Does Home Server & Media Center Mean a Connected Future?

Preface: Before you read
this please try and get in the right mindset. 
Microsoft doesn’t care about what anyone reading this blog wants.  They don’t care what I want either.  It is a hard truth to take, but that’s a
fact.  They will say that they listen to
all requests, and that’s true, they do. 
What they don’t do is make any sort of business decision (translation,
features) based on my ramblings, The Green Button, Engadget, or anyone else.  They don’t make Media Center for “us”,
and before anyone can start to understand the points I try and make about
Windows Home Server you have to realize this. 
You also have to understand that Media Center has not taken the market
by storm, and that six years into it the vision simply isn’t working to achieve
the goal Microsoft originally set out achieve (hints shift in marketing).  Knowing this, please continue.

Note: I don’t work for
Microsoft, this post reflects my personal opinion.

Drawbaugh has an excellent post on what he perceives to be the future of
Windows Media Center
, and that’s its integration with Windows Home
Server.  Ben’s post is excellent, running
down a logical path of what Microsoft should do with the assets they currently
have.  You take Windows Media Center and
integrate it with Windows Home Server, sell it for $500 and users can add
tuners later.  Add in Live Mesh, Zune HD
syncing, and really connect the dots for a truly logical integrated product.

Now, maybe it is because I’ve been following Media Center a
bit longer than Ben, but why all the sudden is Microsoft going to “get it” and
integrate everything in the logical manor it should be?  Why does the introduction of Windows Home
Server mean everything will “just work?”

Here’s the deal.  It
is clear to me that Microsoft’s shift in customer marketing means the concept
of a whole home connected device with Media Center as its core isn’t
working.  Why else would Microsoft shift
to pushing “TV
on your PC?”
 It just doesn’t make
sense to me that Microsoft would shift the culture and marketing of Media
Center, and then turn around and integrate everything the way it should be.  You can see the shift in their marketing as well.

  • 2007/early 2008: “Windows Media Center turns the home PC into the ultimate connected entertainment hub and is available in every copy of Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.”
  • Today: “…builds on Microsoft’s goal to create a consistent experience on the PC for consumers to easily enjoy the entertainment of greatest interest to them.”

I’ve said for years that I
don’t see the market value in Home Server mixed with Media Center
.  I consistently get crap for this, but that’s
because everyone reading this wants exactly what I say doesn’t make sense to
produce, or rather what will not help Media Center in the marketplace. How many
people here are not using Media Center strictly because it requires them to run
two separate PCs in their home?  How many
sales are lost because of the current infrastructure?  How many sales do you gain by integrating the
two?  Have you opened up a significantly
new market by doing so?  I can’t come up
with any answers that benefit Media Center from these questions.

If Microsoft is having trouble pushing Media Center in homes
for whole home connected entertainment, the solution is not to integrate it
with a product that even fewer people understand (a “Home Server”).  The solution is actually to change paths and
try something completely different.  Sometimes
redefining a product is needed to keep it alive.

So does this mean I don’t think Microsoft will integrate
Media Center with Home Server?  No, I
think the opposite.  Last year I got a
tip that something
is coming as a “headless” device
, and I haven’t heard anything to say that
has gone away.  It would be perfectly
fine to suggest anything “headless” that comes out of Microsoft would be based
on Home Server.

So I’ve established that I think a Home Server with Media
Center integration will happen, and at the same time that the product will not
have a significant amount of mass market value over that of the current model.  Microsoft’s future for connected platforms
does include exactly what they say it will. 
The “3 screens,” which spans the PC, the phone, and the TV.  The way I see it PC = Windows 7, Phone =
Windows Phone (aka Windows Mobile), TV = Xbox 360.  I don’t see any need for Media Center as a
whole home device in their grand vision, which is why I’m questioning the concept of Microsoft getting things right just by the
inclusion of Media Center into Home Server

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.  I’m hoping I’m wrong, but given the way
things have been going, especially with Extenders (which in the case of a
headless device are key), I don’t see such a product making any impact in the
marketplace.  More so, I don’t see
Microsoft investing the time to use Media Center as the core for the home.  Media Center isn’t dying, it isn’t coming out
of Windows, but I continue to think the focus will shift.  Microsoft will still work with partners on
Extenders (I’ve been assured of this), but they will still release products and
features that forget these Extender’s even existed.  They will connect your life, but they will
not connect your life using Media Center.

What is your opinion?

41 thoughts on “Does Home Server & Media Center Mean a Connected Future?

  1. I wonder if the Niveus “Zone” along with WHS might be a direction that would work for MS and Custom installers. A box that runs a movie library, has a blu-ray player and connects to a WHS for pictures and movie storage as well as Cablecard Tuner support.

    For me, the question is the direction of support for and new extenders. It’s a great system when run with the necessary third party dll’s to provide DVD playback. A little work on DRM on cablecard tuners to allow cleaning up shows (start times and commericials) would make it great.

    But how many people does this appeal to? It’s like the cablecard bios loader, in the end how many people will actually do it? 10, 20 tops? It’s just not a market yet.


  2. The “Zone” idea, or rather PCs as Extender’s doesn’t really work (at least in the US) until Microsoft enables the Software Extender (Softsled) concept. Niveus has a good idea, but just like you said in terms of the future of Media Center mini PCs as Extender’s or even hosts isn’t going to go past a few reading this blog. They are still not mass marketable.

