Microsoft Focuses Media Center Marketing, Platform to Follow

The first sign of a business in trouble is when you must reinvent
yourself to stay alive.  Microsoft
not actually be reinventing Media Center, mostly becasue you can’t
reinvent something that you never actually defined a market for in the
first place, but they are finally attempting to delineate where they
see Media Center competing in such a growing marketplace (and that’s
not a
good thing for most reading this).

Media Center started as a method to watch TV on the PC.  Essentially it was marketed to college
students to cut down the number of devices in their dorm.  Then it grew up and Microsoft focused on getting
Media Center off the PC and onto the big screen.  Media Center 2004-2005 and Extenders helped
drive this concept.  Media Center was the
star of CES keynotes of the past focusing on the next-generation home.  Much of this is outlined in the Evolution
of Windows Media Center
that Microsoft just finished.

The video might have a few hidden messages that are hard to
catch, but I think they define Media Center’s future and show that
Microsoft has finally attempted to focus on a specific market.

(Microsoft presented this image at WinHEC)

 “TV on your PC” is
Microsoft’s new marketing talk for what Media Center is and does (hear
it from Media Center marketing PM Ben Reed here
~30 seconds in) .  Not whole home connected entertainment, not
Media Center in your living room, not Extenders, not high-end theaters, but “TV
on your PC.”  In other words, the days of
Media Center being billed as the do-it-all center of your home are over (except
for the custom market).

For the first time, Media Center officially has a market,
and while that is good news that Microsoft has finally defined who they are
developing for, it is bad news for most reading this post as you can now be
sure Media Center will never be the platform you have dreamed of.

Thinking about it, the signs have been developing over the
past months.  The lack
of Media Center at CES keynote
makes perfect sense if it is being billed as
just a way to watch TV on your PC.  No
need to make a big deal about that.  Microsoft
touting touch screen support in Windows 7 half has to do with them putting way
to much emphasis on touch in Windows 7 in general, but also helps them show off
using a kitchen PC for watching TV on. 
Why exactly do I need this in a product that is meant to be controlled
with a remote?  This was recently questioned on The
Green Button
and Engadget
HD’s most recent podcast
.  Mouse
clickable seekbar in Windows 7, yet again a sign of Media Center moving onto
the desktop and away from the TV.

I think Microsoft will continue to focus on the CEDIA
channel as well, which most likely means my fears of Microsoft developing new
cool features that are only available to OEMs is going to come true.  Niveus Media and Exceptional Innovation (Life|ware)
will likely see the majority of the attention. 
Smaller Media Center OEMs will start to fade away after being ignored by
Microsoft who hasn’t grasped the concept that all of the smaller OEMs serve the
exact same high-end customers as Niveus and Life|ware (examples include support
for 10
Extenders, 8 CableCARD tuners for only Niveus/Life|ware
).  I think we will see Microsoft heavily market
an appliances-like
device to these OEMs
(unclear if the functionality will be avaiable to the
masses, but I don’t see it marketed to them).

If there is a plus side (hard to think of it as
that) to this it would be in the form of much lower expectations.   Hopefully
I’m wrong, but this change could end Media Center as we know (or think we know)
it today.

40 thoughts on “Microsoft Focuses Media Center Marketing, Platform to Follow

  1. I think Microsoft could do so much more with Media Center if they would do just a few things:
    1. Separate Media Center from the OS.
    2. Quit the DRM stuff. CableCard can have the DRM, but don’t push DVR-MS or the new DRMd format on the users for non-CableCard channels.
    3. Allow Server/Client architecture
    4. Allow hardware extenders to do nearly everything the server can do.
    5. Open up to the Hauppauge HD-PVR and possibly a DishTV tuner????

  2. That sounds crazy to me. After having a PC in the livingroom that does *everything* I could possibly want from an entertainment device, there is no way I’d go back to a lame standard TV experience.

    I was running a central MC machine with 3 extenders, but simply put the extenders take too long to boot (3-4 minutes before you can watch the TV).

    So I switched to a PC in the back cupboard behind the plasma, and the extenders are elsewhere in the house.

    This. Is. Great!

