recognition in 26 languages, and you can see this: When I have the pen down on the screen, can you see how my hand is not moving the spreadsheet around? This is one of the reasons that it’s hard to do ink on touch-only devices, and why Tablet PCs are so good for ink, is because it’s implementing palm rejection here. It actually knows what my hand is and knows what the pen is, and doesn’t get the two confused.]
… [But what I want to show you here is the screen itself. This screen is really bright. And] what we did with ASUS was we worked really hard with them to make sure that this screen would have off-axis viewing of almost a full 180 degrees. So, as I move it around here on the camera, you can see that from almost any angle this screen is really, really bright, and the colors don’t shift. And we did that by working together on a process to optically bond all the components of the screen. So, the Gorilla glass on the surface, the underlying LCD, the touch sensor, even the electromagnetic digitizer for the ink are all bonded together as a single unit. And that process eliminates the air gap that’s usually underneath the screen, so the screen is not only brighter, it uses 20 percent less
power [to actually get that same level of brightness.
You can order these PCs starting right now. The page just went live on Amazon.com in the Microsoft Store. And I think they’re going to be pretty popular.]

06:27 – Microsoft Surface 2.0…[Mike Angiulo]
So, those first-generation Surface PCs needed cameras underneath that would look up to try to see what was going on. But what we have here is called PixelSense. PixelSense is new technology we’ve invented where there’s infrared sensors all across this screen. Every single pixel is actually acting as a camera. The PC, the Surface here, can actually see. So, I’m holding up a piece of paper that says “I can see,” and when I set it down, what you see on this debug monitor, and what you can see on this split screen above is that the PC can actually see that paper. So, this is even beyond touch. And PixelSense is more than just vision, it’s actually the processing inside …

07:05 – Steve’s done…
07:23 – A “spy” video of Joshua Topolsky and Paul Miller of Engadget…

More information:
Steve Ballmer’s full keynote at CES 2011 — almost 60 minutes of recorded video on demand [Jan 5]
A transcript of Steve Ballmer’s full keynote at CES 2011 [Jan 5]
Microsoft at 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES): Press Materials

— Feature Stories, Press Releases, Speech Transcripts and Fact Sheets
CES Wrap Up: Microsoft Makes Mark with New Windows Devices, Surface and Xbox
[Jan 7] with additional (to the feature story) information related to the keynote excerpted here:

The new and revamped products “resulted from big technology bets that we’ve made,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said during his keynote speech on Wednesday. “Bets on the cloud, natural user interface, new smart client technology, machine learning.”

New Windows Laptops, Tablets and Slates Showcased

Several Windows 7 PCs set CES abuzz, including a laptop, tablet and slate showcased by Ballmer and Mike Angiulo in Wednesday’s keynote. Angiulo, corporate vice president of Windows Planning, Hardware and PC Ecosystem, was interrupted with applause by an enthusiastic audience several times during his demo. “Go ahead, let it out,” he told them, eliciting cheers and applause.

The Acer ICONIA laptop …

Acer ICONIA – Two Multi-Touch Displays
The Acer ICONIA [=> Acer site with the details, said to be there “the world’s most advanced touchbook”], expands the content consumption experience with its two multi-touch displays, enabling users to set the best scenario for what they’re doing. This 64-bit, Windows 7 Home Premium touchbook will ship with Intel Core i5 chip and is optimized for the Dolby Home Theater v3.

[Price and availability was not given except at Nov 23 global announcement press briefing as reported by PCWorld: “Acer says the Iconia may be available in the United States by Christmas, or January at the latest. The device will go on sale in Europe sooner, where it’ll be priced at 1500 euros or 1500 pounds. The U.S. price is still to be determined”. More details are available in laptopmag.com’s Dual-Screen Acer Iconia Aims To Make You Love Windows 7 On A Tablet [Nov 23, 2010] article where 2.8 kg (6.18 lbs.) and battery life of 3 hours is indicated with 4-cell battery. According to techradar.com’s Acer Iconia dual touchscreen tablet announced [Nov 23, 2010]  article: “The Acer Iconia dual touchscreen tablet has a UK release date of 16 January and will cost £1,500.”]

Angiulo also showed an engineering prototype of the Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series, coming in March. At first glance, the Samsung is an ultra-slim, light PC that looks like a multi-touch tablet. However, sliding the display into place reveals a physical keyboard so users can enjoy the best of both worlds – a touch tablet, as well as a more familiar PC keyboard.

Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series: Freedom of Intuitive Touch
The Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series [=> general Samsung site] is an ultra slim and light tablet with multi-touch applications — and a physical keyboard once the display slides back, giving users the freedom of an intuitive touch environment and a familiar keyboard/mouse interface. [It has Intel® ATOM™ Oak Trail Z670 @ 1.66GHz CPU as you could see below in the Samsung press release.]

Also shown, a new ASUS Tablet PC …

ASUS Eee Slate EP121 – Ultimate Portability
The ASUS Eee Slate EP121 [=> pre-order on Microsoft Store for $1,099, however on Amazon a smaller version is also available dor $999, see much below] is a performance-driven, 12-inch slate providing ultimate portability and smooth computing power anytime and anywhere. This 64-bit, Windows 7 Home Premium device will ship with the Intel Core i5 chip and the coveted solid state drive, enhancing productivity and mobility.

All three devices are available to order now in the Microsoft store on Amazon.com [not true, as of Jan 7 only the Eee Slate EP121 is available], Angiulo said. “I think they’re going to be pretty popular,” he added.

The Next Generation of Microsoft Surface – LCDs That Can ‘See’

Ballmer unveiled and demoed the new Microsoft Surface on stage, showing a thinner device that enables thin LCD screens to “see” without the use of cameras.

Created in partnership with Samsung, the Samsung SUR40 incorporates all the key features of the original Surface product – a massive multi-touch experience, the ability to recognize fingers, hands, and objects – as well as a new technology that has enabled a more flexible form factor.

“What we’ve done is taken Surface technology and embedded it into an LCD [liquid crystal display],” said Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft Surface. “Essentially we’ve created LCDs that can see.”

Microsoft did that through its new PixelSense™ technology, which enables the pixels in the LCD screen to sense what’s touching it and instantly process that information, said Somanna Palacanda, director of Microsoft Surface. “That means we’ve taken the power of the camera and put it right into the pixels themselves,” he said. “Now with a screen that’s four inches thick, customers have the option to use it as a table, hang it on the wall, or embed it into furniture.”

New Xbox Avatar Capabilities on Display

Ballmer appeared on screen during his keynote as his avatar when he introduced Avatar Kinect, which uses Kinect’s facial recognition technology to let a person not only control their avatar’s movements but also to project their expressions onto their avatar; when they smile, frown, nod and speak, the avatar will do the same.

This spring, Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers will be able to use Kinect to control their Netflix experience. Viewers will be able to pause, rewind and fast-forward their streaming movies with only their voice or gestures.

Also this spring, Hulu Plus will come to Xbox LIVE as a Kinect-enabled experience. As with Netflix, subscribers will be able to use controller-free motion and voice capabilities to instantly watch full screen popular TV shows anytime in HD.

“You’re going to continue to see more fun, more entertainment, and more innovation from our Xbox team in 2011,” Ballmer said. “Xbox today is going where no gaming system has ever gone. Your Xbox is becoming the hub of your living room. It is your gaming system, but it’s your movies, it’s your TV shows, and it’s your sporting events. It’s your social interactions, all delivered directly to the biggest screen in your house.”

Copy-and-Paste Coming to Windows Phone 7

A series of Windows Phone 7 updates are coming over the next few months, including adding the copy-and-paste feature and improving the phone’s performance when loading or switching between applications.

Microsoft also is working to make Windows Phone 7 available from Sprint and Verizon in the first half of 2011, and more languages will become available later this year.

Windows Phone 7 is the best new phone out there,” Ballmer said. “As people try it, and discover its new features and beautiful hardware, they see the difference. They see how it makes everything from gaming to social networking to productivity better than on any other phone.”

Additional details for the three PCs demonstrated in the keynote:

Acer Iconia Named Winner of Last Gadget Standing; DriveSafe.ly 2.0 Named Winner of Mobile Apps Showdown Contests [Jan 8]
Last Gadget Standing: The Results Are In!
[Jan 9]

The Last Gadget Standing–as determined by applause-o-meter at the event is Acer’s Iconia, a notebook with two 14-inch screens and a touchscreen interface. And the People’s Choice winner–determined by an online poll–is Barnes & Noble’s Nookcolor “reader’s tablet.”

Last Gadget Standing: The Ten Finalists [Dec 28]
Acer’s Iconia voted One of Ten Favorite ‘Last Gadgets Standing’ at Annual CES Competition
[Dec 30, 2011]

Acer announced today that their brand new Iconia Touchbook has been voted as one of the top ten products in The Ten Favorites at the CES annual Last Gadgets Standing competition. The Iconia is a dual all-point multi-touch notebook that gives consumers the best features of a laptop and tablet device. The Last Gadget Standing Competition is due to take place on January 8th, 2011 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Acer’s Iconia offers an enhanced content consumption experience and brings the interaction with the tablet to a new level.

Comes complete with Windows© 7 and offering  a unique visual experience, the Iconia allows multimedia, entertainment, communication and even web pages to flow seamlessly across its 14-inch dual screens. A virtual keyboard is as close as the user’s fingertips and features a full-sized QWERTY layout, while something Acer calls the “Gesture Editor” enables users to create customized gestures that will instantly open applications or favorite websites with, literally, a wave of their hand.

All these features, and more, are just some of the reasons the Acer Iconia has become such a fan favorite at this year’s CES, and is certainly why the judges of the Last Gadget Standing competition have now made it one of the top ten finalists.

Products represented in this competition have been nominated by the writers of prominent news/blogger sites. These writers petition their readers to submit choices for those products they consider the most innovative, useful, and able to stand the test of time.

Acer ICONIA [Nov 23, 2010]

Not so long ago mobile computing devices with touch screens were only found in science fiction. Now Acer presents ICONIA, a new concept device set to add a brand new tablet experience, combining the versatility of a conventional 14” form factor with a unique dual-screen layout and highly intuitive all-point multi-touch functionality, which means you can use all the fingers of your hands to navigate ICONIA.

