Microsoft Rejuvenates Media Center at CEDIA

It is no secret that I don’t agree with all the choices
Microsoft makes with regards to Media Center, however I still believe that it
is a fantastic product.  Microsoft
doesn’t seem to see the potential that it has though.  Despite this and with a few exceptions, CEDIA
has shown me that Microsoft still has a great interest in Media Center.  The products and announcements that have come
out in last week finally have Media Center heading back in the right direction
(well, unless you don’t live in the US).

Just one side note, CEDIA is an expo for custom installers, products,
and services.  Therefore the prices of many of the new products represent
that market and not the perspective of the average consumer.

Starting off with Media Center Extenders, Microsoft
announced with their partners that they will indeed support DivX and Xvid
(MPEG-4 ASP, H.264 should also be supported)
I have
noted that they should be able to for over a year now
, and I’m very glad
that it both came to life and that Microsoft to clearly pushing the fact that
they do support third party codecs.  The only problem I have with the
announcement was nothing was said about DVD
streaming
, so right now it appears that didn’t make the cut.  This is
really the last piece of the puzzle for the Media Center ecosystem, but all in
all I’m excited about the new offerings from Linksys,
D-Link
, and
Niveus Media
.  DVD streaming would be a key feature to put Media
Center over the top of any other solution out there.  It still needs to happen, and at the least we
need a public statement from Microsoft on why it hasn’t yet.  I will continue to blog about and push for
the addition of DVD streaming, which always could happen via a software update. 

CableCARD
was the next big topic at CEDIA
, with Microsoft announcing support for up
to four CableCARD tuners in Vista Media Center.  I
criticized Microsoft for only launching this for the custom installer market
,
mainly because it is another slap in the face to everyone who has been
supporting Media Center for the last five years.  So many non-supported
upgrades and products as time has passed, this one really pissed me off. 
I’ve been trying to justify the reasoning in my mind, and I can understand why
Microsoft started here, but it’s just unfortunate that they have failed at so
many other Media Center related upgrades this is just icing on the cake. 
The only good part about this is that it can be changed in the future, and
maybe when it is the cost of four tuners will not be ~$1,200 as it is
today.  Once again, bad decision on Microsoft part but I’ll give them a
year to fix it as prices drop on Digital Cable Tuners.  Now, I don’t own a
CableCARD PC so I understand that those who do might have different
feelings.  Let me know what you think.  If you could get them added
to your machine, would you right now with the cost of tuners so high?  At
$1,200 for the tuners alone I can understand why they wanted to start with the
custom installer market.  Most important out of this whole situation,
Microsoft officially supports four tuners within Media Center after five
years.  Just them finally deciding it was
needed was a relief.  For Media Center to
be considered a whole home solution (in other words, for people to feel like
they should spend money for Extenders), it needs to support these four tuners.

There were plenty of hardware announcements at CEDIA too, led by
Niveus Media
and Exceptional
Innovation
Both of these companies are really showing the power of the Media Center
platform with custom hardware and software solutions.  Russound,
Crestron
, Alienware,
and ACE
Computers
also announced new Media Center products geared toward custom
installers.

Lastly, Microsoft is making an effort to provide additional
content and value to enhance Media Center.  Among the top pickups is WebGuide,
which Microsoft will now be providing for free
.  It will be interested
now that Doug works for Microsoft what becomes of WebGuide.  Will
Microsoft kill it off, or is there something else in the picture?

Internet
TV is also coming to Media Center with an upcoming plug-in
that Microsoft
will launch this month at DigitalLife in New York.  A very interesting
idea that, I assume, will include ad supported content from major providers (in
the US).  I personally like this concept more than a paid service, most of
which have failed at this point.  Stay tuned for more around September 27.

The new features and hardware upgrades where not actually
why I feel that this year’s CEDIA has revived Media Center.  The reason is
because of the press.  I have never seen more coverage of Media Center, ever. 
CE Pro covered CEDIA fantastically,
the large blogs had multiple posts about the related announcements with people
actually commenting and providing feedback.  The Extender announcement made it
on to the frontpage of Digg
and got great feedback there to. 
Microsoft has failed to advertise Media Center, but getting people excited on
the web is very important.  Millions learned about Media Center and
Extenders through this coverage and getting positive feedback both excites and
encourages people to research the product and give it a chance.  Microsoft
still has some work to do, but I think CEDIA is the best showing that Microsoft
has ever been able to pull off.

Do you think that the events this past week at CEDIA have
rejuvenated Media Center?  Please vote in the poll and leave a comment if
you have something to say.

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8 thoughts on “Microsoft Rejuvenates Media Center at CEDIA

  1. Eh, this does very little for me. Nowhere is it mentioned that the X360 extender will have Divx/Xvid. That would make my day.

    It would also make my day if they somehow allowed people to build CableCARD systems. Who cares if these machines supports four CableCARDS? I guess I never even took the original limit seriously, so this means very little to me.