    I guess we are not the mainstream market – with that many screens in the house, but a lot of my friends now have MC machines in their home after seeing our setup – the lifecycle of the family TV setup is a few years, and it’s a slow process for this to move through the market. Particularly if MS rely on people like me to show their friends and don’t push the product themselves!

    It would be a LOT quicker if MS were to have a concerted advertising campaign showcasing the record, pause rewind and the other geewiz features of the MC – they could even hire Jerry Seinfeld to do it!

  3. Stringing together a single marketing video + a graphic in a WinHEC slide + a value proposition snippet from a CES scripted demo is a pretty thin basis for this post.

    I *really* hope you come to the MVP summit this year and we have a chance to sit down and chat.

  4. I guess it’s getting about time to go beat another dead horse. Shame great tech but they never managed to really want to succeed with the consumer with it… instead they kept trying to get in bed with big media, which allays leads to stagnation and death.

  5. Charlie: Maybe you can just address the community before we talk because I’ve asked you this very questions in several of your blog posts.

    So, who exactly is Microsoft developing for.  You, along with the entire eHome team should be able to answer this in 2 sentences max.  In the past 5 years I’ve yet to find someone, anyone, no matter how high up we can just tell me who the market is.  Very simple question.  Who is Media Center developed for and who is it marketed towards?

  6. Let’s face it, this is the only direction they can really take Media Center once cable companies finish transitioning from analog.

    In about a year, the only thing a Media Center will be able to record are a few channels over ATSC — and I don’t see anyone jumping in delight over that thought.

    Cable companies are doing everything they can to keep 3rd party devices outside their sandbox. And satellite providers haven’t exactly been falling over themselves to come up with a working solution either.

    Without content, Media Center as a TV platform is dead. 🙁

  7. I think you want a very specific and succinct answer and we can’t give you one because our product enables many, many, many scenarios — and that’s one of our goals.

    How would you define ‘who’ is the market for Windows? Or the Mac[OS]? It’s extremely hard to bucket these products because of the inherent flexibility, power and adaptability.

    But I’ll take a stab with some sentences — they will be awfully inadequate — but I’ll suggest them nonetheless.

    1) Windows Media Center provides a user experience which makes the consumption of multiple types of personal media (in no particular order: music, pictures, videos, tv, movies) a great experience.

    2) Windows Media Center seeks to provide commercially made content (what has been historically thought of as television and movies) on your Windows computer in multiple ways: antennda, cable and internet.

  8. It’s really simple for me. If I’m expected to upgrade to Windows 7 to get features that should of been included in Vista MCE(H.264, blu-ray, Hulu, etc.), I’m going to find alternative software(boxee, media portal, linuxe MCE, etc.)…and so will all those coders out there that currently keep MS MCE afloat with great 3rd party plugins.(My netflix, My Movies, Yougle, etc.)

    If Microsoft continues to let MCE go comatose, that means there’s a relatively large market out there for a smaller outfit to step up to the plate and offer us what we really wanted when we wasted our cash on Vista MCE. Windows 7 MCE looks great, but so did Vista MCE. I’m not making that mistake again.

    Let MCE die. Smeone else will step up and do it right. Once I get my Boxee alpha invite, I don’t plan on looking back.

    Sorry for the frustrated tone of this post, but sometimes you gotta vent.

  9. Thank you Charlie…peace!

    I’d be curious what your take is on the Intel/Yahoo Widgets offerings announced this year. Is this something that gives you pause at the E&D division as to the future roadmap of the Media “Extender” platform? I get the feeling that Yahoo Widgets deal is going to be big deal and shouldn’t be left unchecked.

  10. If what Charlie says is true, then we will have to see just how many 3rd party add-ons come out for Media Center.

    If the Media Center future is this “open” platform, as Charlie prescribes, then there will have to be a wealth of add-on devices (i.e. CableCard tuners, Dish, etc.) available to anyone who has a Media Center computer, in the same way one can today add a 3rd party ATSC tuner to _ANY_ Media Center computer.

    One of the main things that made Windows what it is today was/is the ability to add any number of third party hw/sw products to the platform (i.e. no OEM closed system only BS).

    Guess we will just have to wait and see if this truly holds for Media Center.

