Philips joins partners for VoIP, HD televisions

Philips, Microsoft to launch VoIP product incorporating Microsoft's MSN portal and MSN Messenger

Koninklijke Philips Electronics will expand its support for VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) technology in new partnerships with eBay's Skype division and Microsoft, and unveil new televisions designed to ease the strain of watching an exciting movie on a sexy $4,000 television, executives said during a press conference Wednesday at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will provide more details about the new VoIP partnership between Philips and Microsoft later this evening in a keynote address kicking off CES, said Rudy Provoost, chief executive officer of Philips Consumer Electronics, a division of the parent company. He did not provide many details but said the companies will announce a VoIP product that would incorporate Microsoft's MSN portal and its MSN Messenger instant-messaging software.

The company's new VoIP321 handset, developed in partnership with Skype, allows users to make phone calls over the regular phone network as well as the Internet. It comes with Skype's popular software built into the handset, so users can see who is calling them over the Skype service and use different ringtones to differentiate between Skype calls and regular phone calls.

VoIP is an emerging technology that allows businesses and consumers to use the Internet to carry voice signals. Skype's service allows two registered Skype users to call each other for free and to make calls to non-Skype users for a fee. Skype, Vonage Holdings, and other VoIP companies are expected to devote significant time to promoting VoIP handsets, software, and services to the 100,000-plus attendees at CES.

The new handset will be available first in Europe, starting in May, and will launch in the U.S. by July, Philips said in a press release.

Perhaps best known in the U.S. for its flat-screen televisions, Philips also introduced a new generation of its Ambilight display technology called Ambilight Full Surround. Philips TVs emit light at the edge of a frame around the screen, which when matched with the colors on the screen makes the picture appear sharper and is less prone to causing eye strain, according to the company. Users can choose their own color scheme to create a mood or decorate their homes, it said.

For example, a document with background information on Ambilight technology suggested that "yellow stimulates intellect, enlivens communication and is good for concentration and clarity of thought. It is a good color for encouraging exchange of information."

Previously, the ambient light only came out of two sides of the display. But Ambilight Full Surround emits light from all four sides of the display, enhancing the effect and making the viewing area appear larger to the viewer, the company said. Philips will also sell televisions with Ambilight Surround, which emits light from three sides of the display.

Ambilight Full Surround will be available on 42-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) televisions, while Ambilight Surround will be available on both 42-inch LCD and 50-inch plasma displays, Philips said in a release. A 42-inch LCD television with Ambilight Surround will cost $2,999, while the 50-inch Ambilight Surround plasma display and the 42-inch Ambilight Full Surround LCD television both will cost $3,999. All three will be available in July.

Philips also announced plans to release a Blu-Ray high-definition DVD player in the second half of this year, as well as a DVD writer for PCs, Provoost said.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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