  3. I will bet you;

    $1,000,000 that the next WHS (Vail) will have the Media Center components available to OEM’s who are interested.

    $100,000 that one or more OEM’s will produce a WHS that includes one or more cablecard tuners.

    $1,000 that this functionality, when coupled with an XBox 360, is a hit with consumers who are currently paying monthly subscriptions for Tivo-like devices with sub-standard interfaces and storage capabilities.

    If you look at Ebay there’s a huge market of people willing to pay upto $1000 for Series 3 / HD devices with lifetime subscriptions and upgraded HDD’s. If Microsoft and their OEM partners can bring an official device to market for less than this it could be very successful, possibly more so than just WHS by itself.

    On the other hand if any of this does not happen then Microsoft may as well kill Media Center. While people have to purchase PCs and $300 tuners to make it anything other than a Media Player alternative its the Microsoft Paint of the media world.

  4. Gordon:

    So yet again, why is a consumer going to purchase this and an Xbox 360 to get the functionality they most likely currently have sitting on their desktop. I think everyone is overestimating the benefit and value here.

    The only benefit of a Home Server with Media Center is centralized single PC approach over the two PCs that are currently required. 90% of people interested in this functionality, or I’ll rather say who would actually spend the money/time for it already have all of the parts to make it work sitting in their home.

    To date, no one has given me a good reason (a) Why a Home Server with Media Center adds significant value to the current marketplace, and (b) why integrating the two would possibly drive Microsoft to get things right and offer a full suite of connected products. If they didn’t do it with a standard Windows Vista desktop which has a 400% larger marketshare, why in the world would they do it with Home Server?

  5. I think that if Microsoft brought a home server/media center box to the market for a reasonable price (less than $500) it could be a smash hit for the company. A few things would need to happen though which I believe have held the program back in general. First, they would need to bring premium content to the box such as satellite and not just OTA and QAM (this would provide a major leg up on Tivo). Getting rid of the OEM cablecard restriction would help too but would not be a deal breaker. Second, they would need to market it effectively unlike in the past. For example, give it a flashy name like the xbox or zune and make it a platform. Talk about how well it plays with other devices and services (i.e. the perfect complement for your XBOX360 or Zune). I also don’t buy the concept that the TV simply equals Xbox because Microsoft has also talked about bringing Zune services to the TV and they sent their Zune software team to the Mediaroom/Media Center team and not the Xbox team. Sure, they will likely improve the dashboard integration but I don’t see Media Center being left out after that move. This is part of Microsoft’s new direction to improve integration among their different platforms. Also as far as why they did not do it with Vista, it is because it is a heck of a lot harder to set up a proper whole home Media Center system that most consumers are capable of. When using your dedicated PC that you do all of your productivity activities on for your DVR it presents all kinds of problems that a stand alone box would not have. Bringing a dedicated box to the market similar to a Tivo that you just have to plug in and go would be a much easier idea to sell. I am telling you it is all in providing content with excellent advertising!

  6. Chris,

    The benefit of a combined WHS+MCE box is that it provides a ready-made way for OEM’s to offer a centralized, always-on, storage solution that can also offer DVR features, all at a relatively low price.

    This is something with a very high-chance of appealing to the masses for a number of reasons. The integration possibilities between 360/Zune/WinMo+Zune alone are pretty mouth watering.

    To be honest I’m not sure why you don’t see this as a worthwhile option. If we were to apply your arguments (questionable added value & Windows having all the market share) several years ago then Microsoft should have stuck with PC gaming instead of developing the 360. From a strictly financial perspective that might actually have been a good idea, but the 360’s been invaluable in opening, but not yet cementing, MS’s place in the living room.

    Anyway discussing the pros & cons is moot since I’m a zillion percent sure we’ll see this product in 2010. My biggest concerns are that;

    a) OEM’s follow through with boxes that either contain or have elegant add-on’s for digital tuners at a reasonable price.

    b) It’s easy for users to consume content from WHS+MCE on their PC’s (the support for Libraries and shared content in MCE7 sure are interesting tho..)

    c) That there’s a way for consumers to hook this content up to their TV without paying $200 for an Xbox (although by late 2010 an Xbox could be $150).

    d) That there’s a real push behind this from all concerned.

  7. Good article Chris.

    ALthough, it seems to have the tone of “the market” being the problem for Media Center, when really, the Media Center problems in the market are 100% caused by Microsoft.

    Having enjoyed Media Center from the beginning, I would like to see things like WHS and Media Center integration, soft sled, etc. However, most of these products are still geared toward the enthusiest and would not be “mass market”. Especially today when the average consumer can get a whole house DVR type solution from their cable TV company which they “just plug in and it works”.

    I have family/friends that have envied my whole house Media Center over the years, but the prospect of suggesting that they move from their current cable co. DVR to Media Center is both complex and costly.

    It would be a simple matter if one could just add an inexpensive CableCard tuner to an existing Vista Home Premium computer which just about every family has running in their family room, den, etc. Then add MC extender(s) to connect Live/Recorded TV to their living room, bedroom, etc. TV(s).

    Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t make it work that way. The only way to replace the cable co. DVR is to buy a whole new, expensive, dedicated CableCard PC, which nobody other than an enthusiest (or someone with “cash to burn” aka people who hire OEM/CE Pro installers) is going to do.

    In my opinion, this alone is a major reason why Media Center has not gotten mass market attention/appeal.

