Saturday, December 13, 2008

DirecTV and Microsoft Media Center - What Went Wrong?

Since the unwelcome announcement from DirecTV that they were "suspending" work on the DirecTV HDPC-20 tuner for Microsoft Media Center, there has been a firestorm of discussion on the web (read this thread on the GreenButton Forms for an example) about what went wrong with something seemingly positive for DirecTV, Microsoft and all Media Center users.

Ben Drawbaugh of EngadgetHD fame thinks this was a blatant effort by DirecTV to reduce expectations on the tuner and they will continue to work on it and possibly even release the HDPC-20 tuner when Windows 7 is released.  Ben says:
"I’m not saying that DirecTV never suspended the project, I’m just saying that it was probably suspended for a half a day while the developers went home early for Thanksgiving. I mean if it was really canceled then why not say canceled? Why say it was suspended with no window of how long."
 I personally think that is wishful thinking.  My guess is they said "suspended" because they want to leave the door open to take up the project at some point in the future, but I really doubt they are still working on it at the moment at least.

Now we have Chris Lanier's take is that DirecTV has lost faith in Microsoft and the Media Center platform and considers it a unproven, niche market.  Add to that the slow release cycle and the fact that Microsoft didn't include h.264 support in the TV Pack as had been planned.  But, Chris also says DirecTV easily could have had plenty of fault here as well and could just be doing damage control when they were the ones that couldn't get a stable product to market within the time constraints required for the TV Pack.  Chris goes on to say:
"I firmly believe both companies at a fault, but Microsoft will always take the most abuse because they can’t seem to conjure up a good Media Center release.  This is not DIRECTVs platform falling apart before our eyes, it is Microsoft’s."

While none of us know for certain except for a few at DirecTV and Microsoft, I mostly agree with Chris on this.  But I also think it has as much to do with the world-wide economic conditions and DirecTV's cutting of any non-proven (read currently unprofitable) capital expenditure projects so they can "hunker down" during the downturn of this economic cycle.  Here's what the LA Times had to say about DirecTV's Current Plans given the economy:
"DirecTV Group Inc. said Tuesday that although it remained bullish about 2009, hiring would be frozen and all but the most crucial capital projects would be suspended as visibility on the economy stayed poor."
There is still hope out there that the rumored Dish Network HTPC tuner will come through for Media Center users, but so far we have now official confirmation of that from anyone.

Expect to see more of this sort of thing in the coming year - especially from tech companies who we're used to providing the "next cool gadget" each January.  For now, if you want to use a Home Theater PC setup with satellite TV AND get true HD, you'll need to use a Haupauge HD-PVR.  While it may not be the perfect setup for someone who wants a native tuner to use in their HTPC's, it is currently the only device to deliver that content to your PC.