Joe Belfiore Addresses Media Center & v2 Extender Concerns

Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President of the Entertainment and Devices eHome Division at Microsoft was nice enough to directly address some of my concerns about v2 Extenders.  He stressed that they want to make “media available in every room, with support for ALL OF THE CONTENT to work right” and that the Extenders need to be “available at low prices…that don’t make a lot of fan noise or have other issues” which are principle concerns that I have addressed.



Belfiore also notes that third parties are responsible for marketing and pricing decisions on the Extenders which means including high priced features like Wireless-N to be able to market them to a wide audience.  Having said that, he says “the software [Extender] we’ve built can run on very inexpensive hardware, has a VERY LOW license cost (and I mean VERY low)” so more companies can enter the market and increase competition with a wider range of devices and pricing.  The biggest question is of course, do any companies see our view of an Extender as a profitable product?

In relation to Microsoft’s own products, he said that he can’t comment specifically on the Xbox 360 format support, but added “I will make a principled statement that our top priority is to try to deliver the solutions that end-users want and will benefit from the most.”



Since third parties are really the ones in control for Extenders, Belifore says  “I think the best thing you can do here is let the hardware manufacturers know what you want” something that I strongly agree with and promoted in a post looking for your feedback on what OEMs could offer in an Extender that you are interested in purchasing.



He admits that “there’s a lot of work still to do (across the board)” and stresses that your feedback does help in the process.  Lastly, Belifore says “I think some of these effects are really the near-term downside and risk of working on an open platform” which we will hopefully find out to be true when other companies release Extenders that might be more to everyone liking.



I would really like to thank Joe for replying to my post and taking time to address the concerns of the users.  One of the strengths of the eHome group is that many of them are accessible for take and offer feedback, whether it be here, at The Green Button, or other online blogs.  When people start to doubt your platforms, it is nice to see the faces behind it openly reply and address the issues.  Now we just have to wait for third parties to try and understand what we are looking for Extenders, and that part of the puzzle might be solved. 



Other issues such as the various inconsistencies in related Microsoft platforms is the main thing I would love Microsoft to address.  Zune, Home Server, SoftSled, HD DVD, DVD Streaming, Xbox 360 Extender MPEG-4 update, etc really needs to be addressed in a better fashion.  Honestly, I’m sick of the classic Microsoft mentality of a “proof of concept” and then building from there.  To a point, this is fine however when you leave out many major features and functions it is more like a death warrant.



Get Involved: HDTV Cable Boxes Challenged in Canada

Peter Near has launched a new initiative to help inform Canadians of the issues with the Canadian cable industry and to provide an easy way for you to write your own letters to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telephone Commission (CRTC) to request change and to help bring HDTV and CableCARD so you can take advantage of Vista Media Center, TiVo, and like devices. 



From the Press Release: “The Canadian Radio-Television and Telephone Commission (CRTC) is responsible for regulating the cable industry, and has announced that they will be holding hearings in January to review the regulations governing cable distribution in this country. Mr. Near has written to the CRTC formally requesting that they review the issue of set-top-boxes and consider adopting regulations similar to those in the United States which require cable companies to work with third-party consumer electronics.”



The website, Drop the Box has articles on what Canadians have been missing and provides a way for you to request change.  Peter has his letter published, and wants you to write your own to hopefully bring change where it is needed.



The deadline is October 9, so please visit the website and get involved.


Short Bits: More Extender Questions; Home Server Prices Disappoint too

I’ve been so wrapped up in Extenders that I failed to realize a few other things.  The expensive D-Link doesn’t list MPEG-4 AVC support!  Only MPEG-4 ASP (DivX/XviD).  While it has been known that exact formats are up to OEMs, this is crazy.  The hardware that the D-Link should be based on supports H.264.  Little reason to not support in the $350 standalone Extender.