    Media Center, which is available in _Millions_ of households today as part of Vista Home Premium, either isn’t known that it exists, or is looked at but due to lack of simple CableCard tuner support is determined incomplete and impractical to use.

    One could go on listing all the half-baked and incomplete Media Center solutions Microsoft has come up with, as well some really truly unique and innovative things they have brought into Media Center. In the end, the bottom line is the same, Microsoft has in one way or other, dropped the ball when it comes to a “complete” Media Center solution for the mass market, and they have no one to point fingers at besides themselves.

  8. Stuff to think about. I’m a Media Center veteran, ran a PC with MCE in my living room for years, Xbox 360 in the bedroom, then added WHS for backups when it came out. Last year I moved away from MCE to Sage TV due to better codec support, DVB-S satellite capabilities, proper WHS integration, crossplatform clients with place shifting and awesome extender. In the mean time, some of that has been fixed in Media Center, but far from all, and I’m happy to have made the move.

    But, as you rightfully say, it’s not about you, me or other enthusiasts. It’s about the bigger currents sweeping IT and home electronics. Even with all my experience, I still spend a lot of time in making sure everything works, is optimized, controllable, with a decent WAF. I wouldn’t recommend a multiple zone media center network of any kind yet to friends that aren’t at least a medium computer savvy. And the confusion on how to consume entertainment is getting only worse: do I DVR locally or catch it from the cloud? Do I buy a disc or stream from the cloud? Do I placeshift from my home or find it in the cloud? (see the trend here?)

    There will continue to be a market for local storage and home networks for a long time, but increasingly it will be for private content only (photo, home video etc). All the generic stuff (music, movies, TV, even games) will eventually all move to the cloud. All the stuff all the time, wherever you want but you don’t need local tuners or disks any more to receive and store it. So WHS can still serve a decent market for set-and-forget backups, streaming/place shifting of personal content, but I agree in that it won’t be the end-all, be-all hub for all media.

    All other media will be stored and served-to-order online so what will stay individual is a profile, buddy list and a (Live?) subscription, plus commodity hardware from various vendors (console, set-top box, phone, Win 7 software) to interact with the service and render it in glorious Full HD.

    Ironically, Xbox Live already offers all the ingredients. Right now though, it’s a service optimized for gamers, linked to specific hardware and it still depends on physical discs and traditional retail for its blockbusters. But imagine the next generation of Live to include a full-blown media service, taking the best stuff from Xbox Live, broaden its appeal to non-gamers, stop worrying about the need to support physical media or relying on large local disks, and you’re there. Phone (ANY type, not just Win Mobile please!), music player (ANY type, not just Zune please), PC (ANY type, not just Windows 7 please), TV/Set-top-box, in-car-entertainment. Microsoft can make money on the service, and although they won’t benefit from OS sales on every piece of hardware sold, a substantial part will still be because people will again trust Microsoft to deliver a open, unified way to deliver content they care about.

  9. Starkenator :

    So if CableCARD was not only OEM, it is your belief that millions of average people would run out to Best Buy to pick up a tuner, come home and connect it and then decide to go get an Xbox to really use Media Center as a whole home device?

    As much as people want to think that is true, it isn’t. Put yourself in Average Joe’s shoes. When is the last time you said “Yeah, I’d use Media Center and Extender’s if I could just get HD.” It really doesn’t work like that with anyone but enthusiasts.

    As for marketing, Microsoft isn’t going to market Media Center as a whole device. I think that day is over. In fact, they will never really market Media Center the way anyone here wants them to. They will market the Xbox 360 that way though.

  10. Gordon:

    “integration possibilities between 360/Zune/WinMo+Zune alone are pretty mouth watering.”

    Yet again, why would Microsoft integrate Media Center with any of these products just because it would be in Home Server? What advantage is there for Microsoft. Remember, Windows Vista has millions of copies out there with Media Center. Did they feel the need to connect the dots there? Why do it with such a small market in Home Server?

    A lot of these comments seem to be bast case scenarios. Again, why would it happen for Home Server if it didn’t happen for Vista?

  11. The segment of the market that is truly committed to media center is the CE custom installer business. These folks have clearly defined needs (a centralized whole home, media, pc backup, remote access server that just works). For these folks the WHS solution is a perfect fit. It’s a market MS can monetize by offering a really good solution that noone else can match (as long as content distribution systems… i.e. sat and cable, can be tapped into successfully).

    These folks, as well as a few DIY enthusiasts who have money are the ones that the WHS is targeted at.

    The average consumer enthusiast is fickle. They won’t make any committment to media center unless it gives them everything they want… now, right now and for free. Unfortunately it’s impossible to deliver everything right now (at least legally… pretected content, underground codecs, etc.). So for these folks MS is moving to TV on the PC as the solution and is no longer pushing the idea of using the PC as the server.

    The PC should not be the server… that model falls apart when there is more than one person in a household.

  12. Martyus :

    Once again if you think the lack of CableCARD ha meant the average customer turns their nose up at it, you don’t know the average customer very well.

    There are USB TV tuners at Best Buy, they might not be HD cable tuners but how many average customers know to look for that? They don’t. They buy something and expect it to work. In this case, there would be millions upon millions of people using SD or OTA HD tuners with Media Center that Microsoft could capture. Based on their numbers, this doesn’t appear to be happening.

  13. jeroen020: Xbox Live is a huge component here, and I think you are on the right track for how future releases will look.