  11. I’m actually kind of liking the idea of “TV on the PC” with all the mouse and touch based control options. Maybe we’ll finally get proper softsled/resourse sharing now!! … Oh wait, this is eHome we’re talking about. They’re not allowed to be that creative/innovative…

    Yeah, I’m moving onto SageTV who actually has an idea of who they’re trying to reach and actually develop for them instead of setting up roadblocks, dropping much needed features, ignoring their core audience to go after CIC and OEM markets, etc.

  12. In that case Charlie, you are doing a great job of 1. not sure of 2.

    I know we’re not in the front of mind down here in Australia, so maybe we don’t get to see the marketing showing the average Jane how great MC is… but why does it seem like I am showing something new to my friends when I fire MC up.

    There is no awareness.

  13. The keypoint Ben Reed made to me at CES was while Media Center wasn’t demoed it was one of the 3 screens of Windows shown most of the keynote, and one of the 3 ways of connection to the cloud
    1) The PC (via the windows)
    2) The Phone (via WinMo)
    3) The TV (via the Media Center UI)

    So if you want to access internet content on the TV then Media Center is the way to do it

    Look at HomeGroup and the content sharing, this is great for me, with Windows 7 I can record a show on my touchsmart, watch it on my Xbox and then copy it to my netbook

  14. A threat to Media Center is Yahoo Widgets, this delivers internet connect direct to the TV with out a PC. For some people this is just what they want.
    For me is more about centralizing the content and distrusting around the home as well as being a fantastic DVR

    What is needed for Media Center is more internet content like iPlayer and Hulo

  15. Ian: I’d highly argue point 3. If you want access to internet content, the Xbox 360 looks to be the future (and maybe current) for Microsoft.

    JonAU: Your first point kind of plays into my same Xbox as the new Media Center concept. What Media Center does can’t be touched by any other product. However, given its drawbacks (price, stability, etc) I can go with dozens of other products that might not have the same feature set but do offer enough for me to be happy. I think this is a huge problem for Microsoft.

  16. Charlie: Defining the market for an OS is a bit different then a single application.  I’m sure I can go to the Office team and ask who Excel is developed for and they could tell me despite the fact that it as a large and diverse userbase.

    Media Center is a sole application that Microsoft should be able to say exactly what their goal is with it.  Maybe it has a few different goals for different subsets of the market.  Your definition of Media Center above makes no note of where Media Center should be placed in the home.  It doesn’t say if Media Center is a desktop application for the PC or the center of the home.  It doesn’t say if Microsoft strives to provide options to the high end CI market.

    Your telling me I’m wrong for saying Microsoft’s focus has shifted to the desktop, but it doesn’t appear that you can actually give me any reasons I’m wrong.  This is what I’m really looking to know.

    #1 sounds like the goal of Windows Media Player and Zune.  (BTW, Still interested to know why I can’t use my Zune with Media Center)

    #2 is flawed in my opinion based on the lack of stability in the TV app and the lack of online content offered (I’ve watched about everything I have interest in off MSN).  Your saying it takes years to develop the functionality, something I clearly can’t argue with as you have been doing it for years, but why are others come out with more innovative concepts with significantly less development time.

    CES 2009 showed me that the PC isn’t needed for online content and me experience with Media Center for TV shows my that it isn’t stable enough to run a households TV experience.

  17. Too bad,

    That company is just too big and no one there has any vision. I guess I will have to wait and see if Apple or someone else decides they would like to do it right, no I don’t own an Apple…..yet

  18. Chris: “Your definition of Media Center above makes no note of where Media Center should be placed in the home. It doesn’t say if Media Center is a desktop application for the PC or the center of the home. It doesn’t say if Microsoft strives to provide options to the high end CI market.”

    That’s totally and completely intentional.

    Short story: Yesterday my family used Windows Media Center three different ways: On my laptop on the commute to work, my wife on the computer in the home office while scrapbooking, and in our living room as a family via XBox 360 Extender. [And I might add, it’s been doing so ever since Windows Vista RTM without a hiccup.]

    That’s part of the strength of Windows Media Center: It works extremely well for broad usage patterns. Everything from netbook to laptop to desktop to living room PC to central hub + extenders. Mouse to keyboard to remote control to touch (in Windows 7).

  19. Sadly I think the “jack of all trades, master of none” applies here. Media Center can’t be a do-it-all platform and succeed in the marketplace (except for the desktop, where it really just replaces Media Player).