Multimedia, entertainment, communication, web browsing and office productivity seamlessly flow across the dual screen, allowing users to set the best scenario for what they are doing. To improve readability of web sites or documents, the window can be spread across both screens. But the dual screen also means you can do one thing in one screen and something else entirely on the other: you can browse a website on the top screen and view the contents of your favourite folder on the bottom one or you can watch a video on the top screen and check out your multimedia library in the other.

“We took this insight and created a range of easy to use devices with touch technology including Smartphones, Notebooks, AIO PCs, Tablet and our latest addition, the ICONIA Touchbook: this level of commitment to touch technology is something no other PC vendor can compete with.” states Jim Wong Acer Inc. Vice President and ITGO President. “The Intel® Core™ i5 processor together with our experience with touch technology has allowed us to completely remap the user experience to create a far more natural interaction with our devices.

Both 14-inch displays have HD 1366×768 resolution, high-brightness Acer CineCrystal™ LED-backlit TFT LCDs and take advantage of cutting-edge technologies supporting all-point multi-touch for precise on-screen input. Protected by the ultra-thin yet durable Gorilla® Glass, the displays are scratch and fingerprint resistant, easier to clean and offer the same touch functionality.

ICONIA is designed to provide the optimal all-point multi-touch experience on a dual-display tablet. This is why Acer equipped it with a full range of intuitive and easy to use features and applications that fully exploit the countless possibilities of multi-touch technology. The starting point to launch ICONIA’s touch features and controls as well as applications is the Acer Ring.

The Acer Ring appears simply by placing five fingers on the screen and making a grab gesture. The Acer Ring allows you to start touch applications by scrolling through the App cards and tapping on the one you choose. The Ring also provides fast access to: Virtual Keyboard, Gesture Editor, Window Manager, and Device Control Console.

The Virtual Keyboard can be launched from the Acer Ring or by placing both palms on the bottom display. The intelligent design senses the position of the user’s palms and launches the keyboard. It comes with a full-size QWERTY layout with international language support to give users the same experience of a traditional physical keyboard and features predictive text input for natural-speed typing while avoiding mistakes. The Virtual Keyboard also includes a touchpad and a numeric keypad and can be easily switched to handwriting mode. With all these functionalities you won’t miss the traditional physical keyboard!

With the Gesture Editor you can set customized gestures to launch specific applications, open websites, view your desktop or lock your computer. The Gesture Editor offers you a simple and intuitive way to personalize ICONIA to best suit your needs.

Acer ICONIA -- company specific interface solutions over Windows from the promo page -- Jan 7, 2011

http://www.acer.com/iconia/: Acer introduces ICONIA: the world’s most advanced touchbook. Dual screens. Full touch interface. A truly unique experience.

Window Manager allows users to organize the various application windows on the double touch screen. Windows and applications can be moved across displays, so you can always have what you need where you need it. Plus, you can browse through a list of running application, and resize, dock or close windows.

A wealth of built-in touch applications designed to easily manage content provides a seamless experience. Besides those already implemented on Acer’s touch devices, such as TouchBrowser, TouchPhoto, TouchMusic and TouchVideo, allowing an enhanced browsing experience with on-screen gestures to zoom, rotate, flip and scroll and to access and enjoy your multimedia from an integrated touch-optimized interface, ICONIA includes three new ones: SocialJogger, My Journal and Scrapbook.

SocialJogger lets you gather and check updates from Facebook, YouTube and Flickr in all in the same place, taking advantage of the dual screens to check posts and updates on the bottom display and use the second display for exploring and viewing more content.

You can use MyJournal to collect web clippings on your preferred topics. Web clippings are dynamically updated to display all the latest information and can be categorized and displayed according to your needs. Simply tab on a collected Web Clip to display the full webpage on the top screen for a complete access.

Scrapbook lets you easily store clippings, posts and just about anything else from different sources in the same place. You can capture screen shots from the web or an application, edit them and add notes. You can create photo collections with notes and comments. You can also add your scraps to presentations, and documents. Scrapbook helps you keep track of anything you find interesting, funny or valuable and share it!

Samsung Creates a New Category of Mobile PC with the Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series [Jan 5]
Combining the Benefits of a Laptop and Tablet PC, the PC 7 Series is Ideal for Creating and Consuming Content

Pioneering Design
Weighing just 2.2 pounds, the Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series is easily packed into a briefcase and can be used for making presentations or for recording data on the fly. The 7 Series is suited for both indoor and outdoor use with 340-nit brightness 10.1-inch display supported by an enhanced HD resolution (1366 x 768). With its slim and light weight design, the 7 Series allows for mobility without compromising functionality in personal or professional settings.

Everyone from students to mobile professionals can enjoy the convenience of Samsung’s Sliding PC 7 Series. The form factor is ideal for personal computing activities like watching movies or social networking, and can quickly adapt the needs of professional users presenting to clients or taking notes at a meeting. The device is also perfect for students, thanks to its handy, portable nature and focus on content. For those who prefer physical keyboards over a touch screen for quickly typing up notes or browsing the Web, the 7 Series features a full, 80/81-key keyboard sleekly tucked away under the display. At the user’s convenience, the keyboard slides out completely, creating a laptop-like interface coupled with the touch capabilities on the display.

The six-cell lithium-polymer battery and innovative Eco Light Sensor, which conserves energy and adjusts screen brightness based on available ambient light, allows the 7 Series to last for up to 9 hours.

Innovative Mobile Computing
The ultra-light Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series is engineered with convenience and responsiveness in mind. Available in either 32GB or 64GB models, the 7 Series features expandable storage with the 4-in-1 memory card reader. The solid-state hard drive and Samsung’s Fast Start feature powers the 7 Series in as little as 15 seconds, or restores from Hibernate and Sleep modes in a mere 3 seconds. The SSD also fully supports multi-tasking not only in the Windows® mode, but also in touch mode, so users never have to slow down.

Equipped with Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium, the Samsung 7 Series provides familiarity and comfort to users while enhancing their overall experience. Users with entertainment in mind will benefit from high-resolution graphics and an HDMI port for sharing content on an HDTV. Additionally, the built-in webcam and audio speaker make the 7 Series ideal for video communication with family, friends and coworkers across the globe.

Optional 3G connectivity takes the 7 Series to new levels, with Internet connectivity anywhere, anytime. Moreover, the built-in accelerometer enables portrait or landscape viewing, making the 7 Series perfect for reading daily news articles, or sharing photos with family and friends.

Application Ecosystem
The Sliding PC 7 Series comes with several pre-loaded applications that are optimized for the touch screen display. This includes Samsung’s applications for music, video, photos, note taking, weather, clock, compass and many more. In addition, Microsoft Bing™ Maps provides powerful tools that help get more out of search, including the intuitive Bing voice search, which enables users to type with their voice to find what they’re looking for. More robust touch applications will be available via the Samsung App Manager and Windows Product Scout.

The Samsung 7 Series acts as a connective hub with other devices to improve the entertainment experience thanks to Samsung’s device-to-device connection solutions. Samsung AllShare™ enables users to control, search, swap and play videos, photos, and music across a full range of DLNA® (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified Samsung devices, ranging from cameras and smart phones to TVs and PCs.

The Samsung 7 Series is scheduled to be available in March 2011, with a starting price of $699 MSRP. All Samsung mobile PC products are available through Samsung resellers and distribution channels, which can be located by calling 1-800-SAMSUNG or by visiting www.samsung.com.

Key Specs:
• CPU: Intel® ATOM™ Oak Trail Z670 @ 1.66GHz
• Operating System: Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium
• Samsung Touch Launcher
• Memory: 2GB DDR2
• Hard Drive (max): 32GB or 64GB (mSATA SSD)
Screen: 10.1-inch touchscreen HD LCD display (340 nit)
• Resolution: 1366 x 768
• Graphics: Intel Integrated Graphics
• Audio Technology: Integrated speaker (0.8W x 2)
• I/O:
• USB 2.0
• 4-in-1 memory card reader
• HMDI out
• Webcam: 1.3MP
• Battery: Lithium Polymer; up to 9 hours
• Wireless: 802.11b/g/n; WiMax; 3G
• Dimensions: 10.47 x 6.88 x 0.78 inches (W x D x H)
Weight: Starting at 2.18 lbs.

CES 2011 — ASUS Tablet Computers — Providing Choice through Innovation at CES 2011 [Jan 4, 2010]:

ASUS Eee Slate EP121

The Eee Slate EP121 is designed for users who require a highly portable handheld device that can also run standard office software while multitasking with other applications. Powered with an Intel® Core™ i5 dual-core processor, the Eee Slate features a 12.1” LED-backlit display with a 1280 x 800 resolution and a wide 178° viewing angle, making it perfectly suited for both productivity applications and multimedia entertainment.

ASUS Eee Slate EP121-1A010M 12.1-Inch Tablet PC demonstrated by company rep Gary Key at CES 2011.

[See also: ASUS Eee Slate EP121: First demo at CES 2011 [Jan 5] for a complete scenario of “Running on Windows 7 Home Premium, it has no issues multitasking as we could witness during ASUS’ presentation: while a video was running in the background, the presenter edited an image of his ‘daughter’ with Photoshop Elements. Afterwards he sent it wirelessly over to another Slate after using the capacitive stylus to write the e-mail address which the built-in text recognition transfered into legible letters.”]

Windows® 7 Home Premium ensures full compatibility with a wide range of popular applications controlled by flexible input options thanks to the Eee Slate. The capacitive touch-screen responds instantly to fingertip control for day-to-day use, while the capacitive stylus offers fine precision input and control. An on-screen keyboard is also complimented by support for an external Bluetooth keyboard for traditional desktop use.

The Eee Slate is available with 32GB or 64GB of SSD storage (expandable via SDXC), and up to 4GB of DDR3 RAM. All models have 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, a 2-megapixel camera, plus two USB 2.0 ports that provide full support for a wide range of standard PC peripherals, along with a mini-HDMI port that is ideal for connecting to external displays.

ASUS is excited to announce that the ASUS Eee Slate EP121 is one of their eight products to be selected for a CES 2011 Innovations Award.

See also the Entertaining meets enterprising with the most powerful tablet [Jan 4] promo page in the US which is curiously showing the following view of the product where the screen is actually that of Windows Media Center. While this functionality is coming with the Windows 7 Home Premium included in the product it is obviously very useful for touch only functionality as well. Nevertheless all the demos available are showing the Eee Slate EP121 with pen based touch manipulation (except this one recorded on January 6, 2011 using a Flip Video camcorder, where from 0:28 to 0:45 you could see this interface in action). Could some additional Microsoft software come later on (with shipment) to exloit that?