  14. I think what Microsoft need to steer clear of is creating a market for the enthusiast. This isn’t going to make them any money.
    The TV entertainment business is in a funny position with Web content on the verge of displacing the need to have Cable+STB. With the networks being concerned about eating into revenue.

    At this stage, if I were Microsoft, I would work to make internet TV a money earner for the networks. Work on a new targeted advertising model that would more than displace loss of revenue from people switching off cable TV subscriptions.

    The rest is just a technical platform problem:

    Media Center is written using MCML rather than WPF or Silverlight. The key is to decouple the Media Center experience from Windows. So rewrite the GUI portion targetting XAML/Silverlight rathter than MCML. You can keep backward compatibility by using WPF for the Windows version.

    Now you have a MCE shell that can run on devices with no Windows platform underneath. Integrate the library with UPnP so you could shared media across the home network, and I think you have something that could compete the with Flash Widget platform for TV manufacturers.

    This same platform could consolidate with the advertising technology for WebTV, including Silverlight’s DRM.

    I just hope that they are in 3 years into this strategy already, because the industry isn’t staying still.

  15. Chris do you consider Tivo users “average consumers” or enthusiasts, or somewhere in between? Because if you consider them average consumers then you are missing my point. My point is Microsoft could very well deliver a Tivo like product that would appeal to average consumers because it works right out of the box, or to enthusiasts because it would be highly customizable and upgradeable. The product would would need integrated CC tuners to work with average consumers but if Tivo can do it why not Microsoft? Yes this is a best case scenario, but Microsoft has the resources to do it. Perhaps they could do a subscription model to offset the price of the boxes similar to Tivo. I am not saying that this will definitely happen but I think it could. What else could this “headless device” be? Possibly the 360 as mentioned?

    As far as WHS integration in the box I think it would be awesome but I am not sure if that is where Microsoft is going with this. I think the next version of WHS will definitely have MC built in but your right in saying that it would not be marketed to average consumers. It would be more of a custom installer/enthusiast product.

    Actually I find myself saying “Yeah, I’d use Media Center and Extender’s if I could just get HD” all the time because right now I don’t use Media Center as my primary DVR for that very reason. I use my crappy cable box because I can get premium HD affordably. My hope is that when W7 comes out I will be able to get a less expensive MC box with satellite support. If that does not pan out I will just have to pay up because I am not an average consumer as you have said. But if Microsoft did come out with an affordable stand alone Media Center I would be all over it and I would recommend it to all of my “average” friends.

  16. I have a few thoughts that I’ll post separately. First thought, Marketing:

    What I find fascinating is the focus of marketing of media center. In my view, there has been no marketing. Sure, there have been marketing *statements* and marketing *taglines,* but no real marketing implementation to speak of. Why? Because WMC doesn’t have a SKU. It’s another app baked into Vista/Win7. This is an astonishingly huge blunder for Microsoft within its own four walls.

    When product success is driven by profits, and the best that the WMC folks can do is try to eek in a 1% growth rate for Vista due to Media Center functionality, where does that leave the marketing or marketing focus? And, more importantly, where does that leave the WMC team’s political power and pull compared to other initiatives that have their own SKU?

    Media Center always deserved its own SKU — it’s own right to succeed or fail in the marketplace. It’s own right to be advertised, promoted and purchased on its own. It hasn’t had that chance since Vista launched. And, prior to Vista, it was commercially available distinctly… and if I recall correctly, it actually had some uptick in the 05-06 years.

    To close this thought out, I would make the argument that what WMC needs is to be a product. And once it’s a product, it will then have all those great attributes that give products a chance to succeed: a proper marketing plan, a go-to-market strategy, a profit model (i.e., plug-in store, monthly service feeds, eyeballs for advertisers, etc) and a team that needs to compete on revenue with other teams (ZUNE, Xbox, etc.).

    Only with this productized model will WMC have a chance of being all it can be. Right now, to me, it more resembles a fantastic vision from the Microsoft R&D lab that we are just so fortunate to be able to partake in!

    Jon Deutsch

  17. Great post Chris, but I have to say I’m having a hard time figuring out what we don’t agree on. Obviously you don’t think WHS will ever be a mass market device, and I do.

    No one outside of Redmond knows their plans, but I believe that the shortfalls of the past are just part of the journey to obtaining Microsoft’s long term plans. This process is taking much more time than most are willing to accept. I believe that the impatience of most enthusiasts is what is causing all this negative attitudes towards eHome.

    Anyways, I have gotten some off the record feedback that has indicated that I’m actually pretty close to getting this right. Of course my sources have been wrong in the past so who knows, but I for one am optimistic.

  18. @Chrisl
    “Put yourself in Average Joe’s shoes. When is the last time you said “Yeah, I’d use Media Center and Extender’s if I could just get HD.” ”

    Actually, I find that this is exactly what most family/friends (aka average consumers) say to me regarding replacing their current cable co. HD DVR!!

    There is no reason why plugging in a USB CableCard tuner should be any more difficult than plugging in a USB scanner or USB printer, which most average consumers do every day. Just like other peripherals, if Microsoft really wanted this, they would make it happen.

    For this reason, I don’t think Media Center should be a separate SKU. As a feature of the OS, given simple plug-n-play tuners (i.e. CableCard, satellite, whatever), hooking up TV (OTA, premium, etc,) to one’s computer would be no more complex than hooking up and sharing a printer. Creating a separate SKU only adds complexity for the average consumer (… what, I have to buy _another_ computer just to watch TV? Why can’t I use the high-end computer we recently bought for this?)

