Going Beyond The Enthusiast Market

Charlie Owen, a former Media Center team member wrote a post this
week about Media Center expanding its marketplace, specifically
going from
the current enthusiast market to a more mainstream market
.  Charlie analysis comes to the pretty simple
answer of It’s
possible, but highly unlikely at this point.”

I had previously come to this conclusion, but to me
the real question is “
will Microsoft attempt to develop for the
enthusiast market?”  Lucky for me,
Charlie replied to my comment with exactly what I was expecting

Charlie: “No. That’s because they have never done so. The enthusiast market is
always a subset of the overall market any product targets. Put another way:
Where the goal is making a profit you wouldn’t sacrifice a broad market
opportunity of 100 for the narrow enthusiast market of 10. Making a
Microsoft-sized profit is different than making a profit if you were a much
smaller company.”

In other words the future for Media Center is one or two
options.  Option 1: Microsoft stops
development of Media Center (very unlikely).  Option 2:
Microsoft transitions Media Center to a market which has the possibility to
create a “Microsoft-sized profit.” (Hint: TV on your PC)  Re-quoting
myself
from early this year, the days of Media Center being billed as the
do-it-all center of your home are over.

My opinion continues to be that Microsoft will focus more
and more on the Xbox
360 as the center of the home
.  The
benefits of the Xbox 360 over Media Center are almost endless from a business
perspective.  The massive amount of end
users (an unquestionable 30 million, with 20 million of them being Xbox Live
subscribers) means content providers are going to flock to the platform.  Microsoft can sit back and rake in yearly
recurring revenue from these 20 million Xbox Live subscribers along with the
massive amounts of licensing accessories and the Xbox 360 brand.  Media Center on the other hard makes
Microsoft absolutely no money as it is a part of the standard Windows SKU (eg.
No one except members of The Green Button ever purchased a Windows license just
to get Media Center).

There are still people holding out hope for Media Center to
become a platform for the home.  The
recent announcement that Dish
Network will not be shipping
their tuner anytime soon didn’t
surprise me one bit
.  Why would Dish
bother to continue with Media Center when it is pretty clear Microsoft is
moving away from the consumer they thought they were buying into?  This same concept is at play with Media
Center Extender’s.  There is still some
hope that Toshiba
will be releasing an Extender, but I think the concept
that most people miss is that whether it gets released or not means little in
the grand scheme of things.  If
Microsoft’s heart is not in providing a platform for the home, you can really
know going into your purchase that you’re going to end up disappointed at some
point.

The biggest question mark might be Windows Home Server.  For years I have said the concept of
including Media Center in Windows Home Server is pointless
and does nothing to expand the current market
.  If HP ditched Extender’s and CableCARD due to
poor sales, why exactly would they have the least bit of interest in shipping a
Media Center+Home Server box?  If OEMs
are not interested, why is Microsoft going to develop it?

Most people underestimate the OEMs when talking about Media
Center.  OEMs are really responsible for
Media Center from start to finish from a customer’s perspective.  HP and Dell have shown they have little
interest in Media Center by either discounting CableCARD PCs, killing off
Extender’s, and even in HPs case killing off their HT-styled z-series Media
Centers.  Dish
Network
and DIRECTV
are just as important and have shown that they are increasing less interested.

Microsoft’s latest attempt to make a market for Media Center
has been the custom integrator channel, and some have big
expectations
for what Microsoft might have in store.  Sadly most of the possibilities have already
been proven false, and based on what I’ve been told from those in the industry
interest in Media Center in the custom channel is dropping fast.  I’m interest to see how much longer Microsoft
attempts to push into the market.  With
their partner OEMs such as HP, Linksys, Dish Network pulling out these leaves
the custom OEMs like Niveus Media and Life|ware to pick up the slack.  Unfortunately there is only such much they
can do.  If Microsoft’s commitment in the
channel falls it might be the end of the custom market experiment.

So once again the question is what’s next.  Recently there have been some great new
bloggers
show up in the Media Center community with some great
suggestions.  I’m done with
suggestions.  Microsoft knows exactly
what we want, let’s not pretend they don’t. 
The issue is it is no longer in their best interest to pursue most of
it.  What’s next?  Who knows. 
All I want at this point is for Microsoft to publicly provide a roadmap
for what Media Center is to become.

What Do You Think of Windows 7 Media Center?

This weekend I installed Windows 7 on my Media Center and
thought about writing a review.  However,
I think Ben
successfully did that already
so rather than try and recreate it I’d rather
know what you think.

Looking through Ben’s list of new features and changes, the
one thing I noticed was that the vast majority of them are visual changes to
the UI or straight up eye candy.  Sure,
they add additional functionality but channel logos, TV show images, colored
coded EPG, and fancy fading in/out only goes so far when there are dozens of
useful features still needed to make Media Center the center of the home.

Features like HomeGroup are great, but once again it doesn’t
work with protected CableCARD content and some
people aren’t too happy with that
.  Several
of the other cool features existing in the TV Pack, so if you managed to get it
stable enough to use you will see less “new” features in Windows 7 than those
who have been using Vista w/o TV Pack.  Overall I’m happy with Windows 7 for my personal use; however
it fails to make further inroads into any market except the existing enthusiast
market.

What’s your opinion? 
What do you like and dislike? 
What features are missing?