ASUS Eee Slate EP121 as presented on the promo page -- Jan 4, 2011

This page is also leading to the pre-order pages on the Amazon where the 2GB RAM and 32GB SSD version is available for $999 and the 4GB RAM and 64GB SSD one for  $1,099 (the wireless keyboard is an option for both). On both pages it is stated that:

  • Battery Pack: 4 cell polymer battery (up to 3 hours)
  • Dimensions: 12.28 x 8.15 x .66 –inches (W x D x H)
  • Weight: 2.53 lbs

Other new PCs:

Innovative New Windows-Based PCs at CES 2011 [Jan 7] which in addition to the three devices from Acer (ICONIA), Samsung (Sliding PC 7 Series) and ASUS (Eee Slate EP121) showcased at the keynote currently provides information on there are 7 other devices as well – 5 laptops, one very thin all-in-one home PC and a complete home entertainment center set-top box:

Dell XPS 17 3D – As Unique As You Are
The Dell XPS 17 [=> Dell site with the details for this laptop, from $950] 3D PC extends the XPS quality we know and love to also offer 3D experiences with full 1080p HD resolution. This PC ships with Windows 7 Home Premium and wireless active shutter glasses, and is customizable with the Dell Design Studio, making your PC as unique as you are.

HP Pavilion dm1z – For the Road Warrior
Extremely thin and light, the HP Pavilion dm1z [=> HP site with the details for this laptop, from $525] keeps you connected on the go and is priced to fit your budget. Ideal for the road warrior, this PC ships with Windows 7 Home Premium and the AMD Neo mobile processor with dual-core options — all the power and productivity you need.

Lenovo A320 – Iconic Ultra-Slim Design
The IdeaCentre A320 [=> Lenovo site with the details, from $525] redefines home computing with its iconic ultra-slim design, premium sound and 8 GB RAM. This Windows 7 Home Premium PC ships with Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost Technology.
[“At 18.5 inches deep, the Lenovo IdeaCentre A320 is the thinnest all-in-one PC in the world.  Lenovo’s held that distinction three years running — but this year’s model packs in performance to match.”
-Gizmodo]

MSI GT680 – For Gaming Enthusiasts
The MSI GT680 [=> MSI news site with the details for all the new G Series laptops] is a great choice for gaming enthusiasts. This 64-bit PC features the exclusive Turbo Drive Engine Plus (TDE+) technology and dual turbo power for exceptional performance and efficiency. It ships with Windows 7 Home Premium and the Intel Core i7 processor.

Reycom Entertainment Center – Complete Home Entertainment Experience
The Reycom Entertainment Center [=> Reycom site for the family, the separate press release in the attached PDF version is stating “Reycom will launch The REC United States retail version in Q1 2011 (estimated price around $499) followed by dedicated versions for US cable operators and US telecom operators by mid 2011.”] is a complete home entertainment experience, with live TV in HD with time-shift, and access to a wide range of films, TV shows, gaming, music, and more. This Windows Embedded Standard 7 set-top box ships with Intel Atom and NVIDIA ION technologies.

Sony VAIO F 3D – Full 1080p HD
The Sony VAIO F series [=> Sony site with the details, from $999] 3D laptop in full 1080p HD creates an immersive viewing experience with images so realistic you’ll feel like you’re part of the action. It’s loaded for all-out performance with a quad core Intel Core i7 processor, dedicated NVIDIA GeForce graphics, and up to 6GB RAM.

Toshiba Satellite A665-3DV – All-Purpose Entertainment PC
The Toshiba Satellite A665 3D Edition [=> Toshiba site with the details, from $1.699] laptop is an all-purpose entertainment PC offering premium performance, superior productivity and ultimate creativity. This Windows 7 Home Premium PC also offers true stereoscopic 3D multimedia enjoyment and ships with the Intel Core i7 processor.

CES 2011 Recap: My favorite PC tech from this year’s show (and a re-post of all fifteen “Live at CES” videos) [Jan 10]

CES 2011 was a whirlwind of incredible new PC technology.  There was a lot to take in, so to help you get a quick overview of the show’s PC highlights I’m re-posting all fourteen videos I shot at the event, as well as a line or two about the highlights for each partner.

Thanks to Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Origin, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba for taking the time to show me their newest, most innovative PCs, and to AMD, Intel and NVIDIA for walking me through their latest CPU, APU and GPU technology.

And of course, a HUGE thank you to everyone who submitted questions & comments through Twitter and the blog!

All of the partner videos are below, but if you’re short on time and want to get a really quick overview of what was new and cool at the show, check out my booth walkthrough with Microsoft’s “Roving Reporter” Jessica Corbin, and the technical snapshot of new PC technology I did with Larry Larsen from Channel 9.

ACER: I was really impressed by Acer’s totally unique – and surprisingly practical – ICONIA dual-touchscreen laptop, and by the ultra-slim Revo mini desktop.AMD: AMD’s new Fusion APU has the potential to be a game-changer. Check out the video to see what it’s all about.

ASUS: Clearly the star of the show for Asus was the EP121 Slate PC. I reviewed it on the blog, but don’t miss it in action in the video:DELL: I’m a sucker for power, and Dell’s brand-new Alienware M17x with wireless HD technology didn’t disappoint.

HP: The Pavilion dm1 was the most impressive PC I saw from HP this year. $450 gets you 9+ hours of battery life, HD capable graphics and built in 3G wireless.INTEL: One industry expert told me that “The new Core processors might be the biggest thing since the original Pentium”. Watch what they can do, and you’ll see why.

LENOVO: I was blown away by Lenovo Enhanced Experience 2.0, which powers PCs that boot Windows 7 in under 10 seconds. Watch the video to see my custom t410 get humiliated in the fast-boot challenge:NVIDIA: These guys are bringing 3D to the masses. And they have the only computer I’ve ever seen that has rock-show gaming power and can pour a frosty pint of beer at the same time.

ORIGIN: They just might be the new kings of power gaming. Watch the video to see where they’re taking the category next.SAMSUNG: Samsung continues to impress me with their striking industrial designs. The Sliding PC 7 is a practical take on the tablet concept, and the Notebook 9 Series is so thin and light it makes you laugh the first time you pick it up.

SONY: Sony’s new VAIO L all-in-one with a touch-sensitive bezel is beautiful and smart; having the controls on the edges keep fingerprints off the screen.

TOSHIBA: Toshiba showed off a complete lineup of new PCs, from inexpensive netbooks to 3D gaming PCs. It’s really great to see them making something for everyone.

Live at CES 2011: Final thoughts as the show wraps up [Jan 10] (emphasis is mine)

Of course, there was a ton of great trends that I noticed that were really catching on this year:

→ 3D might finally be ready for prime time. That’s largely due to the affordable availability of 3D on new desktops, laptops, and all-in-ones (and of course, TVs)

Consumers are really digging form factors that bring together the best of touch and typeDesigns like the Acer ICONIA, the Dell Inspiron duo and the Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series took a lot of people from “I don’t like touch” to “I need one of these RIGHT NOW!”

There’s really a PC for everyone.  I was very happy to see our partners introducing new form factors that embraced touch, 3D, and other new technology like wireless media streaming, and that came in a huge variety of sizes, specs, colors, and prices.  The ecosystem continues to be as diverse as our 1,000,000,000+ customer base.

Live at CES 2011: You can tell its Dell (because the PCs are fast, beautiful, and customizable) [Jan 9]: “we got a look at their new premium XPS laptops [Intel Core i5], and got a first look at the just-announced Alienware M17x power gaming laptop.
Live at CES 2011: The mad geniuses at ORIGIN show the world what’s next in power gaming [Jan 9]: “If you haven’t heard of them, ORIGIN makes some of the world’s most powerful gaming PCs, all custom designed & hand-built.
Live at CES 2011: Intel gives the inside scoop on its new Core and Atom processors [Jan 9]
Live at CES 2011: AMD explains the new Fusion APU and what it means for next-gen PCs [Jan 8]
Live at CES 2011: A cozy fireside chat with the HP Pavilion dm1 and ENVY 17 3D [Jan 8]: the HP Pavilion dm1z with AMD Fusion E-350 starting from $450
Live at CES 2011: Sony impresses with new all-in-ones, ultraportables and 3D laptops [Jan 8]: “In addition to the brand new ultralight Sony Y (powered by AMD’s new processors) that starts at $549, I got to check out Sony’s new VAIO F 3D laptop, which packs a new second-generation Intel i7 quad-core processor and Blu-Ray, and the impressively designed refresh of the multi-touch VAIO L all-in-one.
Live at CES 2011: Beer, gaming rigs, and 3D everything with NVIDIA [Jan 8]

Live at CES 2011: Geeking out on the show’s new PCs with Channel 9 [Jan 8]: “If you caught my roundup video with Jessica Corbin you’ll find several of these PCs familiar, but Larry and I get more technical here, so it’s a good way to get a deeper look at the new tech on the show floor.  Check it out!

Live at CES 2011: I get shellacked by Lenovo Enhanced Experience 2.0 in their fast boot challenge (but beat everyone else!) [Jan 8]: “wicked thin U260, which boasts a Core i7 processor in a chassis … beautiful B520, Lenovo’s new 3D all-in-one” but the E-350 based ThinkPad X120e (available in February) and IdeaPad S205 (not available in the US) netbooks, as well as the Essential C205 All-In-One are not mentioned at all

Live at CES 2011: A roundup of some of the show’s hottest new PCs with Microsoft’s “Roving Reporter” [Jan 7]: “Check it out for some new views and more hands on time with the convertible Dell Inspiron duo, the ASUS EP121 slate PC, the Samsung Notebook 9 Series ultrathin, and the dual-touchscreen Acer ICONIA.