    “There are USB TV tuners at Best Buy, they might not be HD cable tuners but how many average customers know to look for that?”

    Well, if HD CableCard tuners, satellite tuners, etc., were on the shelf next to OTA tuners at Best Buy, the average consumer would have the choice to get what they need (to replace the cable co. HD DVR).

    If an average consumer today watches TV through a HD DVR (cable co, satellite, etc.) why do they care or even want to learn about using an HD OTA tuner (which requires complexity of setting up an antenna, etc.)?

    This is part of the whole point, the average consumer (those millions with Media Center on their Vista computers) doesn’t care about using OTA HD tuners with Media Center, because an OTA HD tuner is _not_ a viable replacement for their cable co. HD DVR (e.g. can’t watch ESPN HD with an OTA HD tuner).

  19. Ben’s idea of Media Centre in the future sounds great, exactly what most of us have been asking for for ages now. It seems like a great way to sell more pieces to the ecosystem (a Zune for the road, a 360/extender for the TV etc).

    If “TV on the PC” is the new direction, I do wonder how big that market is, are there that many more people who would go to the effort to setup a cablecard just to watch some shows at their desk than would want Ben proposed?

  20. I am very confused about Microsoft’s Media Center strategy. I do use it. I have a “server” running Vista Home Premium hooked up to my TV.

    I use it primarily as my PVR.

    One of the most obvious pains to me is that it can’t easily integrate in an aesthetic manner with anything other than OTA and analog cable. I am still using analog cable service because of this (but also because I don’t watch a lot of TV). To get two tuners with digital cable, do I really want to hook up two digital cable boxes and run wires everywhere so that MCE can control them? Not really.

    I don’t use it for DVD because it doesn’t seem to me to be a very good DVD player. I don’t think the AC3 on my Vista machine even works properly.

    I don’t use it anymore for music because the idea of leaving your TV turned on to listen to and navigate music is stupid. I use Squeezebox throughout my house for music, and run the SB server software from the same server.

    I don’t use it for photos because I don’t sit around looking at photos much.

    I do use it for videos, and it provides a good interface for that…once you install a bunch of extra crap to make it useful (missing codecs and plug-ins so that you can actually FF/REW inside non-MS video files).

    The presence and noise of a PC in the living room is an irritant, even after I built it using quiet components. I’m not sure an XBox 360 (the only useful extender, IMO) would be much better.

    There are stupid glitches from time-to-time, such as when I start watching a TV show from MCE and the taskbar jumps to the front.

    So, yes, a headless server with a quiet extender for the living room would be welcome. But, even then, I wonder how many people would be interested. Most people are better off getting a PVR from their cable provider, even if it has less functionality. You are still maintaining a PC when you run an MCE, and the first time you have a problem with it, it becomes extremely expensive if you don’t have the skills to fix it yourself.

  21. Starkenator:

    I’d consider a subset of TiVo users to be enthusiasts, but unlike Media Center, TiVo also has more average users (it also has a brand).  The most average of the average are still using cable/sat DVRs, which I’ve said for years are one of Media Center biggest enemies.  Before long you will be able to get all of the basic functionality of Media Center in a $10/month STB.  Some STBs are really close to that now.  Microsoft has never been interested in markets that only have a very small subset, and thus I don’t think you will see them push Media Center much deeper into the whole home DVR market.

    As many Microsoft employees have explained to me, they don’t “just have the resources to do it”.  eHome has a budget, and not a big one at that.  Microsoft will also never make a first party server or Extender.  Any Home Server or Media Center PC will be built by a OEM and have that OEMs name on it.  Any Extender that comes out of Microsoft will be an Xbox.

    I agree that would a product would be best marketed to the custom market.  

    Jon Deutsch:

    We are mixing marketing terms here, but I don’t think it has any impact.  Look back at old Media Center press releases, you can clearly see that the goal of the product is to provide whole home connected entertainment.  Look a recent press releases and you can clearly see the goal is to provide TV (and web video) on the PC.  Two very different goals no matter how you define marketing.

    Personally, the fact that Media Center doesn’t have its own SKU is its biggest strength.  If Microsoft had gotten things right, the marketing writes itself for Windows Vista/7+Zune+Xbox+Windows Phone+WHS.  You don’t need its own SKU to market that your products connect.  Of course, Media Center really connects to nothing, thus it will never be marketed right even if it gets its own SKU (this is one of the main points of my post).

    According to Microsoft’s numbers Media Center has huge growth in the marketplace, just not the marketplace everyone here keeps telling me Microsoft will target.  Microsoft says Media Center has huge growth in hours of use for web video, hints the marketing shift.


    The thing I disagree on is the idea that Microsoft will connect all its products to Media Center just because it gets put into Home Server.  If they didn’t integrate the products when Media Center was in Vista which represents a significantly larger marketshare, they integrate all of them just because Media Center is in Home Server?

    The only benefit I see is that you can now just have a single PC instead of one for Media Center and one for Home Server.  Given the market that uses Media Center, I hardly think this is a big deal.  Not very any (if any) are not using Media Center because it doesn’t integrate with Home Server.  Microsoft doesn’t gain any additional marketshare by integrating them or by finally integrating the rest of their product lines with it.