I’m going to try and check to make sure that’s not a typo, but this launch of Extenders has just been a complete and total failure.  The official Microsoft FAQ says “View videos stored on your PC on your TV, including home movie capabilities, complete with music and subtitles, and support for high definition WMV, DivX, Xvid and H.264 MPEG4.”  So I don’t even know anymore.  Doing some checking.



Buy.com has their Home Server page up now $194.24 with shipping.  I think I’ll pass on that one too.  We Got Served has more, but so far I’m less than impressed here too. Sure, OEM copies of any OS are not targeted at the average consumer, but while Windows Home Server works great I don’t think it is worth $175-$195 plus the cost of a PC and hard drives.  The average price seems to be about $175, but I really think $125 is about the most I would pay for the OEM OS.


First Look: Internet TV Plug-in for Media Center

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Microsoft will be releasing a beta of their new Internet TV plug-in today (US only), it should be automatically downloaded to your PC and will show in the TV+Movies strip.  The video content will come from MSN Video, so you might have seen links to some of the content off your Hotmail account or after a search on MSN.  Over 100 hours of content is supposed to be up, and I assume more will come as time goes on.



Since I have been playing with it over the past week, I must say that it is the most impressive Internet TV application I have used so far.  The main reason I feel that way is because it is one of the few that actually have a UI that provides easy navigation, especially with a remote.



Video quality seems to depend on the specific content, some of which looks very nice and some of which is so bad I wouldn’t bother attempting to watch.  There are a few Halo 3 trailers that looks pretty good (silently above SD), but I watched the premiere of Journeyman and it looked like it was about 320×240 at 400kbps.  That is clearly not something that I wanted to watch through a Media Center Extender on an HDTV.



Content is actually pretty good for only having 100 hours up.  Full seasons of Arrested Development are up, content from other joint-MSN properties like MSNBC and FOX Sports, a number of concerts from bands/groups like John Mayer, the Pussycat Dolls, Oasis, Elton John, and more.  There is also select content from National Geographic, History, HGTV, bio, A&E, and more.


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All of the content is ad supported with the help of YuMe Networks, which actually works nicely from what I have seen so far.  Now, I’m not sure how much of the advertising was live but basically after the video is done streaming I got a quick ad.  90% of the time in my testing, it was a Xbox 360 ad or some sort.  I except more to show up, and I really don’t think it will be bad at all.



Overall, I’m impressed with the Internet TV plug-in just as I’m impressed with the Sports Lounge that was launched at the beginning of the year.  As long as Microsoft continues to add content, I can see myself using this often.  For a platform that gets very few feature updates on a regular basis, these plug-ins do a pretty good job filling the void.


Your Perfect v2 Extender is…



What?  Give the other v2 Extender partners what they need to know in order to develop a product that you will be buying.  Quickly, here is what I see as a few problems that need to be improved on.



Wireless option, not default.  I’ve got CAT5 throughout the house, no need for wireless.  Not the mention that Microsoft suggests a hardwired connection for the best experience.



Gigabit.  Why not?  10/100 might be fast enough, but especially on higher priced models people just expect it now.



Looks.  It’s got to be pretty, for whatever reason that attracts people.  I don’t want much, but it doesn’t seem that most like the options out there now.



File format support.  Most chipsets that are going to be involved already support decoding of VC-1, H.264, and MPEG-4 ASP.  Please make sure different containers like AVI, MP4, and MKV are supported.



DVD streaming.  I think this is a mix between Microsoft on the platform side and the hardware partners.  Anyway, know that your customers want it!  VIDEO_TS playback at a reasonable price and I’ll sell you a couple hundred in the first few hours.



Price.  Standalone Extenders without DVD drives should be $150-$200 (clear cheaper, if it can be done).  I think $150 is really the sweet-spot where you get people to purchase multiple units.  Once you hit $300 a DVD drive better be included, else very few are going be see it as a value over other options.



Anyone got anything else?  A knock out option would be to have a cheap Chinese manufacturer do an HD DVD (or Blu-ray) player with an Extender.


