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20th August 2003, 05:31 PM
An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman

Microsoft Chooses ATI for Next-Generation Xbox
Here's a follow-up to last week's news item about next-generation video game consoles. Additional details about Microsoft's next version of the Xbox have emerged. Microsoft has selected graphics maker ATI Technologies to be the supplier for graphics and related technologies for the next Xbox. For the current product, the software giant relies on NVIDIA, one of ATI's main competitors, but after a bitter fight over pricing, no one is surprised that the two companies won't be working together again on the next-generation console. Rumor has it that Microsoft is also considering using a special version of the Intel Pentium M processor in the next Xbox. The interesting twist in the ATI/ Microsoft relationship is that ATI technology also powers the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo was and still is expected to use ATI for its next-generation console. Could Microsoft's new relationship with ATI possibly lead to a Microsoft/Nintendo relationship? The two companies' combined resources might be exactly what they both need to beat market-giant Sony. Either way, expect the next-generation battle for your living room to be pretty exciting.

Sports Invade Game Consoles
Speaking of video game consoles, we've reached that wonderful time of year when all the major publishers start releasing their new sports titles. The major players this year include the popular Electronic Arts (EA) Sports series, Sega's newly branded ESPN Videogames series (formally SEGA Sports' 2K series), and Microsoft's new XSN Sports series. EA Sports has chosen not to support online gaming on the Xbox platform because the company doesn't believe in Microsoft's business model with Xbox Live, which involves Microsoft controlling and centrally managing the online servers. Instead, the company will support online gaming on Sony's PlayStation 2 with its EA Sports Nation online servers. EA Sports will release titles for the Playstation 2, GameCube, Xbox, and--in some cases--the PC and Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. The company has already released college and NFL football titles and will release "NASCAR Thunder 2004" (due in September), "NHL 2004" (September), "Tiger Woods Golf 2004" (September), "FIFA Soccer 2004" (October), "NBA Live 2004" (Fall 2003), "Rugby 2004" (release date unknown), and "NCAA March Madness 2004" (release date unknown). Sega will release its ESPN Videogames for only the PlayStation 2 and Xbox and will support online play on both platforms. In the past, Sega has supported the GameCube but decided not to this year for obvious reasons. ESPN Videogames include "NFL Football" (early September), "NBA Basketball" (fall 2003), "NHL Hockey" (fall 2003), and "College Hoops" (fall 2003). Microsoft will release its XSN Sports series, which will feature online support, exclusively for the Xbox. The online support will include an update to the Xbox Live Dashboard that will let users set up games with friends and view their rankings. The XSN series includes "Amped 2" (snowboarding, due during the 2003 holiday season), "Links 2004" (golf, 2003 holiday season), "NBA Inside Drive 2004" (October), "NFL Fever 2004" (late August), "NHL Rivals 2004" (fall 2003), and "Top Spin" (tennis, fall 2003). Fall is going to be a busy time for video game players. Sports titles account for a large percentage of console gaming sales.

HP Launches Electronic Blitz
Hoping to simplify the "digital revolution," last week, HP rolled out 150 new products ranging from printers to new notebook computers. The product rollout includes a partnership with Microsoft to test "experience centers" at retail stores, including Circuit City, CompUSA, J&R Computer World, and Micro Center. The new experience centers will let customers interact with technology and ask specialized sales staff technical questions. The wide-ranging new products from HP include digital cameras, photo printers, photo paper, deskjet printers, all-in-one printer devices, and scanners. The company will support the rollout with a $300 million advertising campaign titled "Enjoy more."

Gateway Delays Pocket PC
Gateway recently decided to focus almost entirely on the "digital revolution" with a wide range of consumer electronics, a strategy that Apple Computer and Sony previously embraced. The computer maker hopes to end its financial troubles with a huge shift in focus. Part of that shift will include the introduction of its first PDA, which was going to be a Windows Mobile for Pocket PC 2003 device. But after expecting to launch the product in mid-July, the company recently put its plans for a PDA on hold. According to reports, problems with software and accessories delayed the release. Now that a lot of vendors have released PDAs based on Microsoft's new mobile OS, Gateway believes it might have missed its launch window. The company will still launch 50 other new products this year, including high-end TVs, digital cameras, and DVD players. But Gateway's PDA plans are now up in the air.

Courts Rule Against Record Industry
In the ongoing and never-ending battle of the recording industry versus the rest of the world, a federal judge in Massachusetts finally handed the industry a defeat in one of its battles. The judge ruled that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston College don't have to comply with subpoenas that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) issued to obtain information about students it suspects of file sharing. The schools argued that because a Washington, DC, federal court issued the subpoenas, they couldn't be served in Massachusetts. The judge agreed. The ruling could significantly slow down the RIAA's attempted crackdown on individual file swapping by requiring the association to file subpoenas in courts all over the country rather than in one location. This episode won't be the last you'll hear of this battle, unfortunately.