Media Center is still a Platform!

I was undecided on whether to respond to Chris Lanier’s post where he basically says Microsoft have ditched Media Center as a platform and its now just about just watching TV on a PC but I thought I would with a bit of rambling, (if anybody would like to respond on the podcast please get in touch)

Chris has some interesting points and its great he reminds Microsoft our passion for the product but I do think he is wrong, Media Center is still a platform and with Windows 7 it gets extended even more. Chris said that Media Center was missing from the keynote, which were my thoughts while live blogging the keynote however when I watched it back later I could see that while the UI didn’t get a demo Windows Media Center was show as one of the three ways of connecting to Windows or “the three screen of Windows” as Microsoft call it ,the others being the PC and mobile devices (not very much new stuff got shown in the keynote, there was to much XBox and Tripod in it for me). So not being shown in the keynote was not a sign of the platform being killed is was just a keynote that didn’t seem to show very much ( I know of other demos that were cut)

Two other indicator Chris points out is the emphasis on touch and clickable seek bar. The seekbar is an obvious thing to include and lots of enthusiasts have requested that feature so I don’t see that as an issue. As for touch, Windows Media Center is best placed to take advantage of touch due to amount of work done to make Media Center work from 10 feet and a simple remote. Media Center is the best way to use touch in Windows 7, it works much better than an application like Windows Media Player. I use a HP TouchSmart as a server for my Extender and do use the Media Center UI on it to search for recordings and play music, scehdule recordings etc so I want touch building in to Media Center.

The Extender story at CES was disappointing, there were no Extenders on show except for Toshiba’s prototype unit and the Xbox 360. The problem is the dedicated Extenders can’t compete with the Xbox 360 on price or features, I know people complain about the noise but for most people the Xbox is a very good Extender and even some very high end installs are rack mounting 360’s as Extenders. I am not sure what to make of Toshiba’s announcement, maybe the Extender being built in to a TV is a way of competing with the 360 but we will have to wait and see what Toshiba do with it.

Other features of Windows 7 really help the Media Center platform: Play To is a great feature, from any Windows 7 PC play a media file on any other Windows 7 PC or DLNA device and where Media Center fits in to this is to Play To a Xbox 360, you have to have the Extender session running, so Media Center is vital in making that work.  So from my netbook I can right click on any media file and play to my TV and the media file doesn’t have to be on my netbook, you can stream from PC a to PC b from PC c and so on. Another feature I am going to use is HomeGroup, this adds media sharing between Windows 7 machines, I can go in to my laptop (in Media Center) and look at recorded TV on my Media Center server and then I can either stream the file or select Copy and Media Center will copy the file to my laptop and I can take it with me.

The other point about Media Center is that its a fantastic DVR and with the changes to the BDA driver model OEMs can make there own TV tuner drivers without the need for Microsoft’s assistants, whether we will see more tuners I don’t know but at least the option is there.

As for the focus on CEDIA, I am not sure this is a good or bad thing, its good if it driver features but bad if the features don’t get pushed back down to consumers, so again we will have to wait and see on that.

Back on the subject of CES, Media Center had a great deal of floor space where they were showing Windows Media Center, Windows Media Center running on a Xbox 360 and Media Center running on a little netbook. There was always a big crowd around the display where as at the Xbox and Media Room display there was not much interest (non that I could see at Media Room)

There are a lot of things Microsoft need to do to improve the platform, “Play To” needs to be an option from Media Center not just WMP and Explorer, tuners need to be pooled and the guide data need to be pooled so you could go to the kitchen touch PC and browse the guide data on the main system (or server). We also need better internet TV integration, like Hulu and BBC iPlayer. There also needs to be Zune integration, Media Center should be a “tuner” for Zune (as should Windows Mobile), 3rd party application ecosystem is still small and needs nurturing (targeting MSDN readers would help)

One development I noticed at CES was Yahoo’s Widgets on TV, Microsoft needs to respond to that either by adding that kind of feature to Windows or by creating a platform for manufactures to incorporate in their TVs and while they are at it make it consumer content from Windows, the ease of development is going to be a big asset for Yahoo over MCML applications

One other thing to watch is where Microsoft’s consumer devices head, Windows Media Center, Windows Home Server and Zune all cross over and need integration and I am sure it’s something we will see in the future (especially Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server)

So while Chris brings up some very good points I don’t go along with what he is saying, but maybe it wishful thinking on my part we will see….

Ian Dixon

Founder of The Digital Lifestyle.com and host of The Digital Lifestyle Show. Started podcasting in 2005, Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP. Lover of gadgets from the Raspberry Pi to the iPad, Android to Windows 8. Also a massive motor racing fan