    The new extenders sound nice, but the only news here is that someone finally got their act together and delivered something that we all expected almost a year ago. Very curious about pricing.

    Webguide: nice…. I guess. Kinda depends on whether Doug (or MSFT) continues developing it. Could be a net negative otherwise IMO. But seriously, I’m happy for Doug!

    Also, from the first line of the extender press release:
    “Watching a live TV broadcast in the living room, pausing it, and then effortlessly resuming it at the same moment from the bedroom or kitchen…”

    Is this actually possible now? Or is it a new feature? Admittedly I’ve never actually tried it, but my assumption was that the extender would start over from beginning since it’s a different user account.

  2. “Watching a live TV broadcast in the living room, pausing it, and then effortlessly resuming it at the same moment from the bedroom or kitchen…”

    Yes, this is possible now. When you pause it at the server and then when you go to the extender it will say “resume”

  3. I really have to wonder if CableCard technology will last long and/or is worth it.

    I have a DCT from ATI, and it has been a pretty bad experience. Mine came with my HP 8100y. Didn’t make it past the first day without errors. After a few hours of use, MCE told me no “tv tuner available.” I didn’t make any changes immediately before the error, so it was hard to figure out why I was getting the error. HP was useless in helping figure out what the error meant (10+ hours on the phone with them). I finally figured out it was because my firewall was blocking MCE, which needs to phone home every now and then for the DRM.

    Then, I changed my video card from NVIDIA to ATI 2600. No go. Got an error about “restricted content- Video Driver.” Called ATI…they had no idea what error meant…told me to call HP. HP said it has no idea what it meant…told me to call ATI.

    And, before my cablecard, I could edit DVR-MS files. Now, can’t do it…not a one. All are now protected. That also means can’t play them on any other computer. And, if your cablecard stops working…you can’t play them either.

    Finally, my cable company (Cox) recently announced that they are going to switched digital video. Argh…cablecard won’t work with that.

    DRM has killed CableCard already.

    If you wonder why a custom installer is required for 4 tuners…just get one…and you’ll understand.

  4. Good summary Chris. I’m happy too that the word is getting out. Yes I’m really bummed too regarding DVD streaming (I bought a VGP-XL1B2 changer with the hope of one day being able to stream to extenders). If I could have anything added to Media Center at this point that would be it… keep pushing it for us!

    In regards to DCTs… hell yes I would buy some if I could add them to my machine. Yes they’re expensive, but I would pay it because that’s the beauty of being able to ADD THEM… I can buy 1 or 2 now, 1 more next spring, 1 more next fall, and so on. Don’t make me buy them all at once or buy a whole new frickin machine… I ALREADY HAVE 3!

    This is 2007! Everyone I know (not just enthusiasts), family, friends, coworkers… we already have late model computers that we’re happy with… DON’T MAKE US BUY A NEW MACHINE just to get the latest capability in VMC… you’re killing it by doing this. There’s got to be a solution here.

  5. Waiting another year for some kind of enthusiast oriented positive change…

    The expense of CableCard, while understandable given the development costs, is just too much. With SDV* on the horizon for every major cable carrier in the next 1 to 2 years there is no way to justify, in my mind, the cost of purchasing a CableCard PC. Some markets have already switched to SDV, and many more have begun the conversion process.

    Unless ATI announces an OCUR firmware update to handle CableCard 2.0 or that the next gen OCUR is in the pipe to support CableCard 2.0, this is all a dead end.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switched_digital_video

  6. I think I’ll wait for the products to actually materialize before making a decision.

    While the new new extenders are great news, I am still really fired up about the custom installer thing for tuners. No way I can afford a custome system from Niveus.

    And still the lack of dvd streaming. It’s not like it can’t be done! I mean you can do it with orb over the internet, I should definatly be able to do it fro media center to an extender. More of a pain really have to encode them for extenders.

    So we’ll see if they actually produce theses products. I mean it’s been almost a year with no extender option but the 360.

  7. Chris, do you think that the absence of DVD streaming reflects Microsoft’s interest in trying to do away with the disc (of any format) so that they can get a piece of direct digital delivery of content?
    For all the work they did to get Cable card support, it seems that it shouldn’t be too hard to DVD’s working. As a workaround, how about having DVD’s on the server but having software that randomly checks the Firewire changers (that are already being sold) to make sure the disc is there. If you could get that kind of technology to work, then the possibilities are endless. Think of loading up Firewire changers with every kind of disc (not just CD & DVD) but also HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, DVD-A, SACD, XBox, PS3, Wii, PC Game etc, having the data downloaded on a server (multi-terabyte of course) and then used/accessed/played from anyplace in the house that has an extender. Sure that’s a crazy idea, but it shouldn’t be that hard to do and the random check with the changer should address any DRM issues (though they should increase the changer capacity of the firewire changes to 400 like other changers). Of course this wouldn’t be ready next year, but why not plan for this long-term?

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