Live at CES 2011: Samsung cranks up the industrial design with Sliding PC 7 Series and Notebook 9 Series laptops [Jan 7]
Live at CES 2011: Toshiba shows off innovation across it’s entire laptop line
[Jan 6]
Live at CES 2011: Acer’s new dual touchscreen ICONIA, Revo mini desktop, and Aspire entertainment PC [Jan 6]
Live at CES 2011: Video demo of the Windows 7-powered ASUS EP121 Slate PC [Jan 6]
Hands-on with the ASUS EP121 Slate PC [Jan 4]

Motion Announces its First Ultra-Light, Rugged Tablet PC with Versatile Flexibility [Jan 5]

The new Motion CL900 is built based on customer demand for a mobile and integrated device that offers the capabilities to support mobile workflows. Architected for future expansion, the CL900 will feature a peripheral module that will enable simple device expansion. Tightly secured and integrated into the device, the peripheral module will incorporate key documentation tools without compromising durability. Peripheral modules will be released later in 2011.

… Advanced durability, connectivity and mobility features include:

  • Up to eight hours of battery life for all-day, uninterrupted productivity
  • Lightweight and rugged design that offers the protection of the MIL-STD-810G specification (four foot drop test) at only 2.1 pounds and less than 16mm thick
  • IP-52 rated exterior to protect against dust, moisture and other elements
  • Optional integrated Gobi™ 3000 mobile broadband with GPS, 802.11 a/b/g/n WLAN, Bluetooth® 3.0, and a wireless SIM port for advanced communications
  • Display with Corning® Gorilla® Glass display for added durability and scratch resistance and incorporated DuPont Vertak™ to improve visibility in various lighting conditions

    [See Dupont Vertak Overview Video:]

… Running Microsoft® Windows® 7 and powered by the upcoming Intel® Atom™ processor currently codenamed “Oak Trail”, the CL900 balances power, performance and battery life. Additionally, IT serviceability and enterprise support options help ensure uptime and reduce IT resource drain. Business benefits include:

  • The ability to run existing applications, lowering the cost of deployment
  • The performance needed to simultaneously run multiple enterprise applications
  • Bright display that offers the convenience of both touch and stylus input

Note from PDF overview: Delivers clear visibility even in bright sunlight

  • 30GB or 62GB solid state drive (SSD), and up to 2GB of RAM

The new Intel Atom processor is specifically designed for tablet PCs and mobile workflows that require a balance of productivity and battery life. An enhanced version of the Atom line of processors, “Oak Trail” will offer the responsiveness, security and manageability required for mobile users in business environments.

With a planned starting MSRP of less than U.S. $1000 the CL900 offers a competitive entry price point to other tablet PCs with a unique, rugged design that supports a lower total cost of ownership over non-rugged devices. The CL900 will be available to ship early in the second quarter of 2011 while the optional peripheral module will be available later in the first half of the year. For more information on the CL900 or to register for product updates, please visit the CL900 Product Page. To access high resolution product photos please visit the CL900 Images Page.

Hardware acceleration for cloud clients (browsers etc.): AMD Fusion APUs, NVIDIA GeForce 500M

Accelerated Processing Unit = APU

AMD Details a Vivid Future of Computing at Annual Financial Analyst Day [Nov 9, 2010] (emphasis is mine)

AMD Fusion APUs mark a significant leap forward in technology innovation to address evolving workloads and users’ needs for smaller, more power-efficient form factors that enable richer visual computing experiences such as:

  • Outstanding Web browsing experiences in terms of speed of response, quality of graphics, quality of animations;
  • Smooth video playback of HD and 3D content in even the most portable form factors;
  • Optimized experience in popular GPU-accelerated  productivity applications such as Microsoft PowerPoint where AMD Fusion enables smooth transitions, better animations, easier video editing;
  • Better content management capabilities to organize the millions of digital media files created and stored by consumers everyday;
  • User interface innovations designed to rapidly evolve as new technologies such as gesture recognition and voice command take advantage of the massive parallel processing capability of GPUs as evidenced by the hundreds of gigaflops of compute power in the AMD Fusion APU codenamed “Llano”.

AMD Public Roadmap Updates

AMD also announced several notable updates to its 2012 roadmaps including:

  • “Krishna” and “Wichita”: Two and four-core 28nm APUs based on the next-generation sub-one watt “Bobcat” CPU cores and a DirectX 11-capable GPU, designed for the tablet, notebook, HD netbook, and desktop form-factors;
  • “Trinity”: a 32nm APU based on AMD’s next-generation “Bulldozer” CPU cores and a DirectX 11-capable GPU, designed for  mainstream and high-performance desktops and notebooks;
  • “Komodo”: a 32nm CPU featuring up to 10 AMD “Bulldozer” CPU cores designed for high-performance and enthusiast desktops;

Simply put, it’s all about Velocity [Nov 9, 2010] (emphasis is mine)

Velocity goal: the best APUs every year

Velocity is the term Rick Bergman [senior VP for product development from May 2009, before with ATI part] introduced last year to signal the new AMD Fusion APU design metho

dology and product introduction cadence. AMD Velocity builds on AMD’s already established annual GPU design cycle to achieve a faster pace of innovation than AMD previously achieved with a CPU-only development focus. This quicker pace is in keeping with an overall faster pace of consumer innovation, where new features and new use cases abound.  The goal of Velocity is clear, compelling platform differentiation for AMD, and the delivery of the best APU on the market every year.

Below are our client roadmaps for 2011 and 2012. To summarize, here’s what’s new for 2012:

  • We’ll bring our “Bulldozer” CPU cores into  APUs with “Trinity,” targeted for both the mainstream and performance notebook markets. We will also offer a “Trinity” APU for mainstream desktop;
  • For the essential, netbook and tablet markets we introduce our “Krishna” and “Wichita” APUs with enhanced “Bobcat” CPU cores. These will be our first APUs based on 28nm process technology. “Krishna” APUs are scheduled to be available for small form-factor and all-in-One (AIO) desktop platforms in 2012;
  • Also in 2012, we plan to continue offering high-performance desktop CPUs for the enthusiast market with the “Bulldozer” core-based “Komodo” CPU.

AMD Fusion™ Family of APUs Technology Overview: Enabling a Superior, Immersive PC Experience [May 4, 2010]

At the most basic level, AMD’s new Accelerated Processing Units combine general-purpose x86 CPU cores with programmable vector processing engines on a single silicon die. AMD’s APUs also include a variety of critical system elements, including memory controllers, I/O controllers, specialized video decoders, display outputs, and bus interfaces, but real appeal of these chips stems from the inclusion of both scalar and vector hardware as full-fledged processing elements.

Others have lashed a CPU and a basic graphics unit together in a single package, but none have attempted this feat with truly programmable GPUs like those in the AMD Fusion designs, let alone GPUs that can be programmed using high-level industry-standard tools like DirectCompute and OpenCL.

AMD is best situated to address this engineering challenge, as it is currently the only company which has access to extensive IP resources (e.g. patents and engineering expertise) in both x86 processor technology and industry-leading GPU technology. In fact, AMD’s recognition that it needed proven GPU technology for future converged products drove its 2006 acquisition of ATI Technologies.

Will 2011 Be a Breakthrough Year for Parallel Computing? [Dec 22, 2010] (emphasis is mine)

With power consumption of computers a major concern, parallel computing has become the dominant paradigm in computer architecture with many low power cores displacing the traditional approach of frequency scaling. And we are now entering the world of heterogeneous computing as we introduce AMD APU processor technology, where CPU and GPU cores live on the same piece of silicon.

If you are a software programmer these changes can be overwhelming.  You can’t necessarily make these transitions on your own.  A recent report published by the National Research Council provides a sobering look at the problem, and points out that many sectors of the U.S. economy could stall unless the nation aggressively pursues fundamental research and development of parallel computing.

AMD is doing its part to help the Information Technology sector address this issue. We have a community of world class software engineers focused on driving:

Fusion Family of APU News
A Brief History of General Purpose (GPGPU) Computing

ATI Stream Technology

GPU and CPU Technology for Accelerated Computing

ATI Stream technology is a set of advanced hardware and software technologies that enable AMD graphics processors (GPUs), working in concert with the system’s central processors (CPUs), to accelerate enabled applications beyond traditional graphics and video processing. This enables balanced platforms to run computationally-intensive tasks more efficiently, providing a better application experience to the end user.

Along with leading third party industry partners and academic institutions worldwide, AMD is building a complete ATI Stream computing ecosystem, one that delivers the performance, applications, software and tools necessary to turn AMD’s low-cost application acceleration vision into reality.

Characteristics of GPU acceleration:

  • Enable new applications on new architectures
  • Parallel problems other than graphics that map well on GPU architecture
  • Transition from fixed function to programmable pipelines
  • Various proof points in research and industry under the name GPGPU

ATI Stream Computing FAQ

Q: What is stream computing?

A: Stream computing (or stream processing) refers to a class of compute problems, applications or tasks that can be broken down into parallel, identical operations and run simultaneously on a single processor device. These parallel data streams entering the processor device, computations taking place and the output from the device define stream computing.

Today, stream computing is primarily the realm of the graphics processor unit (GPU) where the parallel processes used to produce graphics imagery are used instead to perform arithmetic calculations.

Characteristics of stream computing:
* Enable new applications on new architectures
* Parallel problems other than graphics that map well on GPU architecture
* Transition from fixed function to programmable pipelines
* Various proof points in research and industry under the name GPGPU


Q: How does stream computing differ from computation on the CPU?

A: Stream computing takes advantage of a SIMD methodology (single instruction, multiple data) whereas a CPU is a modified SISD methodology (single instruction, single data); modifications taking various parallelism techniques into account.

The benefit of stream computing stems from the highly parallel architecture of the GPU whereby tens to hundreds of parallel operations are performed with each clock cycle whereas the CPU can at best work only a small handful of parallel operations per clock cycle.


Q: Which applications are best suited to Stream Computing?

A: Applications best suited to stream computing possess two fundamental characteristics:

1. A high degree of arithmetic computation per system memory fetch
2. Computational independence – arithmetic occurs on each processing unit without needing to be checked or verified by or with arithmetic occurring on any other processing unit.

Examples include:
* Engineering – fluid dynamics
* Mathematics – linear equations, matrix calculations
* Simulations – Monte Carlo, molecular modeling, etc.
* Financial – options pricing
* Biological – protein structure calculations
* Imaging – medical image processing

CPU Performance: Better than Atom, 90% of K8 but Slower than Pentium DC [Nov 16, 2010] (emphasis is mine)

AMD’s performance target for Bobcat was 90% of the performance of K8 at the same clock speed and our Photoshop CS4 benchmark shows that AMD can definitely say that it has met that goal. At 1.6GHz the E-350 manages to outperform a pair of K8s running at 1.5GHz in the Athlon X2 3250e [delivered as the most “energy efficient” K8 in Q4 2008 with 22 W TDP in  a 65 nm process]. Unfortunately for AMD, Intel’s Pentium dual-core running at 2.2GHz is much quicker. Most notebooks in the $400+ range have at least a 2.2GHz Pentium. Even the Atom D510 isn’t far behind.