    Give me a call later today, I shot you an e-mail a few minutes ago.

  20. I don’t know who it should be marketed to but it works great for me. I sold my soul to MS years ago when I was taking NT 4 exams.

    I’ve been running ota digital and analog cable for years. The little voice in the back of my head that’s gaining volume is asking for more HD channels and ufc ppv. It’s the only piece that’s missing for me. I don’t think it has to do with Microsoft as much as it does with cablelabs and satellite providers.

    Cablelabs just reminds me of the ‘looters’ in Atlas Shrugged.

  21. I’ve been reading Chris’s blog for quite a while and have really enjoyed it. I love the way he’s trying to put a fire under the developers of the Media Center team. Given that, I’ve been using Media Center for about 4 years now (Since MCE 2005). For myself, someone who is not pushing the envelope of what Media Center does or what it could be, I have seen some good improvement over the years. Vista Media Center is a lot more stable than MCE 2005, and what I’ve seen in Windows 7, it continues to be a better product then what Vista is.

    I’ve seen that there have been improvments with Media Center. But… there’s still a long way to go to make it the ultimate experience. I wouldn’t be jumping ship to Sage TV or other platforms at this time. I’ve heard just as many (or more) complaints about Sage, as there are with VMC. Each platform seems to have it’s strengths, and weakness.

    I would love to see future improvements in stability, and features such as Blu-Ray playback, and solutions for the upcoming Switched Digital Video. And, imho, Internet Tv is definitly not ready for prime time. There still needs a lot of work done in this area before it could budge me from Cable/Satellite Tv.

  22. Charlie:”That’s part of the strength of Windows Media Center: It works extremely well for broad usage patterns. Everything from netbook to laptop to desktop to living room PC to central hub + extenders. Mouse to keyboard to remote control to touch (in Windows 7).”

    I think the problem folks have with Media Center right now is that there aren’t enough ways to get content (TV in particular) INTO the box, not to view what’s already there. The only real option are ATSC tuners. CableCard support is great and all, but the limitations are crazy (OEM PC only, tuner cost, SDV issues). Don’t even get me started on the whole DirecTV fiasco.

  23. For the record my intent of the “I can’t be the only one” post on the Greenbutton wasn’t to question touch in MediaCenter. Since I’m a lazy developer, I’m excited to see improvements in this area. I can see a HP Touchsmart type setup in my kitchen or familyroom and using MediaCenter as the primary UI. Assuming improved 3rd party plug-ins become available(ie a Better documented more robust SDK). I started the thread to question how someone could use the videos guide example in a real world application. No one would use a HP touchsmart as their primary mediacenter, and unless I’m mistaken a shared EPG isn’t going to happen in Windows 7. I don’t see it as a great example of what can be done in Mediacenter, I watch the video and see someone showing off what CANT be done with mediacenter.

    As soon as you have to leave the MediaCenter interface, you no longer have a “MediaCenter”. Regardless of the reasons, the more times goes by the more people are having to leave the interface to watch their content breaking the selling point to the solution.

    Chris hit the nail on the head.. Stop being the jack of all trades. Please develop for the custom/enthusiast market keeping information and knowledge about how to better improve Mediacenter with the world. Regardless of the DVR portion, you have a great platform to build off of. The most frustrating part for me over the last year has been watching Mediacenter turn more and more into a secret handshake club. In the grand scheme of things it is to small of a market to do this. Share the knowledge and know how, because everyone will win in this scenario.

  24. I’ve pretty much given up hope that broadcast HD content will arrive through my Media Center in a simple and low-cost way (and especially here in Canada). But on the positive side, all of my other digital media now flows through my Media Center and Xbox 360. All of my friends and family are suitably impressed when it all comes together – the album art, the digital photos enlarged on my big screen, recorded movies at my fingertips, home automation, etc.

    I just wish that it was cheaper (my neighbors are not going to shell out $1500 for a MCE, no matter how cool it is), sync’ed better (gee, I thought I added that song in my library yesterday, where is it?) and was more stable (I dread getting calls at work from my Mom asking why my TV isn’t working). I can’t imagine a non-IT person deploying it within their home or a cable company renting it to their client base – there’s way too many moving parts to have it deployed on a wide scale, profitably. How many times have you come downstairs in the morning and found a non-responsive, black screen – no matter how many error reports have been generated to send to Microsoft – my kids instinctively just reboot!

