Friday, August 08, 2008

Microsoft Sends a “We Don’t Care” Message to Vista Media Center Enthusiasts

It’s been covered here a lot lately, but today Microsoft made the “Fiji” Windows Media Center TV Pack official, almost a month before originally planned (September 3rd at CEDIA was the originally planned date).  It should be noted that I think it is a good thing that Microsoft finally announced this since most of the facts in the press release have been known and talked about for several weeks now.  What's bad about the announcement is that it has confimed many peoples fears about Fiji and the future of Vista Media Center in general.

They made this announcement with a forum post on the GreenButton forums (now owned by Microsoft) today.  In that message news release, Ben Reed from Microsoft says this on GreenButton:

On July 16th, 2008, Microsoft released an update to the version of Windows Media Center included with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate to our OEM partners - this update is referred to as the “Windows® Media Center TV Pack”. In order to ensure that users get the best experience possible, this update will only be available from OEMs, as they are best positioned to provide the testing and hardware configurations for a great customer experience. This is due to the fact that in some geographies there are specific technical and hardware requirements for the Windows Media Center TV Pack that are best handled by the OEMs. We are working closely with our OEM partners as they finalize their decisions on Windows Media Center TV Pack products. 

The Windows Media Center TV Pack is primarily targeted at adding support for additional international broadcast standards including:

o   Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting – Terrestrial (ISDB-T) Digital television standard for Japan

o   Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite (DVB-S) free-to-air satellite standards  in  Europe

o   Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial (DVB-T) digital television with  improved user experience in Europe

o   ClearQAM (Unencrypted Digital Cable)in the United States

o   Interactive television with integrated Broadcast Markup Language (BML) in Japan and Multimedia and Hypermedia information coding Expert Group (MHEG) (MHEG5) in Europe

This version does not include native support for subscription-based satellite tuners or the H.264 video standard. We test many features in beta releases, and optimize our feature set in the final code for the best user experience.

We do want the Windows Media Center community to know that Microsoft will continue to improve upon the Windows Media Center experience for our customers worldwide, by adding content partnerships and enhanced features.  We will share these developments as they become available.

Ben Reed

Product Marketing | Windows Media Center
I really can’t believe this is the direction Microsoft is taking with Vista Media Center.  Why?  Because it will alienate many of its most loyal Vista Media Center users in several ways.

  • The update is OEM only and not available to current users without purchasing a new HTPC.  You can get it through the unofficial channels, but there is no support and the update is not meant to be installed by the end user – be warned that you may be sorry you updated to it…

  • Old DVR-MS recordings made by a CableCard tuner don’t work once upgraded

  • Not all plugins are compatible – DVRMSToolBox, WebGuide, LifeExtender to name a few.

  • The new WTV files aren’t compatible with many (possibly any) other players.

  • The update does not include H.264 format support and therefore won’t work with the DirectTV tuner or Hauppauge HD-PVR that many were expecting with fiji.

  • It is very likely that commercial skipping has been broken with the new TV Pack's SDK.  Add to that the difficulty of a new WTV format and it will be very difficult to get commercial skipping back on VMC after the TV Pack.  It has even been speculated that Microsoft switched formats to intentionally break the user-developed commercial skipping applications that are out there for VMC and MCE.  Note:  Babgvant, the maker of DVRMS has a possible solution for commercial detection that you might want to try if you have the TV Pack installed.

I think Microsoft is holding out any new features beyond this TV Pack, OEM-Only release until Windows 7.  So they’re really just throwing sand in the faces of their own loyal fans and saying – just wait until Windows 7 and we’ll give you more then.  Or go buy a new HTPC to replace your new HTPC you just got with CableCards – sorry, but that just wouldn’t fly with me.  I think Microsoft has really done permanent damage to Vista Media Center and HTPC’s in general with this mess.  I really hope they reconsider and come to their senses, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not the only one that thinks the way this has been handled has been a mistake on Microsoft’s part.  Read more on this at these highly respected websites for more on the Fiji/TV Pack Mess – and be sure and read the comments there as well to get an idea of how the VMC users feel about things:

Chris Lanier’s Blog


Ian Dixon’s Blog

GreenButton Forum Thread on TV Pack Thread1 Thread2 

Official Announcement by Microsoft at GreenButton

For a look at the Fiji situation from a different (albeit Microsoft) point of view, read Ed Bott's post