AMD tells me that in general purpose integer tasks, the E-350 should do well and it may even exceed AMD’s 90% design target. However in higher IPC workloads, for example many floating point workloads, the E-350 is constrained by its dual issue front end. In these situations, the out of order engine is starved for instructions and much of Bobcat’s advantage goes away.

Desktop IGP Comparison: Faster than Clarkdale [Nov 16, 2010] (emphasis is mine)

For the desktop section I compared the E-350 to the latest Clarkdale chips [the best GPU performing Intel Core i5 661 with $196 1Ku boxed pricing and entry level Core i5 530 with $113 1Ku boxed pricing all launched on Jan 7, 2010 as the first 32 nm processors with Intel’s new HD Graphics integrated on the same die], AMD’s own 890GX and a discrete Radeon HD 5450 graphics card. While the Radeon HD 5450 has the same number of shader processors as the E-350 (80), they run faster and it has a dedicated 1.6GHz memory bus to feed it. The E-350 has to share memory bandwidth between the two Bobcat cores and the 80 SPs, severely limiting its performance potential.

The E-350 does extremely well compared to its desktop brethren. In our Modern Warfare 2 and BioShock tests its easily faster than the Core i3/i5 and in the case of BioShock 2 it’s even faster than AMD’s 890GX. Dragon Age Origins is another story however as the benchmark is primarily CPU limited, giving the desktop parts a huge advantage. In GPU bound scenarios, it’s clear that our initial Zacate benchmarking was accurate: the E-350’s Radeon HD 6310 is quicker than Intel’s HD Graphics.

Compared to the Radeon HD 5450 the 6310 offers between 66 – 69% of its performance in our GPU bound tests. The performance reduction is entirely due to the 6310’s limited memory bandwidth being shared with the dual Bobcat cores on-die.

AMD Space Game HTML5 demo in IE9: AMD E-350 Fusion APU runs more than 10 Frames per second faster than Intel i5 520M with HD Graphic

See theAMD “Zacate” APU Will Accelerate HTML5 Games in Internet Explorer 9 demo video (YouTube).

CES 2011: Using a browser to demonstrate the power of hardware [Jan 14]

AMD announced their new Fusion line of Accelerated Processing Units (or APUs) as we detailed in another post (check out the small size of the chip in the video!). At CES, Gabe Gravning from the AMD team walked us through how they used IE9 in their booth to demonstrate the power of Fusion.

In the latest in our series from CES 2011, Gabe Gravning from AMD takes us through two demos they used to showcase their new Fusion line of APUs (Accelerated Processing Units). The demos highlight the great performance Internet Explorer 9 beta delivers through its full hardware acceleration, using both the dual core CPU and integrated GPU on the Fusion chips.

Nvidia showed off some impressive graphics power at their booth as well. Besides showing some incredible 3-D gaming, and their one-of-a-kind “keg-puter”, Nvidia used IE9 to show off some of their new graphics chips. Dave Ragones from the Nvidia team gave us a demo.

In this video from CES 2011, we talked with Dave Ragones, director of product marketing at Nvidia, about the reasons they use IE9 to show off the power of some of their new graphics chips, the GForce 500-M series.

NVIDIA GeForce 500M Series GPUs Power Top Notebooks of 2011 [press release, Jan 4] (emphasis is mine)

NVIDIA today announced the GeForce® 500M series of notebook graphics processing units (GPUs), designed to power laptops featuring next-generation Intel Core CPUs (Sandy Bridge).

The new GPUs being introduced today include:

  • For performance users: GeForce GT 540M, GeForce GT 550M, and GeForce GT 555M with over four times the performance of integrated graphics and twice the DirectX 11 performance of the competition.
  • For mainstream users: GeForce GT 520M and GeForce GT 525M offering over twice the performance of integrated graphics.

New GeForce 500M Series GPUs Power Top Notebooks of 2011 [Jan 5] (emphasis is mine)

Today at CES, we announced our new lineup of GeForce 500M Series notebook GPUs that will be featured in the top notebooks of 2011 from your favorite OEMs including Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and more.

If you’re planning on buying a new notebook in 2011, look for one packing a GeForce GPU, which will deliver:

  • NVIDIA Optimus Technology: Optimus transparently switches between high-performance GeForce graphics and battery-sipping integrated graphics depending on the application.  With Optimus, you get the best of both worlds: great graphics performance with GeForce GPUs and great CPU performance, without sacrificing battery life.
  • Great GPU Performance: Whatever your performance demands, GeForce GPUs deliver.  From the new GeForce GT 520M with 2X the performance of integrated graphics (aka “Sandy Bridge”), GeForce GT 540M with 4X performance, to GeForce GTX GPUs for the best experience on the latest DX11 gaming titles.
  • Best HD Video, High-Res Photo, Web, and 3D experience: Beyond gaming, choose GeForce to accelerate your digital life.  Whether you’re editing HD videos or high-res photos, accelerating new HTML5 websites, or watching your favorite Blu-Ray 3D title, GeForce  GPUs add a powerful second processor to your notebook for media rich tasks.

In our booth (Las Vegas Convention Center, South Hall 3, Booth # 31431), we are showcasing a number of top notebooks from leading OEMs including:

  • Acer Aspire 4750G with GeForce GT 540M
  • Asus N53SV notebook with GeForce GT 540M
  • Dell XPS 17 3DVision notebook with GeForce GT 555M
  • Lenovo IdeaPad Y470 with GeForce GT 550M
  • And more…

Browser + hardware working together to deliver a richer web [Jan 4]

Today AMD launched Fusion, their new family of Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) – combination CPU/GPU chips used to power the PC, and they are using Internet Explorer 9 to showcase their new hardware innovation. So what does the launch of Fusion have to do with web browsing and how are they using Internet Explorer 9 to demonstrate this new innovation in hardware? We sat down to talk with John Taylor, Director of Client Product Marketing for AMD to find out.

Increasingly web applications today are becoming more interactive, graphically rich and video intensive. Most browsers today don’t take advantage of the modern hardware that comes in today’s PCs like multicore central processing units (CPU) or graphic processor units (GPU). Internet Explorer 9 uses the full power of the PC to deliver hardware accelerated video, text and graphics to bring you web experiences that are richer and more immersive.

In efforts complimentary to our approach in the browser, AMD’s Fusion chip integrates the CPU and GPU into a single chip that they call an accelerated processor unit or APU. By combining the two, AMD is able to deliver better performance for things like video and graphics on the web, in addition to decreased power consumption resulting in longer battery life. The new Fusion chips will be launched in a broad range of PCs from high-end desktops to ultra-mobile netbooks, some of which we’ll be using to demo Internet Explorer 9 this week at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. And AMD created a set of rich web applications to showcase the graphic performance capability of Fusion through Internet Explorer 9.

We are thrilled to see this complimentary hardware innovation and even more thrilled to see AMD using Internet Explorer 9 to showcase the performance of AMD Fusion. Just seven months ago it’s unlikely you would have seen a hardware manufacturer use a browser to demonstrate a chip’s performance – the web has evolved!

Software and Hardware Ecosystem to Unleash the Power of AMD Fusion Technology [Jan 4]

“Personal computing is undergoing a significant evolution, fueled by the explosion of digital and multimedia content to enable a truly immersive web experience,” said Tami Reller, corporate vice president of Windows marketing, Microsoft. “We think the work AMD has done with Fusion to combine x86 CPU architecture and discrete-level graphics performance creates opportunities for Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 9 to deliver real-world customer benefits including accelerated browsing, HD video and 3D gaming.”

Graphics Acceleration is not just for Games Anymore [June 24, 2010]

This week in San Francisco, Microsoft released the Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) Platform Preview 3.  IE9 is revolutionary in that it will use the graphics processor to assist in the number # 1 activity of all computer users – surfing the web.

As 3D games for the PC continued to use Microsoft’s DirectX, APIs, hardware and games evolved in realism and complexity.  The current generation of DirectX is DirectX 11 (DX11).  AMD is the only company that currently offers a DX11 top-to-bottom stack of GPUs and in the near future, DX11 Accelerated Processing Units (APUs). DirectX features many different companies and the relevant graphics component is called Direct3D (D3D).  D3D is almost exclusively used for 3D Graphics for gaming today.

Here is where the divergence really happened…

As 3D games continued to push the envelope on the DirectX and the GPUs, mundane graphics tasks such as rendering the Windows desktop continued to use the CPU.  Applications like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel used the CPU to render text, lines, shapes and other graphics through a CPU based API called Graphics Device Interface (GDI).

One of the many reasons that simple graphics most often used the CPU and GDI for graphics was that it was a very simple API to use and the graphics load wasn’t anywhere near intensive as a 3D game.  As web surfing evolved, it followed in the tradition of CPU + GDI, utilizing an API that essentially remained unchanged since its definition in the 1980s.

Recognition of the 3D Power…

Smart people at Microsoft and other companies started realizing that the graphics power of the GPU can be used in applications beyond 3D Gaming.  As we saw with Windows Vista, the introduction of a 3D desktop with Aero Glass led to the use of the GPU for things like alpha-blending.

While Windows Vista did away with GDI, the revolution really happened with Windows 7.  Windows 7 introduced a new API called Direct2D (D2D).  D2D is essentially a wrapper around D3D.  With D2D, any application can call on the GPU to accelerate the rendering of things like lines, curves, text, graphics and any graphics primitives. The effect of using a GPU means potentially orders of magnitude improvement in performance over the antiquated CPU + GDI.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 is one of the first applications to use D2D.  The net result is a much faster rendering of webpages and graphics.  With IE9, the GPU is used extensively to accelerate the number 1 use of PCs today, web surfing.

Cynics may argue that there is no perceivable difference between CPU and GPU based rendering on webpages today.  However this is extremely myopic.  Today, webpages are designed for the “least common denominator,” with simple graphics to ensure that all end users have a good experience with load and render times.  In short, webpage graphics today are arcane and primitive versus modern 3D video graphics—by design.

