The house theater PC is lifeless, lengthy reside Home windows Media Middle

The home theater PC is dead, long live Windows Media Center

There was a number of dialogue within the Home windows Media Middle group concerning the product’s dying. The idea is that Microsoft is dropping out, specializing in the Xbox 360 and intends to let the greatest DVR software program out there grow to be stale — or worse, remove it from future variations of Home windows altogether. After watching the Ballmer keynote at CES final week, it was exhausting to not get on this practice as all of us watched the 360, Home windows Telephone 7, and Home windows highlighted on stage. However then one thing occurred when the present flooring opened: Home windows embedded merchandise have been highlighted in personal conferences and elsewhere. There was a buzz round Media Middle embedded and even a worth and ship date; in the meantime, residence theater PCs received no love. So after years of making an attempt, it seems that all hopes that HTPCs will ever emerge from their area of interest standing are gone, however the identical cannot be stated for Home windows Media Middle.

The demise of HTPCs shouldn’t be for a scarcity of effort

We have had a fascination with residence theater PCs because the first time we noticed video operating on a PC — keep in mind Intel MMX? There’s one thing empowering about seeing video run on a PC, and there is been a PC related to our TV ever since. The truth is, we use an HTPC now and have loved its advantages for what seems like ceaselessly. However all that being stated, we would not supply to set one up for a good friend, and we would not give our mom one, ever. The issue is that whereas a pc geek could make an HTPC do absolutely anything, a typical consumer has a tough sufficient time utilizing a PC to surf the online. There are simply too many issues that may go flawed, and except some very excessive-finish fashions, business HTPCs are non-existent. HP stopped making ‘em 4 years in the past. Dell by no means even bothered. Nope, regardless of how onerous PC manufactures and Microsoft attempt, HTPCs merely won’t ever go mainstream.

Microsoft has tried as exhausting as anybody to make this geek dream come true, with a number of variations of Media Middle and cash dumped into R&D making an attempt to entice programming suppliers within the US and the remainder of the world to convey their programming to Home windows. We might guess that if inventory holders had any concept how a lot cash was spent in comparison with the return, somebody would certainly get fired. Proper about now, there are some individuals screaming at their pc, complaining that Microsoft by no means marketed Media Middle. Critically? An organization as profitable as Microsoft is aware of a factor or two greater than most about marking a product. No, the issue is there isn’t any mainstream marketplace for an HTPC, so realistically-talking, one other few billion dumped into advertising would not have modified a factor (c.f. Kin). Shopper electronics need to be like an equipment, they only have to work. Even some prime brass at Microsoft use a TiVo as a DVR as an alternative of a HTPC as a result of they only work. This all makes it straightforward to know why Microsoft has re-purposed its software program and lined up new companions for an embedded model of Home windows 7 Media Middle.

The home theater PC is dead, long live Windows Media Center

Why an embedded Media Middle simply is sensible

The one factor that each single mainstream DVR and smartphone have in widespread is that they’re all embedded. It is a match between hardware and software program that’s designed to do a number of particular issues and do them very nicely. Microsoft has been making embedded software program for a very long time, and odds are you’ve got used it at an ATM or stood proper in entrance of somebody who used a Home windows embedded machine to ring you up at a division retailer. What’s new is that Microsoft ported its Media Middle software program to the newest embedded model of Home windows and is giving hardware companions the prospect to construct a DVR with out spending all the large bucks on creating software program. Which means some entrepreneurial electronics producer can seize off the shelf elements, add in a bit of Redmond’s software program and ship a reliable DVR to mainstream America — in concept. And quite a few corporations have already stepped ahead with plans. We have been seeing demos at commerce exhibits, and at CES one firm even introduced it’d ship a product within the 1st quarter for $499. Nonetheless just a little steep for the mainstream, however far lower than the hundreds that off the shelf HTPCs value at present. And in addition to, the primary merchandise to market typical value extra.

The home theater PC is dead, long live Windows Media Center

The dangerous information is that embedded additionally means restrictions, and whereas some are positive to hack their option to extra performance, it will not be as straightforward. For these not prepared to meddle and danger their funding, there’ll possible be sacrifices that should be accepted. It’s inconceivable to know what precisely till the merchandise hit the market, however the incapability to put in your favourite codec is not out of the realm of prospects, and putting in software program to routinely skip commercials is nearly definitely a no go.

There’s some extra excellent news although. Embedded units make extra than simply mainstream shoppers completely happy, additionally they attraction to content material house owners. Netflix, VUDU, Blockbuster, cable video-on-demand have all been out there to embedded units for a while. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verzion and DirecTV weren’t displaying their programming on a HTPC at CES this yr, however they have been displaying ‘em on quite a lot of different embedded units. In fact, the PC is totally able to delivering all this content material and extra, however media giants aren’t going to spend their money and time creating software program for a distinct segment whose solely measurable end result can be to open up a brand new assault vector to bypass DRM. So embedded does not simply imply stability and affordability, it will possibly additionally imply content material.

The home theater PC is dead, long live Windows Media Center

Extenders vs set-prime-bins

Now, that is the place issues get fascinating. Microsoft tried a number of occasions to proxy the PC into the lounge by way of Extenders and suffice to say the makes an attempt all failed fairly miserably — similar goes for embedded units, by the best way. Perhaps the hardware wasn’t prepared, who is aware of, however what we do know is that two Media Middle PCs do not play properly along with DRM’d content material and if multiple Media Middle in the home has a tuner, issues can messy actual fast. There have been a couple of current modifications within the content material world that would actually influence success right here although. The primary is the current change to the CableCARD specification that permits a tuner to be shared over a community. Principally, this implies you could set up six CableCARD tuners right into a Media Middle in the home and watch reside TV on another Media Middle (set-prime field or PC) in the home that is related to the identical community. That opens up some choices, however there are nonetheless the DRM drawback. Presently, exhibits recorded from cable marked as Copy As soon as by the supplier are locked to the system they’re recorded on, which frankly sucks. However connecting a number of dots paints a rosier future.

The home theater PC is dead, long live Windows Media Center InfiniTV 6 CableCARD tuner

What does Microsoft, Comcast, Timer Warner Cable, CableLabs, and nearly each main film studio have in widespread? They’re all a member of the Digital Leisure Content material Ecosystem and have vowed their help to UltraViolet. We all know that becoming a member of a gaggle and truly collaborating are two various things, however it is not out of the query that UltraViolet’s new DRM could possibly be added to the CableLabs spec. This might imply that “every family will be capable of create an account for as much as six members who can entry the family’s UltraViolet Films, TV… Shoppers may even be capable of register as much as 12 units.” This new tech will not be prepared till later this yr, however it does supply hope that DRM won’t all the time be this dangerous, some day.


It should take greater than Reycom, Acer / Gateway, and Haier to make this factor take off, nevertheless it is not onerous to let your creativeness marvel on the place this all might go. It might even be exhausting to argue that this is not Microsoft’s strongest place within the DVR market but, and whereas something might occur, we are saying lengthy stay Media Middle with confidence. Who is aware of, if issues go properly, all the opposite earlier promising developments for Media Middle that by no means have been, may discover their method to market too. Then once more, we have been incorrect earlier than.

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