Having made itself comfortable on home and office PCs around
the globe, Microsoft has now set its sights on mobile entertainment, releasing
its new Portable Media Center software platform.
The PMC software, created to power a burgeoning class of handheld music
and video devices, is already available on one shipping unit, the $499 Creative
Zen Portable Media Center. Devices using it can play audio and video (including
TV shows and movies), and can display still images. Samsung and IRiver have
promised to deliver their own similarly priced PMC units in time for the
holidays. The software is based on Microsoft’s Windows CE 5 mobile operating
system, and offers digital media technologies found in the Windows XP OS and in
XP Media Center Edition.
Microsoft requires that all PMC devices must have a hard-drive capacity
of 20GB (the size of the Zen’s drive) to 40GB; a screen measuring 3.5 to 4
inches diagonally, with a 320 by 240 resolution; enough battery life to play 5
hours of video or 14 hours of audio on a single charge; and a “clean, simple
Via USB 2.0, PMC devices can download media from PCs with any type of
Windows XP. As long as your media files are in a supported format (including
.wmv, .wma, .mp3, and .jpeg), you can transfer them to the units for later
playback. The devices have no wireless capabilities and cannot stream audio or
I downloaded a 3-hour game from Major League Baseball’s site to my PC,
and then in about 4 minutes I transferred it to the Zen (both
provide PMC content). Using the Zen was easy–the interface is like that of
Media Center Edition, and simple to navigate. With a few clicks, I was watching
my game; details were clear even on the smallish screen. At roughly 12 ounces,
the device is twice as heavy as an IPod, but its added features more than make
up for the extra weight.
To coincide with the PMC debut, Microsoft has launched a beta version of
MSN Music store.
Like Apple’s popular ITunes, MSN Music offers single tracks for $1 and albums
for $10. Microsoft also has updated Windows Media Player to version 10, which
sports a revamped interface and a drag-and-drop feature that lets you transfer
content directly to a PMC device. Both Media Player and PMC support the updated
Windows Digital Rights Management technology, formerly code-named Janus, which
lets users play music from a subscription service such as Napster for as long
as the subscription is active–a scheme Microsoft hopes will spread to other
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