Thursday, January 15, 2009

What are Microsoft's Intentions for Media Center?

Two Microsoft enthusiasts are questioning Microsoft's Media Center product this week.  Chris Lanier and Paul Thurrott both made comments that raise the question of Media Center and the direction Microsoft will be taking with it going forward.



First off, Chris Lanier has a post that will likely stir the emotions of Media Center users as well as the Microsoft Media Center team.  The post is called "Microsoft Focuses Media Center Marketing, Platform to Follow". 

That title sounds harmless enough, but Chris is arguing that Microsoft is basically giving up on the DIY center of the home media.  In Chris's words:

"Not whole home connected entertainment, not Media Center in your living room, not Extenders, not high-end theaters, but “TV on your PC.” In other words, the days of Media Center being billed as the do-it-all center of your home are over (except for the custom market)."

The article focuses on the future of Media Center and the direction Microsoft is taking it.  The post itself is an excellent read and the comments section is even better.  Don't miss it if you're even slightly interested in Media Center.  The response from Ian Dixon is also worth a look.



Secondly, Paul Thurrott argues that Microsoft isn't good at consumer electronics products and states "every single consumer electronics product that Microsoft has made has lost money."  The comment that is sure to raise the ire of Media Center fans is this excerpt from Paul's post:


"The list of Microsoft consumer stinkbombs is a mile high. Media Center. MediaRoom. UltimateTV. WebTV. PlaysForSure/Windows Media DRM. Zune. That Outlook-compatible phone from years back. Any product with the words "Microsoft" and "Home" in them. The Teddy Ruxbin bear thing. (And you thought I'd forgotten.) Don't get me wrong: Many of these are good, even great products. But if it's just me and 17 other people using them, what's the point?"

Paul goes on further to say "they can't have lost their way.  They've just simply never made it work." 


Even though I don't use Media Center (I currently use SageTV on my setup), I would argue that Media Center is a product that has tons of potential, that Microsoft still has yet to tap in to that potential.  To me, a few of the major things that would make Media Center know all of the competition out would be the following:

  1. Separate Media Center from the OS.  With Windows 7 coming it doesn't look like this will happen in the next few years or possibly ever.  There are so many reasons to do this in my opinion including faster updates, less OS red-tape, ability to evolve faster with the market etc.  OnlyDarksets has a great article on why this is a great idea.
  2. Quit the DRM stuff.  CableCard can have the DRM, but don't push DVR-MS or the new DRMd format on the users for non-CableCard channels.
  3. Allow Server/Client architecture- this is a big one for me.  I could never go to Media Center without it allowing a true, Server/Client architecture that allows a single server and multiple clients all with the same functionality and no need for synching etc.  SageTV, BeyondTV and many of the freeware HTPC programs have this - why not Microsoft?  And while we're on that topic, why is it that SageTV is the only HTPC program that has true, Windows Home Server (WHS) support?  Seriously, WHS is Microsoft's product for goodness sake!
  4. Allow hardware extenders to do nearly everything the server can do.  See number 3 above, but it's really more than that.  The codec support in the SageTV HD100 and HD200 extenders are a great example of extenders done right.  Yes, the Xbox360 does an okay job of acting as an extender, but you have to be honest with yourself and admit that the XBox360 is a game machine that can also act as an extender as long as you use the proper formats and do this and that to get it to work - it's not a complete extender solution in my opinion.
  5. Open up to the Hauppauge HD-PVR and possibly a DishTV tuner.  Will this happen?  Could it possibly be coming with Windows 7?  If they pull this off, they'll make many Media Center fans very, very happy.


What do you think?  Is Media Center going anywhere good?  Will Microsoft just let it die on the vine or is it an important part of their future?


Read the first Article at Chris Lanier's Blog

Read Paul Thurrott's article at SuperSite for Windows