Gates to link Zune to Xbox, PCs

Microsoft Corp. plans to extend the wireless capability of its new Zune devices to PCs and the company’s Xbox 360 game console, according to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Zune, Microsoft’s competitor to the iPod, shipped with the capability for users to share photos, videos and music between Zune devices. However, Gates said Tuesday that eventually Microsoft will connect Zune to other Microsoft products that serve as content and entertainment platforms.

“We will take it even further or connecting the Zune to the Windows PC or Xbox,” he said during the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. “There is a lot more coming there.”

Gates said that Zune’s wireless connectivity is just one way Microsoft is changing how people enjoy and share various multimedia. “We’re changing entertainment from something you do in isolation to connected entertainment,” he said.

Zune players cost US$249.99, the same amount as Apple Computer Inc.’s current generation of video iPods. Like iPods, the Zune has 30G bytes of storage, plays videos and music and can display photos. But Zune players also have wireless connectivity and an FM receiver, two features that differentiate them from iPods. Microsoft hopes these features will help it win market share against Apple’s tremendously successful media player.

Zune players are now available in more than 30,000 retail outlets in the U.S. Zune Marketplace — an online music purchasing and download service through which users can buy monthly subscriptions or individual songs or videos — is also now available.

Connecting Zune with its Xbox 360 console seems like a logical next step for Microsoft, as the company is promoting both as devices to serve up a variety of multimedia content.

Later this month, Microsoft will allow customers to download movies and television programs to their Xbox 360 gaming consoles through the Xbox Live Marketplace, an online store where Xbox users already can purchase game updates and other content.

To facilitate the Xbox video-downloading service, Microsoft signed a deal that allows it to sell or rent an initial 1,000 hours of programming from various broadcasting companies, such as CBS Broadcasting Inc., Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. The company signed similar deals with record labels such as Sub Pop Records to provide some of the initial media on its Zune devices.

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