Striving to reignite interest in Windows XP, Microsoft plans to unveil the latest version of its Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system today.

At a launch event in Los Angeles, Microsoft will position Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 as its best operating system for consumers. The company is set to announce that it has sold over 1 million copies of the product to date and that it expects to sell at least 19 million more by 2007.

"Media Center 2005 is going to catapult the operating system much more to a mainstream status," said Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Consumer group. "If you look at the massive interest and demand by consumers for digital entertainment in music, photos, TV, this is the version of Windows you want."

Further announcements are also expected about Windows Media Player 10 Mobile which turns portable devices into portable media players that will work with Media Center PCs, and news that Microsoft is to launch MSN Music Store in the US and eight european countries.

New feature fest

The update to Windows XP Media Center Edition, code-named Symphony, has been in beta testing since early this year. The update includes a host of new features, including support for two TV tuners, DVD burning, over-the-air high-definition television and satellite in addition to cable TV. The software also offers improved support for mobile devices and a refreshed user interface.

A key new feature is support for wireless technology and in particular Media Center Extender, a new technology that lets users wirelessly connect up to five TVs to the Media Center PC. Also, users can now exchange MSN instant messages through their TV and remotely program their Media Center 2005 system through a service offered by MSN.

Microsoft has hosted events in September or October for the past two years to introduce new Media Center products for the December shopping season. In 2002, the software maker announced the first version of Windows XP Media Center Edition, followed by an update, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, last year.

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With the 2005 version, Windows XP Media Center is finally a finished product, said Enderle, principal analyst with The Enderle Group. "This is a significant step. Last year

Windows XP Media Center Edition is a premium version of Windows XP, designed to make the PC the media and entertainment hub for the home. In addition to traditional PC tasks, the system can serve music, pictures, video and live television to portable devices, stereos and TVs while also enforcing digital rights set by content owners. Users can access the Media Center PC with a remote control through a special user interface on their TV.

Gadget glut

Along with the release of the updated Media Center operating system, Microsoft and hardware makers are set to announce the first devices that use Media Center Extender technology, new Media Center PCs and new digital audio receivers for an audio-only experience.

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For example, HP plans to announce four new Media Center PCs, a Media Center Extender and two products dubbed Digital Entertainment Centers that look like standard consumer electronics hardware such as VCRs or DVD players instead of PCs. Gateway and Dell are also announcing new systems that run the updated Microsoft operating system.
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The Media Center unveiling will also be combined with the introduction of new portable media players from vendors including Creative and Samsung.
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Windows XP Media Center 2005 is the centre-piece of a Microsoft marketing effort to revive interest in the 3-year-old Windows XP operating system. Without a brand new version of Windows scheduled until Longhorn in 2006, Microsoft is betting XP Media Center 2005 will move consumers to buy new PCs.
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Media Center PCs cost more than plain Windows XP Home machines, with price tags from around $900 (£500) to over $1,999 (£1,100) for the more expensive systems. In an effort to make Media Center PCs more affordable, Microsoft has relaxed the hardware requirements for the systems: a TV tuner card and remote control are no longer required.
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However, buyers of a dressed down system without a TV card or remote will likely upgrade their systems to be able to get the full Media Center experience, analyst Enderle said. 
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To expand the availability of Media Center, Microsoft is now making it available to the system builder channel. Previously the operating system was the exclusive domain of mostly large, multinational PC makers. Now white box makers -- PC stores that sell systems without a brand name -- are also able to build and sell Media Center PCs.
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"We

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is available on PCs from many vendors. Users of the 2004 version may be able to upgrade, but need to contact their hardware supplier for information, according to Microsoft.