    I have doubts that your source claimed Microsoft would do everything you say in your post.  If so, time to get a new source because he is feeding you junk.

  22. I generally agree with Chris regarding WHS + Media Center. I have a WHS and it would be interesting to be able to put CableCard tuners in it (assuming one wouldn’t have to buy “yet another WHS box” aka an OEM only box, to get the integrated bits).

    I have an HTPC box running Vista Home Premium (Media Center) connected to an HDTV with MC extenders (Linksys 2100/2200) connected to other TVs in the house.

    However, I think an integrated solution would be somewhat limited/ more complicated for an average consumer than if Microsoft spent those same resources to just get Media Center to work properly as a part of Vista (i.e. plug-n-play consumer level CableCard/satellite tuners).

    First of all, a WHS+MC solution would _absolutely_ require MC extenders. Ideally, with an extender SKU which provides a Blu-ray drive. Unfortunately, Microsoft MC extender partners are jumping ship, so it is not clear where this is going.

    Without extenders, a WHS+MC box would have to sit in the living room next to the TV (not the best place for a server). It would also require HD graphics/audio (capable of Blu-ray) with HDMI output to be able to connect directly to a TV. Most WHS boxes today don’t have HD graphics/audio.

    Also, a WHS+MC box would require an optical (DVD/Blu-ray) drive with form factor that makes it easy to “touch” the box to access the optical drive. Most WHS boxes today don’t have optical drives and are more tower oriented not HTPC oriented.

    Without extenders, a WHS+MC box would essentially have to be an HTPC, in function and form, and since WHS is based on a server OS, not a desktop OS, I have to wonder how easy it would be for Microsoft to add all the necessary HD components beyond the Media Center bits.

  23. Hi Chris,

    Like most people who “get” what WMC is today (connected entertainment for the home), I also gravitate toward Ben’s “vision” for WHS as home media center (HMC).

    Yes, we know that MSFT’s latest “TV on your PC” approach to WMC is the current marketing flavor, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We’d rather create a gravity around WMC as whole-home entertainment through viral social media buzz than simply accept the notion that MSFT is “giving up” on this strategy.

    It’s obvious that MSFT will not shift direction based on a few blog posts, but that doesn’t mean that feedback from the field is patently ignored either. A good idea is a good idea. And, you have to admit that even you are getting some mixed messages.

    If “TV on your PC” were the exclusive direction, then there’s no reason why you should have been “assured” that there will be an extender strategy moving forward. Why would there be if it’s all about TV on my PC?

    And, why would we be getting NetFlix on WMC when I can see that same NetFlix content on, since I’m already on my PC?

    I — like you and many others — believe “TV on your PC” is fairly ridiculous — esp. if it’s CableTV. In fact, I can see WMP being more of a media/content portal than WMC for the PC. Isn’t that where WMP is heading anyway? I just don’t get the whole WMC experience being optimal for mouse & key.

    It just doesn’t add up to me. MSFT is playing both sides of this, and the marketing folks have adopted a single new tagline that seems to describe only 1/2 the story. Chris — I think you might be giving too much credence to a “positioning decision” vs. a “technology direction.” Consider this as a way to temper your cynicism.

    Jon Deutsch

  24. Now, back to WHM + WMC = New Market Opportunity:

    I strongly believe that design changes can affect adoption behavior and perceptions. The very notion of a web-based, headless device that anyone can just “plug in” to the way instantly makes it more of a CE device than a computing device. That’s a large step in the right direction.

    Then, if this new WHS could ship with an internal CC tuner or two (and allow more to ‘slide in’ like the HD’s do) or easily plug-in to the USB port, then we’re talking a CE-style replacement for the $15/month Cable HD box, not to mention all the great back-up features that a cable box can’t and won’t do.

    Add to the fact that WHS will be backing up all of your groovy home-made content (within itself and to the cloud), now you’re talking about marketing a CE device that not only gives you whole-home media, but also is a safety net/insurance policy for your media files. A real two-fer.

    Add to the fact that WHS already support Mac’s, and iTunes can be streamed through WMC… now we’re talking about Microsoft being a complementary/host for the popular Apple media ecosystem.

    But, before you go and tell me how I don’t “get” the average consumer, and that I’m too wonky/tech-y to really understand consumer behaviors… hear out this positioning for WHS meets WMC:

    1. A WMC-enabled WHS unit becomes HP’s/Dell’s/Sony’s “Media Hub”

    The consumer learns about Media Hub’s amazing abilities, including:

    > Store-and-stream all of your media, anywhere you are
    > Replace costly cable equipment
    > Ensure all of your precious moments and memories are secure and always available, instantly.
    > Bring your photos, videos, and music to life in ways you never thought possible.

    2. Consumer gets jazzed about this cool media hub that just takes 2 easy steps to set-up:
    Step 1: plug it into the wall and network
    Step 2: Go to its website to give it a name, and let it scan all of your content.
    Step 3: There is no step 3! (yes, stolen from Apple’s iMac campaign)

    3. Consumer gets access to this content on their laptops, and is guided by in-line promotions that there are these little boxes called “Streamcatchers” (i.e. extenders) will allow them to see this content in all its richness on their TVs as well.

    4. Consumer buys one or more Streamcatchers @$99/ea, or uses their existing Xbox360 when applicable.

    Preferably, vendors bundle their Media Hubs and a couple of Streamcatchers so that consumers can get up and running with one purchase; maximizing convenience by reducing confusion through multiple purchases.

