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Microsoft’s “digital home gallery service” aims to bring any artwork to your home, on the cheap

Everything for the armchair art lover, at the flick of a switch

Seattle. The work of Vincent van Gogh can be yours for less than $10 a month, although its plasma frame will probably cost you 117 times that amount. This is still an unprecedented bargain, say the Seattle computer specialists who are launching GalleryPlayer, a “digital home gallery service” which aims to put high definition art and photography on the screens of American consumers.

As of last month, anyone with a Microsoft Windows Media Center can subscribe to the service, described as “a library that is updated weekly and monthly”. (Broadband access is necessary, but soon, GalleryPlayer executives say, the service will not require Media Center to operate.)

More than a decade ago, Microsoft executives offered consumers access to the same digitised reproductions of paintings that the firm’s founder, Bill Gates, was installing in his own huge house outside Seattle. They named the new venture Integrated Home Systems. But the high cost of a digital viewing system at the time made it very expensive and there were few buyers.

Integrated Home Systems renamed itself Continuum, and then Corbis, and refocused on assembling an image archive that bought non-exclusive rights to the use of images from institutions around the world.

Scott Lipsky, founder of GalleryPlayer, who also heads Beon Media, GalleryPlayer’s parent company, considered creating the service when he tried to put art images on his own plasma screen, and saw that the economics of installing it had evolved.

On a Toshiba laptop in a Manhattan hotel room, images of works by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent were remarkably precise. The resolution is the highest available, noted GalleryPlayer executives.

Mr Lipsky and his marketing director, Tim Dunley, say their plan is affordable now that plasma screens that once cost $10,000 are about $1700. Improvements in optics technology have enhanced the precision of scanned images. Consumers will pay $4.95 or more per month for a “gallery” of images. Use “in perpetuity” of a single image is $.99 to a few dollars. GalleryPlayer will use Corbis images and pictures from institutions with which it has negotiated directly. Those institutions get a percentage of subscription fees.

Mr Lipsky doubts GalleryPlayer will spawn new generations of couch potatoes staring at “Starry Night” when they are not watching “Survivor”, and predicts museums will count on the service to attract new visitors.

GalleryPlayer executives would not discuss their investors or projections for the number of screens they will reach in the next year or five-year period. Contracts with cable television providers and at least one auction house are in the works, said Mr Lipsky. Collectors are signing on, he added: “It’s a lot safer for them than lending the art”. He stressed that those relationships with collectors and institutions were GalleryPlayer’s assets, and says competitors are sure to match the firm’s high resolution: “Everyone has technology these days. We’re an art distribution company”.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Microsoft’s “digital home gallery service”'