Short Bits: DigitalLife and Extender Wrap-up

Joe Belfiore just finished up his keynote at DigitalLife.  I didn’t watch it, but sounds like little to nothing was said that is not already known.  The big news of course was v2 Extenders and Internet TV beta.  So far very few of you are interesting in buying Extenders at their announced price points so DigitalLife has basically been a bust for me.



Of course there were several Extenders announced.  From $300-$350.  Niveus didn’t releases pricing, but I’m expecting somewhere between $500-$800.



Like most, I wonder what the cost of the Wireless-N support was.  Wireless should be an option, but I’m afraid it just jacked up the price for a feature many wouldn’t use.  That said, if they didn’t include it then people would be complaining that they are still expensive for what you get.  Really a can’t win situation.



Ian Dixon has his Extender news roundup, along with a new Media Center Show on v2 Extenders.  Ian also notes that Microsoft has updated the Extender homepage, and you will notice that I’m not going to refer to them as Extenders for Windows Media Center.



Extenders for Windows Media Center and Internet TV FAQ – Download Here (Press Tab)


Microsoft Unveils Extenders for Windows Media Center and Internet TV Beta



New devices from Cisco’s Linksys division, D-Link, HP and Niveus Media deliver new video formats, form factors and HD TV over wireless home networks; Internet TV beta debuts with more than one hundred hours of free full-screen video.



NEW YORK — Sept. 27, 2007 — Today at DigitalLife, Microsoft Corp. joined initial launch partners in revealing highly anticipated details about new Extenders for Microsoft® Windows Media® Center. These devices, which are expected to be available for purchase this holiday season, will allow easy access to premium cable, high-definition TV, popular video formats including DivX, music, paid movies, photos and more from any TV in the house, with a wired or wireless network connection. People can even pause a recorded show in one room, and then resume it from the same moment in another room.



Microsoft also announced that the Extender technology will be incorporated in HP’s current line of MediaSmart high-definition televisions.



Adding to the wealth of content available on PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows Vista® (available in Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate), Microsoft also launched a beta test of Windows Media Center Internet TV, which will offer more than 100 hours of ad-supported entertainment from MSN® Video, including full-length shows, music concerts and movie trailers.



“We are excited to reveal the first series of totally quiet, cool, and sleek-looking Media Center Extender devices, designed to deliver the ultimate entertainment experience to every TV set in your home,” said Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, Entertainment and Devices eHome Division, Microsoft. “These products are the initial third-party devices that can wirelessly connect a TV with a PC, with features including live high-definition TV, PVR, movies, pictures, music and online services. In addition, the Internet TV beta allows Windows Media Center as well as Extender users to enjoy free* high-quality television from some of their favorite studios and networks in Media Center, directly over the Internet.”



New Devices Build a Wireless Entertainment Bridge Throughout the Home



The Media Center Extender with DVD Player (DMA2200) from Linksys, a division of Cisco, is an elegant solution that combines an upscaling DVD player with a dual-band Wireless-N Extender for Windows Media Center. It allows consumers to enhance their entertainment systems by teaming Extender for Media Center functionality with DVD playback capabilities in a single device. For consumers seeking a smaller form factor, Linksys will also offer the Media Center Extender (DMA2100), which delivers all the appealing features of Extender for Windows Media Center in a compact dual-band Wireless-N solution that is ideal for spaces, such as bedrooms, that call for a smaller device footprint. These new Linksys Media Center Extenders give consumers easy access to their HD television content, digital music and digital photos using just one remote control, and feature both digital and optical audio outputs that enable consumers to utilize their existing custom audio systems. They will be available for consumers to purchase in the U.S. this November at estimated street prices of $349.99 and $299.99, respectively. More information is available at http://www.linksys.com/mce.