As both GPU power and a great new API in D2D become available, web designers can be expected to  greatly improve the end users’ visual experience by harvesting this power and designing much richer and complex webpages.  History proves this to be true.  As we saw with 3D Gaming in the 1990s, once a common API was established, the complexity and realism of 3D gaming greatly improved in a very short period of time.

At AMD we are very excited about D2D and applications like Microsoft’s IE9.  We are excited because end users have an opportunity to use our GPU and AMD Fusion APUs in support of fantastic new APIs to greatly accelerate their web surfing experience.   Look for more updates from us on this area in the future.

Part the Clouds II: Cloudy with a chance of High Definition [Sept 27, 2010] (emphasis is mine)

On Sept. 13th I posted “Part the Clouds: AMD Fusion APUs Ideal for Cloud Clients.” I asserted that AMD Fusion APUs codenamed “Zacate” and “Ontario” are poised to be ideal cloud computing client platforms.  Today, I’d like to delve a little more into why, breaking my point of view into four main categories: Browsing, Video, Gaming and Internet Applications.

Browsing

Today consumers increasingly expect HD content, web pages and internet apps with rich media and interactivity. With those trends in mind, it makes sense that today’s lighter weight PCs are starting to struggle a bit with web browsing.  HD media and web browsing are outstripping the horsepower that traditional CPU cores in netbooks and thin and light notebooks can offer.

… “Zacate” is engineered to provide an even richer, faster internet experience to mainstream clients and ultrathins, while “Ontario” is designed to bring this experience to netbooks and ultra-small form factors.

Video

… The continued march towards ubiquity of Internet video, along with the shift to HD, has put the hardware industry in jeopardy of revisiting those early days of internet video when the experience was reliably unreliable. Today’s lighter-weight machines struggle with online video – think Hulu HD and similar services – and some consumer devices forgo the chore of processing whole categories of video on the Internet. Even more powerful mainstream machines aren’t quite ready for the next phase of the video revolution: very fast “coding”, enhancing the quality of non-HD video, and real time analytics.

Gaming

Did you know that 3 in 4 teens and 1 in 3 adults play computer-based games? If you didn’t know that stat, surely you’ve seen your Facebook newsfeed filled with updates from Farmville, Mafia Wars and other social games, or heard the buzz about new streaming gaming services like OnLive.  It all points to the fact that PC gaming isn’t going away due to the popularity of consoles; it’s evolving and becoming more popular than ever. And while many of these games aren’t nearly as taxing as the latest titles like Battlefield Bad Company 2, they are increasingly sophisticated and graphically intense, even if being played in the browser.

An easy way to help reduce the strain these games cause PCs is to write software utilizing the latest standards, and build hardware that can accelerate the experience through those standards, which effectively “removes middleware” from the equation. Our 2011 AMD Fusion APUs are designed to be ideal for online gaming, because they are engineered to support the latest in graphics and GPU compute standards, including DirectX 11, Direct 2D and DirectCompute. “Zacate” has been designed to enable both a good traditional PC gaming and online gaming experience, and the even lower-power “Ontario” was designed as an ideal platform for these emerging online gaming usage models.

Applications

Finally, the most interesting reason that “Ontario” and “Zacate” will be great for emerging cloud computing usage models: rich media application-like experiences are winning. The iPhone and Android have taught millions of consumers to expect application-like experiences when using the internet.  Until now, these types of experiences weren’t easily replicated – or exceeded — within the PC browser.

But in the last couple years, there’s been an avalanche of innovation in this space.  “Tear off” applications like Tweet Deck, which take internet browser experiences and turn them into stand-alone applications, have taken off, and browsers haven’t stood still, with all of them offering their own levels of interactivity.  A great example is the recent interactive music video for Arcade Fire’s new single “We Used to Wait”. (Note: you need to be using the Chrome browser to experience this).

With more and more consumers downloading millions of these applications on a daily basis, internet apps are only going to continue to evolve and become more innovative and resource intensive than ever. With the increased processing power that “Ontario” and “Zacate” offer to netbooks, ultrathins and mainstream clients, respectively, AMD-powered PCs are incredibly well positioned to help consumers enjoy these new application-like experiences with excellent battery life and visual quality.

AMD Launches AMD Fusion Family of APU Processors at CES [Jan 4]

This week at CES, AMD is launching their AMD Fusion family of Accelerated Processing Units (APUs). What’s an APU? An APU is the combination of the CPU and GPU into a single die. What AMD has done with their Fusion family of APU processors is to combine multi-core CPU (x86) technology with discrete-level graphics.

fusion_apu_scan

Update: The above image is a scan of a AMD CPU (top), a  mobile laptop CPU (middle) and a AMD Fusion APU (bottom) compared to a U.S. Quarter.

The graphics side of the Fusion APU is powered with what AMD is calling the VISION Engine. The VISION Engine consists of DirectX 11 capable graphics capabilities, a UVD3 video acceleration block (like the one found in the new AMD Radeon HD 6800 Series GPUs) for native mpeg-4, mpeg-2, h264, DivX decoding, and parallel processing designed to help speed up application performance. A PC with an AMD Fusion APU can take full advantage of hardware-accelerated web browsing with Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7.

AMD Fusion APUs also come with AMD’s AllDay Power feature for about 10 hours (or more) of battery life. Fusion APUs are also virtualization-capable as well.

The 2011 low-power AMD Fusion APU platform (codenamed “Brazos”), designed for everyday computing for PCs like netbooks and other small form factor PCs, will come in 2 flavors: the E-Series and C-Series. These APUs come with AMD’s new x86 CPU core codenamed “Bobcat”. Later in 2011, the A-Series will hit designed for mainstream laptops and desktop PCs (codenamed “Llano”) which will have up to 4 x86 cores.

At CES, AMD expects many of the major PC OEMs to announce PCs with AMD Fusion APUs. Ben Rudolph will be stopping by to visit AMD to check out Fusion first-hand later this week. Ben will be behind-the-scenes at CES all week this week.

For more information on the AMD Fusion family of APUs, click here. You can also check out their press release here and quotes from their partners here.

Canadian Contributions Power Revolutionary AMD Fusion Processors [Jan 13] (emphasis is mine)

Today at the Ontario Science Centre, AMD (NYSE: AMD) celebrated the launch of a new class of accelerated processor that combines more compute capabilities than any processor in the history of computing. Featuring major technology contributions from AMD’s Markham, Ontario R&D facility, the AMD Fusion Family of Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) incorporate multi-core CPU (x86) technology, and a powerful DirectX(R) 11-capable graphics and parallel processing engine within the design.

AMD Fusion APU-based Systems

— The AMD Fusion chip delivers an unprecedented experience starting with thin and light notebooks, as well as small form factor desktops: stutter-free HD video playback, breakthroughs in computational horsepower to handle the most demanding applications(ii), and all-day battery life(iii).

— New desktop, notebook and HD netbooks based on AMD Fusion processors are now available at affordable price points from Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, MSI, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.

Tablets and embedded designs based on AMD Fusion APUs are expected be available later in Q1 2011.

(ii) Based on performance per watt comparisons between AMD Fusion APUs and the AMD Athlon(TM) II P320 CPU combined with the AMD Mobility Radeon(TM) HD 4250 GPU. In testing conducted by AMD performance labs, AMD Fusion APUs demonstrated the following: A-Series — up to approximately 500 GFLOPS; E-Series/C-Series — up to approximately 90 GFLOPS at 18/9 W. In comparison, the AMD Athlon(TM) II P320 CPU and AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4250 GPU deliver a combined total of 74 GLOPS at 38 W.

(iii) In testing conducted by AMD performance labs the 2011 Low Power platform reference design “Zacate” E-350 demonstrated up to 658 minutes or 10.96 hours “all-day” battery life while idle and up to 258 minutes or 4.34 hours as an “active” metric using 3DMark ’06. The reference design consisted of an AMD Dual-Core Processor E-350, 1.6Ghz 2C, 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1066 system memory 11.6″ display @ 1366×768, Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit, 62Whr Li-Ion battery. The 2011 AMD C-50 Dual-Core Accelerated Processor demonstrated up to 735 minutes or 12.15 hours “all-day” battery life while idle and up to 378 minutes or 6.18 hours as an “active” metric using 3DMark ’06. The reference design consisted of a an AMD Dual-Core processor C-50 1.0Ghz 9W, 2GB (1x2GB) DDR3-1066 system memory, AMD Radeon(TM) HD 6250 Graphics with 10.1″ @ 1024×600, 6-cell Li-Ion, 62.2 Whr battery. LED Backlight Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. All testing performed using a 6-cell Li-Ion, 62.2 Whr battery. AMD defines “all day” battery life as 8+ hours of idle time.

AMD Fusion APU Era Begins [Jan 4, AMD press release]

New generations of desktop, notebook and HD netbooks are now available based on AMD Fusion APUs at affordable price points. Tablets and embedded designs based on AMD Fusion APUs are expected be available later in Q1 2011. The new range of products features include stutter-free HD video playback, breakthroughs in computational horsepower to handle the most demanding applications2,  DirectX 11-capable graphics and all-day battery life.1

AMD expects leading manufacturers Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, MSI, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba to announce plans to deliver AMD Fusion APU-based systems at very compelling value and mainstream price points.

HD 2.0 Everywhere

High definition (HD) content is ubiquitous today. From YouTube videos to DirectX 11 games to Blu-ray, the world is tapping into various ways to enjoy this content with the computer serving as the hub. And thanks to the VISION Engine from AMD, a set of capabilities unique to all AMD Fusion APU-powered PCs, the visual side of computing never looked more vivid and realistic. The VISION Engine is an unmatched combination of:

  • DirectX 11-capable graphics
  • Massive parallel processing to speed application performance3
  • The UVD3 video acceleration block found in the new AMD Radeon™ HD 6800 Series GPUs
  • Unique graphics driver capabilities updated on a monthly basis to continuously improve visual performance

Selecting a PC equipped with the VISION Engine and software from AMD partners means Internet browsing is a faster, application-like experience; 1080p HD video playback is gorgeous, smooth and quiet; standard definition video looks high-definition; 2D content can be converted into stereoscopic 3D; even the most graphics-intensive websites load quickly; manipulating HD content is fast and easy; and 3D gaming at HD resolutions is fast and life-like.4

Personal Supercomputing

Much of a computing experience is linked to software and, until now, software developers have been held back by the independent nature in which CPUs and GPUs process information. However, AMD Fusion APUs remove this obstacle and allow developers to take full advantage of the parallel processing power of a GPU – more than 500 GFLOPs for the upcoming A-Series “Llano” APU  – thus bringing supercomputer-like performance to every day computing tasks. More applications can run simultaneously and they can do so faster than previous designs in the same class.2

AMD AllDay™ Power

Additionally, AMD Fusion technology enables all-day battery life – 10 hours or more.1 The new power-saving features present in the single-chip design greatly extend the time between plug-ins, even when enjoying HD content.

