Microsoft, MTV prep Media Player take on iTunes

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Microsoft, MTV prep Media Player take on iTunes

Redmond (WA) – Music fans have been expecting Microsoft to make good on its promise to launch the cross-promotional service with MTV that chairman Bill Gatesannounced last Januaryat CES, as TG Daily first reported, and that Gates alluded to as far back as CES 2005. Today, as promised, the company announced the pending release of its preview edition of Media Player 11, which exclusively unveils the URGE service that Microsoft is co-sponsoring with the MTV Networks unit of Viacom.

For the first time, this Media Player version will enable users to browse content from URGE – which goes live on Wednesday – by perusing album covers and music genres. What makes this important is that Microsoft and MTV effectively become partnered vendors in the music business, selling albums – or, more accurately, album content – directly to consumers through the media player. This network service will also be featured in Microsoft’s Live Anywhere service, not only for Media Center PCs and Windows Vista PCs, but also for Xbox 360, enabling Microsoft to leverage its game console user base in a way that Apple – at least at present – cannot.

As many WMP users know, even the current version can manage very restrictive digital rights management schemes, the likes of which are likely to be included with URGE. So purchasers of music through URGE may only be able to play back their tracks, once burned to CDs, through their computers and not their everyday stereos. Microsoft’s tack to getting around this problem is a new piece of hardware, called a PlaysForSure digital media receiver. Almost like a set-top box for audio, one of these receivers serves as a go-between from your PC to your stereo system, enabling users to play the content through their existing equipment…even though it’s still locked into their PCs.

This afternoon, Microsoft showed a picture of URGE also being embedded into a future PlaysForSure-compliant portable media device with a color screen, although the device is obviously a prototype without a brand – as was the Origami (UMPC) platform a few years ago.

Microsoft’s description of URGE as being “deeply embedded” into WMP 11 implies that all versions of this new edition, once finally released, may include URGE visibility; although arguably, the company has left open the possibility that users could exercise an option to disable URGE. Although a price has yet to be announced for URGE services – that information may come on Wednesday – sources told TG Daily last January that MTV Networks planned to charge a subscription fee of $9.95 per month, though it had not yet been decided whether that fee applied to unlimited usage or for a limited set of downloads.