    Why “Media Hub?” Non-enthusiast consumers won’t buy a “server” for their homes (and “extenders” describes the process, not the activity — and “extender” just isn’t cool sounding). Consumers also don’t really pine for whole-home media. Heck, most consumers won’t even backup their media. But if Sony/HP/Dell sold a web-based Media Hub that “hosted, secured, synced and streamed” their content through their homes and mobile devices effortlessly, I think there’s a market for a “service” like this that has yet to be tapped. A service like this would provide real value that is currently missing in the market. “Media Hub sits between your iPod and your Cable provider… ensuring everything in between is stored, safe, sync-able and stream-able.”

    WHS does a lot of things some people want and a lot of people need, but its positioned for people like us – power users.
    WMC does a lot of things some people want, but it’s also positioned for people like us – power users.

    Media Hub will be everything WHS and WMC are, but it will be positioned as a simplified, streamlined media storage and streaming service. That’s right — it should be marketed as a service. Not hardware; not software. The primary GUI will be the web interface that exists today with WHS, which resembles using webmail (service) more than an operating system (software & hardware). Being headless is key to mak

  25. [con’t from above]

    Media Hub will be everything WHS and WMC are, but it will be positioned as a simplified, streamlined media storage and streaming service. That’s right — it should be marketed as a service. Not hardware; not software. The primary GUI will be the web interface that exists today with WHS, which resembles using webmail (service) more than an operating system (software & hardware). Being headless is key to making it seem like a service vs. buying ‘another PC.’

    I’m curious as to your collective thoughts on this further deep-dive of Ben’s vision.

    Jon Deutsch

  26. Jon:

    You have some excellent ideas, but yet again I ask if I can’t do all of these amazing things with my Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC, why in the world would Microsoft spend the time to develop them just for a “Media Hub” that has such a small market. Your right, Microsoft could do all this and market the hell out of it and they might sell a few of them. Your forgetting that they are highly dependent on OEMs getting this stuff right because they only do the software side of things.

    Forgetting that, why pass up developing all of their connected entertainment for the 200 millions people with Vista? So far the only point you have given is that they could market it as a single device. Microsoft has spent over $200 million marketing Windows Vista, if they really had an interest in doing this you would think they would do it and market it as a part of that.

    Your ideas are great, but very dependent on Microsoft getting things right and throwing millions of dollars at it. Knowing that Media Center has failed to capture this market over the past 6 years, would you give eHome the budget to do such a thing? I wouldn’t. And considering their usage data, customers are not interested in what you are pushing. I’m interested, but the market isn’t. That’s not my opinion, that’s the public data that is out there from Media Center users and test groups.

    Your ideas are fantastic, but it is just not going to happen.

  27. I think one thing everyone is missing is that you need a WIRED network for media center and windows home server to work together. How many homes have one? Not that many. Every extender needs to be wired.

    If it could all work wirelessly, then it might be mass market. But that is not happening anytime soon.

  28. Hi Chris,

    Responding to your response…

    -CL-> yet again I ask if I can’t do all of these amazing things with my Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC, why in the world would Microsoft spend the time to develop them just for a “Media Hub” that has such a small market.
    <-CL- I guess the disagreement here would be the prospective size of the home media market. One could have asked the same question to Sony when they developed the Walkman back in the 70s... who the heck would want a tape player attached to themselves all day long? What kind of market is there, anyway? The most successful innovators are driven by a belief more than market research. Bill Gates fundamentally *believed* that people would want personal computers in every home. The actual market at the time was minuscule, and the existing players are beyond niche -- they were kits made for electrical engineers! The same argument can be made right now -- the existing players are quite niche, and there is no obvious mass-market for home media management. Unlike Bill Gates, I don't seem to have the guts to quit what I'm doing to make it happen. But I do have the ability to think and write -- so that's what I'm doing now. I'm espousing a viewpoint that, innately, I do have the belief that home media management is a "big egg" that has yet to be cracked. And that once the right service is available, people will be attracted to this service like moths to a flame. Once consumers realize that all of their precious photos, videos, and other media that they're collecting could be wiped off the face of the earth... they might just feel the need to invest in some media security. But instead of just plopping money down for a "media vault" -- the killer app is to make this "vault" also a "hub" that creates new ways to access all of that media you are buying, creating and storing. When targeting consumers, a little fear + a little access + a little cool = a new market. -CL-> Your right, Microsoft could do all this and market the hell out of it and they might sell a few of them. Your forgetting that they are highly dependent on OEMs getting this stuff right because they only do the software side of things. <-CL- I beg to differ! If you re-read my little pitch, you'll see that I have the OEMs squarely in the middle of the ecosystem. I agree that Microsoft is no Apple, and doesn't have the baseline brand to solo-market a service like this. They just don't. ZUNE is a great example of this problem, and XBox is an outlier because XBox is its own brand. Nobody cares if it's Microsoft or not (except when getting the red ring of death). -CL->Forgetting that, why pass up developing all of their connected entertainment for the 200 millions people with Vista? So far the only point you have given is that they could market it as a single device. Microsoft has spent over $200 million marketing Windows Vista, if they really had an interest in doing this you would think they would do it and market it as a part of that. <-CL- I have a simple, marketing-based answer to this very logical question: People don't buy Vista for connected entertainment. Most buy Vista/Win7 because it makes their PC work (and, usually, not well enough). Whereas a "home media hub" is an entirely different type of purchase psychologically from a PC purchase. The bundling of WMC within an OS is an area where Microsoft (and many of its fans) is really missing the boat on consumer thinking. The bundling of fantastic features is part of a large user experience issue within the Microsoft ethos. It's a problem of super-smart people trying to demonstrate value and convenience. What this translates into is functionality/feature overload. The result? Muffled brands, confusing interfaces, and more Apple sales. Let me restate this again to ensure clarity: Vista/Win7 are PC operating systems. WMC is an elegant media access experience. The two have such hugely different purposes