AMD Accelerated Processors for Ultrathin Notebook PCs, Product Specs:
– E350 and  E240 (former codename: “Zacate”) with 18W TDP, designed for mainstream notebooks, All-in-Ones, and small form factor desktops
– C50 and C30 (former codename: “Ontario”) with 9W TDP, designed for HD netbooks and other emerging form factors
– each with 80 Radeon shader cores on die

AMD Accelerated Processors for All-In-One Desktop PCs, Features and Benefits: currently only the E-350

Entertainment

Enjoy and share full HD content effortlessly

  • Smooth and vivid HD video playback
  • Quick Web browsing and media playback1
  • Super-sharp photos and crystal-clear images
  • Good everyday gaming experiences

1In testing conducted by AMD Performance Labs, the AMD Fusion Processor E-350 showed up to 3 times faster performance, with hardware acceleration on, Microsoft Internet Explorer 9. (29 FPS vs 7) and Firefox 4 using Direct X 9 and Direct2D as compared to hardware acceleration off.

AMD Meetings: APUs Make a Big Splash [AnandTech, Jan 7] (emphasis is mine)

We also had a visit with AMD at their meeting rooms, which were filled with product demonstrations. Brazos laptops and netbooks occupied a large area just inside the door—we counted at least 20 different laptops of varying sizes and capabilities. The vast majority of there were running an AMD APU, in this case Brazos. There were 10” E-350 netbooks, 11.6” E350 ultraportables, and even 14” to 15.6” solutions all using the power friendly APU. A few of the systems also had K10.5 CPUs with the new 6000M GPUs (we’ll get to those next). Browsing around the show floor, though, Brazos looks to be making some real waves, providing a compelling alternative to Atom in the sub-$500 netbook market. In the next couple of months, we should see a lot of Brazos systems, from small nettop/desktop systems to netbooks… and yes, tablets as well. AMD reports battery life of up to 12 hours on some of their test netbooks; the reason they’re able to get such long battery life is pretty simple:

Intel’s Atom is a fairly tiny chip, but even though it manages to sip power, it’s not a very attractive performer. Brazos is even smaller than Atom, in part thanks to the use of 40nm (Brazos) vs. 45nm (Atom), and while raw CPU performance may not be that much higher than the current Atom options, the DX11 GPU is an order of magnitude more powerful than the GMA 3150 found in Pine Trail. AMD mentioned at one point that the Brazos APU is rated at up to 90GFLOPS of compute performance; to put that in perspective, the new quad-core Sandy Bridge CPU (no word on the GPU in SNB) provides a similar 87GLOPS of compute potential. GFLOPS isn’t the most useful of measurements, but it does help to put things in perspective: similar compute potential in a package that has an 18W TDP (E-350), where i7-2600K is specced at 95W.

AMD is aiming the new E-series Zacate parts at Intel’s P6000 processor, while the C-series is gunning for Atom.

… Sadly, not a single netbook or laptop stands out as being clearly superior to anything else out there. Performance looks good, aesthetics vary from okay to great depending on your point of view, but the LCDs are all same-old, same-old. It would be awesome to see ASUS or HP or some other manufacturer step up to the plate and deliver a Zacate ultraportable with a beautiful screen—you know, like the IPS stuff they’re putting into $400 tablets? After all, the APU is now able to provide all the multimedia prowess you could ask for; why not give us a display that can make the content shine?

AMD promises all day battery life with Fusion chips [Jan 4] (emphasis is mine)

Bob Grim, director of AMD product marketing told TechEye: “What’s really different is that for the first time there is a product that brings both X86 and 3D graphics together on a die. “

Semiconductor companies normally bring in CPUs at the high end and normally they fall in price over a period of time.  AMD is bringing Zacate and Ontario for the volume market for machines between $200 and $500. Ontario will be between $200-$300, Zacate $399-$499. Perhaps this is because the Llano chip, manufactured by GlobalFoundries, was delayed somewhat.

Application developers can code their apps to OpenCL and optimise code to get the best out of the hardware, said Grim.

When the Llano (A-Series) comes out, it will deliver 500 GFLOPs. AMD claims that’s 33 times more than a single CPU had two years ago. The  Intel P6000 only provides 6h24m, while AMD’s  E-350 will give 10h40m of battery life.  Ontario, the C-Series, will give over 12 hours of battery life – that’s a resting battery life number. It has a 60 percent better performance than the Intel Atom CPU, AMD claims.

AMD will hold its first software developer summit on June 14-16, 2011 – in Bellevue WA, said Grim.

Xbox and Surface 2 additional information

Xbox Momentum Rolls On: Xbox, Kinect Help Microsoft Connect with Consumers [Jan 6]

The sales figures released at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show made it official: Kinect has connected with consumers.

Over the past two months consumers have snatched up Kinect almost as quickly as retailers have stocked the shelves, according to sales figures Microsoft reported Wednesday at 2011 CES. Since its release on Nov. 4, more than eight million Kinect sensors have been sold. That figure easily outdistances the five million unit forecast the company had predicted to sell during the sensor’s first 60 days.

Kinect for Xbox 360 was a big hit with consumers over the 2010 holiday season, with eight million sensors sold over a 60-day period.

Kinect for Xbox 360 was a big hit with consumers over the 2010 holiday season, with eight million sensors sold over a 60-day period.

The wild ride to close out 2010 capped the “biggest year ever” for Xbox, said David Dennis, group public relations manager for Xbox. Over the holiday season, console sales for the Xbox 360 hit 50 million. It also was the No. 1-selling console in North America over the past six months. Meanwhile, the Xbox LIVE community continued to grow strongly overall in 2010, adding a new member every two seconds. Xbox LIVE now has more than 30 million active members.

Dennis said the announcements made at CES, including new Kinect-enabled entertainment experiences and new Xbox LIVE gaming titles, signal that the momentum behind Xbox should continue through 2011.

“It used to be you would go buy this piece of plastic and put it under your TV, and five years later it’s the exact same thing that you bought at the store,” he said. “I think Microsoft has shown the ability to innovate and bring new experiences like Kinect as well as Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN, all leveraging Xbox LIVE, to continue to reinvent what you think of as the Xbox. You turn it on, and we continue to update it, keep it fresh, and bring new features.”

Kinect Transforms Entertainment in the Living Room

Kinect is a prime example of how natural user interface (NUI) is transforming gaming by making it more social and approachable than anyone ever thought was possible, but it’s just the beginning, Dennis said. Several CES announcements showed how Microsoft will take Kinect’s controller-free experience beyond gaming and into entertainment throughout the year. This spring, for example, Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers will be able to use Kinect to control Netflix on Xbox LIVE. Viewers will be able to pause, rewind, and fast-forward streaming movies with only their voice or gestures.

The company also announced that Hulu Plus will be coming to Xbox LIVE as a Kinect-enabled experience this spring. As with Netflix, subscribers will be able to use controller-free motion and voice capabilities to instantly watch full-screen popular TV shows anytime in HD.

Also at CES, the Xbox team introduced a new social experience called Avatar Kinect that will use Kinect’s camera and sensor to bring a player’s avatar to life. It leverages Kinect’s facial recognition technology to let a person control their avatar’s movements and expressions; when they smile, frown, nod and speak, the avatar will do the same, Dennis said.

With Avatar Kinect, a player can invite up to seven friends to join them in one of 15 imaginative virtual environments. One of those worlds is a performance stage, where friends can record their performance and share with friends.

New Gaming Experiences Span Platforms

Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB) team’s focus at CES wasn’t limited to Kinect. It also highlighted its ongoing efforts at developing a strong portfolio of games across all its platforms, including the PC and Windows Phone 7.

Avatar Kinect uses Kinect’s camera and sensor to bring a player’s avatar to life. With Avatar Kinect, a player can invite up to seven friends to join them in one of 15 imaginative virtual environments, including a stage or a tailgate party.

More about games for Xbox and Windows Phone 7.

CES 2011 Press Kits – Xbox.com — Xbox, 2010 Year in Review; Kinect Entertainment Experiences; Kinect; Kinect for Xbox 360 Games; Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE Arcade Games; Xbox 360 Games for Windows; Windows Mobile Games

Microsoft and Samsung Unveil the Next Generation of Surface [Jan 6]
Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface uses new technology that gives large displays the power to see.

At the 2011 International CES in Las Vegas, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Microsoft Corp. unveiled the next generation of the Microsoft Surface experience featuring PixelSense technology, which gives LCD panels the power to see without the use of cameras. Building from the innovation of the first version of Microsoft Surface and Samsung’s leading display technology, it is now possible for people to share, collaborate and explore together using a large, thin display that recognizes fingers, hands and other objects placed on the screen. This experience will come to life in the Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface for business customers later in 2011 in 23 countries. Dassault Aviation, Fujifilm Corp., Red Bull GmbH, Royal Bank of Canada and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. announced that they will deploy the new product.

“Microsoft continues to innovate in vision-based interaction and software designed for touch. With the introduction of the next generation of Surface, using PixelSense technology, we’ll bring more tables and walls to life with amazing natural experiences for people to enjoy together,” said Panos Panay, general manager, Microsoft Surface. “We partnered with Samsung because of its strengths in LCD technology, hardware design and manufacturing, and worldwide marketing and sales of large-format displays. The companies have built an incredibly successful collaboration that moved from invention to development to manufacturing and sales of a high-quality, industrialized commercial product.”

“Samsung collaborated with Microsoft to bring the Surface experience to a new, thin design with powerful vision-based capabilities in the LCD market. The Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface delivers an interactive experience not available anywhere else and will change the way companies engage with their customers,” said Jeong-Hwan Kim, senior vice president of Display Sales & Marketing team at Samsung Electronics.