The D-Link DSM-750 MediaLounge HD Media Center Extender is housed in a sleek, 17-inch, black aluminum chassis, and connects to the home network using Ethernet or dual-band draft Wireless-N networking to make it easy to enjoy the Windows Media Center experience with friends and family on a home entertainment center. The DSM-750 lets customers enjoy HD videos with resolutions of up to 1080i; supports Windows Media Video (WMV), DivX, and XVid formats; and includes a USB 2.0 port for instant access to music, photos and videos stored on removable USB flash drives or hard drives. The suggested retail price for the device is $349.99 (U.S.).



The HP MediaSmart LCD HDTV, currently available in 42-inch and 47-inch sizes, will support Extender for Windows Media Center technology through an optional software download, expected to be available in early 2008. The MediaSmart TVs support 1080p video, 802.11n wireless, and DivX, XVid, WMV and other video formats — delivering all the compelling features of the Media Center Extender platform incorporated directly into a TV. Although existing MediaSmart users can already access photos, music, videos and movies by simply connecting their TV to their wired or wireless home network, Media Extender functionality will provide them with a new set of enhanced features — such as controlling live TV and accessing Windows Media Center Internet TV — all easily accessible using their TV remote control. The HP MediaSmart TV is available in Best Buy stores nationwide, and through a wide range of audio/visual specialty stores throughout the country.



Designed for the high-end home theater enthusiast, the Niveus Media Extender – EDGE offers a high-fidelity experience, uncompromised 1080p video, digital audio and the same amazing 3-D user interface found on the award-winning Niveus Media Center. Additionally, the Niveus Media Extender features the proprietary Niveus Glacier Passive Cooling System for cool and quiet performance and a sleek and stylish audio/visual form factor. The Niveus Media Extender – EDGE is expected to be available in early November. Pricing has not yet been announced.



Windows Media Center Internet TV Beta Is Launched



On the morning of Sept. 28, 2007, U.S. users of Windows Vista Home Premium edition and Windows Vista Ultimate edition will find a new feature inside Media Center: the beta release of Internet TV. This new feature will allow people to enjoy a range of television and video content on their PCs and TV sets without a TV tuner in their PC. This streaming video content will be supported by an advertising platform provided by YuMe and will be available to viewers for free.*



The content available in Internet TV comes from MSN Video, with more than 100 hours available at the start of the beta period, including the following:



  • Full episodes of TV shows such as the critically acclaimed “Arrested Development”         
  • Full-length music concerts by artists such as Chris Cornell, Snoop Dogg, Elton John, Pink, John Mayer and the Pussycat Dolls
  • High-quality movie trailers from major movie studios
  • The latest news segments from MSNBC
  • Sports clips from FOX Sports


















Internet TV has been designed for both the TV and PC screen, and features high-quality video optimized for broadband streaming. Viewers can enjoy these high-quality videos on Extenders for Windows Media Center, including Xbox 360® consoles, as well as PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows Vista (available in Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate).



Extend Your Digital Entertainment to the Whole Home



Watching a recorded TV show in the living room, pausing it, and then quickly resuming it from the bedroom or kitchen will soon become even easier with these new low-heat, quiet, home-theater-designed devices. Extenders for Windows Media Center support streaming live high-definition TV, including premium cable channels in the United States, along with formats such as high-definition WMV. The D-Link, HP and Linksys devices add built-in support for dual-band Wireless-N networking; and the D-Link and HP devices have expanded support for popular video formats such as DivX, XVid and H.264. These devices allow people to almost instantly start enjoying their entertainment — there’s no need for a built-in hard drive to cache the video before viewing.



New Extender devices are expected to be available this holiday season and will unleash photos, music, videos, and both live and recorded TV from PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows Vista for viewing and listening on big-screen TV displays or standard definition TVs, delivering the ultimate entertainment solution with a wide range of flexibility — ready for today and the future.