    This essentially leaves two markets: the computer savvy dads/kids and the CEDIA crowd (installation/service of MCE within user homes). It appears that the bulk of the marketing effort has gone to promote within the CEDIA community. I always look forward to each trade show to see how many tuners you can fit in to the next incarnation of MCE (are we at 8 or 16 now?) or the next $500 remote to be released imminently – it is a good target market when employed well-paid IT professionals and investment bankers were lining up to buy it (maybe the bankers can still use TARP funds). In the end, while the IT professional and CEDIA are an important sub-market, the key market needs to be wide consumer deployment – without this, I can’t see Microsoft justifying the team size to push Media Center to its potential, or the price coming down to a level that my neighbors can start using it.

    And things are changing – way more downloadable content now (legal:YouTube and suspect:torrents), larger widescreen desktop monitors, etc. I don’t really need a 10′ interface or a touch interface when I’m watching a movie in the den or listening to music on my laptop. But for those rare days when my modest family does congregate in front of the giant flat screen connected to our Xbox 360, it would be nice if everything came together – we could actually watch the centrally stored movie or get live cable/satellite HDTV without jumping through hoops.


  25. Short story: Yesterday my family used Windows Media Center three different ways: On my laptop on the commute to work, my wife on the computer in the home office while scrapbooking, and in our living room as a family via XBox 360 Extender. [And I might add, it’s been doing so ever since Windows Vista RTM without a hiccup.]

    In my opinion, the worst thing a developer can do is to assume that his bubble is an example of how the rest of the world works. If I’m a doctor then of course my family is going to have the best health care they could hope for. But my family isn’t my customer base. I’m sure your setup includes features and/or code that isn’t available to the general public. It’s not really fair to argue that just because it works for you, it should work for the rest of us.

  26. The thing I took away from CES is that the CE industry at large is starting to get it. People (well, at least me, but I’m sure there are others) want content off the PC and on to the TV. Not just streamed media from the local network, but internet services as well. Hell, even Yahoo seems to get it.

    Why is MS, who by all means could and should be well ahead of all other players in this game (it is a software AND services company, right?), now choosing to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction? Can this be seen as retreat?

  27. 1. I have a great Media Center interface
    2. I have Digital Cable in HD(PayTV)
    3. I have Digital Satellite (PayTV)
    4. I Have Digital Terrestrial (PayTV)

    Using Digital Everywhere FireDTV tuners for each of the above mentioned.

    I know I reside in Europe, where Media Center Developement has been asleep until TVpack.

    You know, this blog an all the other Media center blogs are infestet with the ” CableCard has big problems, and DirectTV stops support for Windows Media Center…Bla bla bla.

    This is not Microsofts fault, it is because of the stupid broadcast system in North America where DRM schemes are left for Microsoft or other makers of frontends.

    In Europe we buy at tuner, a conditional access module, then pay a bill and then we get a subscription card, and everything magically appears on Media Center as unencrypted digital TV. No need to rely on CableCard Ocur bioses etc.

    I’ve tried just about all the frontends out there, and let me tell you Direct TV or not, the UI and stabillity watching digital HDTV in W7MCE, and VMC(With TVpack and hacked DLL)is absolutely SECOND 2 NONE…

    All the other things are there, I mean MPEG4 on extenders, internet TV etc…

  28. Are there any plans for SDV, tru-2-way, or digital satellite tuners from Dish? We know the DirecTV route seems to be a deadend, but there’s been no word of _any_ progress whatsoever for these other solutions. I feel like Microsoft is in a time crunch here to keep Media Center from going obsolete or at the very best an ATSC-only option and they’re twiddling their thumbs. There’s not even a whisper of progress on these fronts and the silence is deafening.

  29. For me it seems the thing thats lacking within the ehome team is either budget or just the joined up thinking that is required to put all the bits together to make a product and interface good enough to encourage people to give up their virgin media homechoice or sky subscriptions. I beleive this should be entirely possible through the service offerings and proper joined up device content syncing etc through mce.