Learn more about the next generation of Surface, Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface, featuring new technology that gives LCD panels the power to see without the use of cameras. Samsung SUR40 also features key hardware and software advancements that were largely informed by feedback from users around the world.

Product Details

Samsung SUR40 will bring companies around the world new ways to help drive sales, showcase their brand, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. The product features include these:

PixelSense. PixelSense gives an LCD display the power to recognize fingers, hands and objects placed on the screen, including more than 50 simultaneous touch points. With PixelSense, pixels in the display see what’s touching the screen and that information is immediately processed and interpreted.

Microsoft Surface software. Microsoft Surface software provides business customers with a premier touch-first experience for their end users, built on the principles of direct interaction and together computing, with a new look and feel. It also allows commercial application developers to use a new version of the Microsoft Surface SDK and familiar Microsoft development tools to take full advantage of the massive multitouch and object recognition capabilities of PixelSense and deliver experiences not possible on any other platform.

Designed for commercial environments. The product is designed to meet the challenges of active usage in demanding locations such as retail, hospitality and education.

Thin form factor with multiple configuration options. The product is four inches thin, which makes it easy to use horizontally, hang vertically with the VESA mount, or embed in walls or custom enclosures. Standard legs are available or customers can design and attach their own.

Forty-inch full high-definition (HD) 1080p screen. The 40-inch screen enables unparalleled multi-user experiences in full HD 1080p, with a 16:9 aspect ratio and 1920×1080 resolution.

Powerful embedded system. The product uses the embedded AMD Athlon™ II X2 Dual-Core Processor 2.9GHz paired with the AMD Radeon HD 6700M Series GPU featuring DirectX 11 support to deliver significant processing horsepower and outstanding graphics capability.

Pricing and Availability

The manufacturer’s suggested price for Samsung SUR40 starts at $7,600 (U.S.). Samsung SUR40 will be available later in 2011 in 23 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Video: The New Microsoft Surface Experience
The brand new Microsoft Surface Website just launched
The Microsoft Surface Blog
Product Datasheet
Surface on Twitter
Surface on Facebook

Windows Embedded Standard 7: the first wave of OEM partners exploiting the included Windows Media Center

Microsoft Showcases OEM Partners Shipping Connected Media Devices at CES [Jan 6] (emphasis is mine)

At the show, Windows Embedded will use a walk-through “connected living room” environment to feature innovative products from several of its global partners including Haier, Reycom, Prime Time, Acer Gateway and Evolve. These devices work with Microsoft technology such as Windows Phone 7 and Windows Home Server to create a media experience that delivers more than the sum of its parts. By using connected media devices built on Microsoft products together, consumers will be able to merge multimedia content from various sources and locations such as the Internet and broadcast TV, social media portals, and personal libraries of photos, music and videos. All of this content comes together in a centralized entertainment hub that’s accessible by other Windows powered devices throughout the networked home.

Evolve Media, a custom media server manufacturer from the United Kingdom, is announcing all-new embedded software media servers designed for integration into the connected home. The new software platform, dubbed “PRIME,” brings Windows Embedded Standard 7 technologies to Evolve’s award-winning “life” range of products, including the lifeStation, the lifeStream, the lifeStream Mini and the lifeStore home server.

Reycom is presenting the REC®100, its next-generation hybrid set-top box based on Windows Embedded Standard 7 using high-performance components from Intel® and NVIDIA®. Users can enjoy live TV in HD with time-shift, and access to the Internet providing a wide range of films, TV shows, gaming, Internet TV, music, and apps such as weather and YouTube.

Much of this content can be stored and played with the REC 100’s integrated hard disk and DVD or Blu-ray player. The REC‘s multiroom features allow users to transfer videos, music and pictures between the REC and their personal computers, home server, and Windows Phone 7 — plus, they can use Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender. The REC can be controlled by the supplied remote control or through a Windows Phone 7 handset. Reycom will launch REC’s U.S. retail version in the first quarter of 2011, followed by dedicated versions for U.S. cable operators and U.S. telecom company operators by mid-2011.

Windows Embedded Fact Sheet [Jan 5]

Windows Embedded Standard 7 brings the technology and rich user experiences of Windows 7 to Enterprise and media centric devices. Its enhanced features and familiar tools help OEMs make the journey from concept to creation faster than ever. Visit www.windowsembedded.com/standard.

CES brings wave of connected media devices thanks to Windows Media Center in Windows Embedded 7 [Jan 13] (emphasis is mine)

Most consumers may not know what Windows Embedded is, although many of you have interacted with it somewhere along the line. Windows Embedded is a componentized version of the OS that we offer to manufacturers who can then optimize it for use in specialized devices. It runs everything from automotive systems to retail point of sale machines, digital signage and industrial equipment.

So last April, when it was announced that the latest version – Window Embedded Standard 7 – included the Windows Media Center feature, not too many consumers took notice. Over on TheGreenButton.com, however, our enthusiast community certainly did.

With Windows Media Center as a key feature of Windows Embedded, manufacturers can now design set-top boxes and other fit-for-purpose devices that provide the Windows Media Center experience directly out of the box. A product like that has the potential to bring all sorts of content together into one crisp, living room friendly experience. For consumers this means that with one box, you can access Internet-based content, social media, broadcast TV, as well your own pictures, music and movies, but without the set-up, planning and system building that has marked Windows Media Center adoption to date.

Sure enough, last week at CES we saw the first wave of such products from the likes of Haier, Reycom, Prime Time, Acer Gateway and Evolve, all of whom are using WES7 to do innovative things with connected media devices and set-top boxes, creating a centralized hub for your entertainment experiences.

The first box we can anticipate seeing in the US may well come from Swiss company Reycom, which plans to bring its REC 100 set-top box to the US in the first quarter of this year. The unit sports dual ATSC tuners for HD over-the-air TV, and has a BluRay player option. (Pricing and availability details are still being determined.)

06-15reycom_lg

Above: A new set-top box: Reycom’s REC100 is expected to arrive in the US in Q1, 2011.

I was also excited to see the embedded offerings from the UK’s Evolve Media, in part because I had a chance to check out their media servers and take in a presentation by Evolve’s David Simpson on best practices for building a great HTPC this past June at the UK Windows Media Center-Windows Home Server Meet up. Evolve makes absolutely beautiful machines, so I’m excited to see them now working with Embedded.

Haier also piqued enthusiasts’ interest with a TV that has Windows Media Center built in. Michael “Mikinho” Welter, one of our Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVPs, checked it out for Missing Remote.  Missing Remote’s Mike Garcen (also an MVP!)  provided this summary of HTPC-news from CES, here.

A preview of a unit from Acer Gateway got a lot of attention because it was rocking a CableCARD™ tuner from Ceton that supports up to six streams of HD broadcast content. Ian Dixon, another Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP, checked it out on video, here, and got a good look at some other embedded devices, here. Ian’s CES coverage is always must-see, must-read for an enthusiast.

And speaking of CableCARD™, CES was also the first time we saw folks get hands-on with the forthcoming HDHomeRun Prime, a networked CableCARD tuner from Silicondust that supports three streams of channel tuning goodness.

So while many of you may not have heard of Windows Embedded before, the coming year looks to offer some great connected media products for you to check out. One last note for those of you who are aspiring system builders – you can check out the preview version of Windows Embedded 7 SP1, here.

The home theater PC is dead, long live Windows Media Center [Jan 14]

There has been a lot of discussion in the Windows Media Center community about the product’s death. The theory is that Microsoft is throwing in the towel, focusing on the Xbox 360 and intends to let the best DVR software available become stale — or worse, eliminate it from future versions of Windows altogether. After watching the Ballmer keynote at CES last week, it was hard not to get on this train as we all watched the 360, Windows Phone 7, and Windows highlighted on stage. But then something happened when the show floor opened: Windows embedded products were highlighted in private meetings and elsewhere. There was a buzz around Media Center embedded and even a price and ship date; meanwhile, home theater PCs got no love. So after years of trying, it appears that all hopes that HTPCs will ever emerge from their niche status are gone, but the same can not be said for Windows Media Center.

The demise of HTPCs is not for a lack of effort

Microsoft has tried as hard as anyone to make this geek dream come true, with multiple versions of Media Center and money dumped into R&D trying to entice programming providers in the US and the rest of the world to bring their programming to Windows. … the problem is there’s no mainstream market for an HTPC, so realistically-speaking, another few billion dumped into marketing wouldn’t have changed a thing (c.f. Kin). Consumer electronics have to be like an appliance, they just need to work.

Why an embedded Media Center just makes sense

… What’s new is that Microsoft ported its Media Center software to the latest embedded version of Windows and is giving hardware partners the chance to build a DVR without spending all the big bucks on developing software. This means that some entrepreneurial electronics manufacturer can grab off the shelf parts, add in a little of Redmond’s software and deliver a dependable DVR to mainstream America — in theory.

Extenders vs set-top-boxes

Now, this is where things get interesting. Microsoft tried a few times to proxy the PC into the living room via Extenders and suffice to say the attempts all failed pretty miserably — same goes for embedded devices, by the way. Maybe the hardware wasn’t ready, who knows, but what we do know is that two Media Center PCs don’t play well together with DRM’d content and if more than one Media Center in the house has a tuner, things can messy real quick. There have been a few recent changes in the content world that could really impact success here though. …

What does Microsoft, Comcast, Timer Warner Cable, CableLabs, and just about every major movie studio have in common? They are all a member of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem and have vowed their support to UltraViolet. We know that joining a group and actually participating are two different things, but it isn’t out of the question that UltraViolet’s new DRM could be added to the CableLabs spec. This would mean that “each household will be able to create an account for up to six members who can access the household’s UltraViolet Movies, TV… Consumers will also be able to register up to 12 devices.” This new tech won’t be ready until later this year, but it does offer hope that DRM might not always be this bad, some day.

Wrap-up

It’s going to take more than Reycom, Acer / Gateway, and Haier to make this thing take off, but it isn’t hard to let your imagination wonder on where this all could go. It would also be hard to argue that this isn’t Microsoft’s strongest position in the DVR market yet, and while anything could happen, we say long live Media Center with confidence. Who knows, if things go well, all the other previous promising developments for Media Center that never were, might find their way to market too. Then again, we’ve been wrong before.

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14 Comments

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