These Extenders will lead the industry in supporting the ability to send protected HD content to additional rooms, including recorded TV from over-the-air Advanced Television Systems Committee or Digital Cable tuners. Extenders also support on-demand broadband content from Media Center Online Media partners such as up-to-date sports reports from FOXSports.com, kids programming from Nickelodeon, downloadable TV episodes from Showtime Networks, and subscription movies on demand from Starz VONGO, along with support for a wealth of third-party plug-in applications.



More information about new Extenders for Windows Media Center is available at http://www.windowsvista.com/extender.



v2 Extenders Let Down Big in Price Points

Update: Joe Belfiore, VP of the eHome division at Microsoft addressed some of these issues in the comments of this post, scroll down for more.

Well, so much for v2 Extenders being anything close to a success.  I’ve been talking about what price points a successful Extender needs to be at for years (2005 here people), and today we find out that D-Link’s offering is set to retail for $350, and considering that Linksys’ is most likely built on the exact same hardware it isn’t likely to be much different in price (Updated: Just announced at $300 for standalone, and $350 for DVD/Extender.  Not bad in comparison to D-Link, but nothing to get excited about)



What doesn’t Microsoft understand here?  First the public’s feeling is that they are limiting Extenders to the Xbox 360 so they can grab all the profit (not really since they lose on every 360, but that’s the general public’s feeling) so their solution is have partners add Wireless-N and additional codec support in standalone v2 Extenders and sell it for $80 more than an Xbox 360?  Even better, codec support on the Xbox 360 Extender doesn’t seem like it will improve much so their is no “good” Extender to purchase for someone like me.



Unless these prices can fall fast, I think this is the end for Extenders.  Great concept, but they just can’t pull it together.  I’m not paying $350 for a standalone Extender, and that sets the DVD/Extender combos at somewhere between $400-$450.  Crazy.  Anyone want to guess what premium an Extender TV will come at now?



I think this is the last time Linksys will touch the product.  Their v1 Extender bombed due to platform restrictions on Microsoft’s part and high price, and I don’t see them pushing to many v2 Extenders unless their price is much lower.  Two failed product revisions would tell me to get out of that market and concentrate on my own offerings much like HP has done with their MediaSmart division.



While I don’t like where they are going in terms of being able to work with protected content, I’m now very interested to see what price point Sage’s upcoming standalone Extender will ship at.  Microsoft has yet to be able to put the pieces together with Media Center; my renewed internet in Media Center has now fallen so low that I can’t even explain it.



To sum it up, four CableCARDs only for custom installs.  v1 Extenders don’t work on Vista (no rebate program either).  Overpriced v2 Extenders.  No DVD streaming to overpriced Extenders.  No MPEG-4 support in Xbox 360 Extenders.  No SoftSled (Software Extender). Delayed launch/beta of the Media Center update in Vista.  No DIRECTV support despite it being announced two years ago.  Zune that doesn’t sync with Media Center.  Windows Home Server which doesn’t work out-of-the-box with Media Center. <Insert other bad choices here by eHome and other Microsoft product divisions>.



If I was running a company or division that I didn’t want to succeed, what would be my next move?  The good thing is that we don’t need to guess, just wait another few months and it is bound to happen right in front of our eyes.

Edit: I’d also like to note that D-Link has their DSM-520, and while it is not a Media Center Extender it does support the exact same formats (DVR-MS, MPEG-2, WMV9, MPEG-4 ASP, MPEG-4 AVC) and can be purchased for $150 to $180 at major US retailers.  While the UI sucks, you are basically paying double the price for a true Media Center Extender that gives you access to the nice UI, a single management point, access to your PCs tuners, and the ability to playback protected recordings.

Update: Linksys standalone v2 Extender will be $300, DVD/Extender will be $350.  HP will provide an update for their current MediaSmart HDTVs to enable Extender functionality.

Update: Joe Belfiore, VP of the eHome division at Microsoft addressed some of these issues in the comments of this post, scroll down for more.