    Reliability issues aside the core missing elements are easily accessible to microsoft through existing services like msn. The key missing elements in terms of service are purchasable on demand movies and music through the interface, along with direct access to all the on demand channels e4 on demand, bbciplayer etc, yes im aware there are plugins but i mean microsoft developed solutions. Movie ripping aint much of a problem and im sure it would be a headache regarding drm and content protection, but as my movies does an excellent job for this it isnt much of a problem.

    The other offering that mce could provide to stimulate the changeover is the centrally shared media concept via homeserver. Something that is currently difficult/expensive for sky users or other on demand service such as virgin media. Again windows 7 may offer some answers but it needs to be properly implemented with coherent joined up thinking.

    Oh and extender devices that have internet accesibility and actually work well would be a start. I need to use multiple media centers to get the experience i need from the gui , but extenders are a great idea as they remove all the unecessary office type bloatware from the os and should improve reliability or at least reboot speed after failures. If they worked well they would provide a very compellig solution for multiroom for average consumers.

    Why microsoft cant see the value in encouraging every existing home office user to buy a second license is beyond me. Double my existing revenue and cement my os at the center of every home and portable device…. Erm hello ?

    Oh and generating revenue from content sales hasnt exactly been a loss leader for apple ?.
    We live in a drm free age now at least regarding music there are no barriers to content sales anymore.

    What other plans have Microsoft got eactly that are more imortant than that ?

    sell more b2b servers ????

  30. I did my ussual rounds of looking at gadget news and media center sites today and saw that DISH is working on tuner that is connected via ethernet. Similar to what Peter Brown at TGB mentioned to the silicon dust guy at CES this year in reference to creating a networked directv tuner. For some reason the networked tuner sounds like a great solution.

    If this Dish product ever sees the light of day this would seal the deal for Media Center and DISH would gain a few subscribers.

    The story is on engadgethd to read about it.

  31. Thunderdome: “I’m sure your setup includes features and/or code that isn’t available to the general public.”

    Actually, no. I make it a point to limit myself at home to ONLY what is available to the general public. There are two reasons:

    1) My wife and kids are the primary consumer of Windows Media Center in the home and, more importantly, the Media Center PC is my wifes daily use machine — the spousal acceptance factor must stay high on typical Windows desktop usage.

    2) It absolutely gives me the ‘moral high ground’ when my peers on the Media Center team say thing like ‘but that doesn’t happen in the real world’ as a defense for allowing a poor user experience. Making sure I experience it EXACTLY as you might really, really helps me feel your pain and strive for better.

    Still reading the other comments and I’ll respond as soon as I can — just wanted to put this particular rumor to rest quickly. 😉

  32. Charlie, that’s good to know that you’re striving to keep your setup ‘real’. I know this post is getting overloaded with comments, but is there any chance you could let us in on the specifics of your rig? Or direct me to another post/site that may have this info? Did you build your machine or is it a pre-built(i.e. cable card support). Do you use any 3rd party plugins? XP or Vista? 64-bit? etc.

  33. I have to agree with Chris – Just take a look at the forums on TGB and you will see numerous posts about the same things that are features that users want to see. But we do not see them, nor do we hear anything about why.

    Microsoft bought TGB this last summer, and I would think that Microsoft would use it as a source of things to develop and as a pool of testers….Afterall – these are your power users.

    Plain and simple….Media Center does NOT do what I need it to do. I turn to third parties that create excellent applications that give Media Center the missing functionality, but their hands are tied with what they can actually do. Media Center was touted as the complete home setup, but it is far from it. Until the day comes that you can do EVERYTHING from the PC/server, you will not have a complete home setup!

  34. I see in WSJ article on Windows 7, that Microsoft is not bundling Photo Gallery and other small (but nice) programs. Folks will have to download from Windows Live. What are the odds of 1) Them pulling Media Center and making it a download from Windows LIve and/or 2) Selling the program/tech to a 3rd party – like Cyberlink who is in the place shifting or Blue Ray space.
    Just some thoughts.

  35. The Hauppauge HD PVR ( avchd-usb capture device )…will soon support Win7 MCE. I’m a BETA tester and have been using if for the last 24hrs. It’s looking good thus far 😉

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