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January 8, 2008 1:01 AM

CES 2008: MSN Direct demos new Garmin device, services

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- It didn't make it into the Bill Gates keynote Sunday, but Microsoft's MSN Direct made some announcements on the opening day of CES, including new services offered on Garmin GPS devices. It's also now working with Avis to offer the Garmin devices as a $12-a-day option on car rentals starting in March.

Gates introduced MSN Direct at CES in 2003. The business focused initially on "Spot" watches that never really took off, so the group has been pursuing partners to use its data services, which are broadcast on networks formerly used for pagers.

This year the group also announced new partners, including Alpine and Pioneer, and the new Garmin devices going on sale this spring. It also demonstrated them on the road in a big red Avis Suburban.

Among the new services on the devices are local news, stocks and events. But the most interesting addition is a button called "Web favorites" that syncs with a user's PC to display information gathered online, such as addresses. MSN Direct will get exposure through Windows Live Maps, which is adding a button that users can click to add map search results to their GPS device.

Additionally, the service has added traffic information on more cities, including Vancouver, B.C., and expanded traffic coverage in others, including Olympia.

In this video it's hard to see the device's screen, but Joe Coco, product unit manager, runs through some of the features on a Garmin 780. It will list for $799.99 and come with three months of service before yearly fees begin ($50 a year, or $130 for the life of the device). Eric Lang, general manager of MSN Direct, also chimes in from the front seat.

It sounds like there will be announcements in a few months, perhaps involving HD broadcast services.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.