  29. I honestly think MCE is a testbed for Xbox 360 and beyond. In the furure the Xbox dashboard will evolve and IPTV will work with the Xbox. Home Server will be a Storage for music, pictures and personal video. Apple is doing the same with Time Machine Apple TV and iPod/iPhone. They see no importance of actually storing movie libraries.

  30. [con’t from above]

    It’s a problem of super-smart people trying to demonstrate value and convenience. What this translates into is functionality/feature overload. The result? Muffled brands, confusing interfaces, and more Apple sales.

    Let me restate this again to ensure clarity: Vista/Win7 are PC operating systems. WMC is an elegant media access experience. The two have such hugely different purposes that they have no business being bundled.

    Look – I’m one of those Microsoft supporters who was thrilled that WMC was bundled with Vista. And, I don’t own a single Apple product. But that’s because I’m the kind of person who enjoys complexity, problem solving, and tremendous value. I’m willing to learn, tweak and customize a technology to suit my individual needs. I’m willing to do research and learn all about which version of Vista has WMC in it. And I’m willing to setup a PC and gut it in order to make it look like (and sound like) a normal A/V component so I can pretend that I’m not geeky enough to have a PC in my family room. It’s all quite rewarding! But I know I’m the deep minority. As technology becomes increasingly commoditized, most people are demanding better, more elegant experiences. Typically, this means single-use devices/services that do a few things really well. And then they want another device/app/service that does another thing really well. Y’know, the whole “there’s an app for that!” mentality. This is actually where Media Center shines brightly: WMC is really a very “Apple-esque” product that is already designed for consumers. It does a few things quite well… it’s just that it’s marketed, packaged and supported like a power-user/customizer’s tool. Hence the frustration out there… we see a true gem in our midst, but its being sold as a series of interrelated molecules to scientists.

    -CL->Knowing that Media Center has failed to capture this market over the past 6 years, would you give eHome the budget to do such a thing? I wouldn’t. And considering their usage data, customers are not interested in what you are pushing. I’m interested, but the market isn’t. That’s not my opinion, that’s the public data that is out there from Media Center users and test groups. <-CL- Haha... great questions! No, I would not give the current eHome team a budget to do this based on how I see the management decisions from an external perspective. However, I -- the one with this vision for a real media hub strategy that I believe is a real untapped market on par with the home computer -- would scour the Microsoft talent pool and assemble a swat team to hit this, and hit it hard. I believe that with the right focus, investment and revenue goals in hand, there is the talent and passion within Microsoft to introduce a game-changer here, because they already have such a huge head-start in all of the back-end investments required to make this work. WHS and WMC already exist. WLS is emerging as well, providing that "cloud" component that would also be required to make it the new killer app. Microsoft is an amazing technology firm, but it has lost any cohesive consumer vision for itself in terms of long-term goals ever since they've succeeded in getting a "PC in every home." I'm not espousing that "Microsoft manages your media" is the sole replacement for their initial goal of a PC in every home, but it's certainly a contender as a logical extension that is expressed through specifically-designed offerings. At its core, what I'm advocating here is a design project. The fundamental capabilities exist... they just need to be designed in a fashion that will unleash new value in the marketplace. In terms of where I get all of these crazy ideas from, this is the kind of stuff that my consulting firm, Capital D Design, specializes in. Jon Deutsch

  31. [con’t from above, due to size limits]

    At the core, what I’m advocating here is a design project. The fundamental capabilities exist… they just need to be designed in a fashion that will unleash new value in the marketplace.

    In terms of where I get all of these crazy ideas from, this is the kind of stuff that my consulting firm, Capital D Design, specializes in.

    Jon Deutsch

  32. Joe:

    Let me know if your interested in starting a Media Center blog. You have a lot to say and I like that.

    I can set you up with a blog on The Green Button, or I’m sure Ian Dixon can set you up with a Digital Lifestyle blog on

    If you are interested, let us know.

  33. Kevin,

    You write:
    “I think one thing everyone is missing is that you need a WIRED network for media center and windows home server to work together. How many homes have one? Not that many. Every extender needs to be wired.

    If it could all work wirelessly, then it might be mass market. But that is not happening anytime soon.”

    Just so you know, this is not true. All extenders have wireless capabilities. Yes, you need a good wireless-N router (with relatively close range) to make it work, but it’s doable. In addition, power-based Ethernet is another viable option if you don’t want to rely on wireless.

    Jon Deutsch

  34. Hey Chris,

    If by “Joe” you mean “Jon,” then yeah, I’m interested. You’ll have to let me know which direction you think would be better to take — Digital Lifestyle or TGB.

    It’d be great to be another voice in the ecosystem — thanks for the offer.

    Please email me at to continue the conversation.


  35. Hi,
    i agree with you on one point:
    this WHS+MC will probably not integrate very well with zune, Xbox, … maybe in 5 years, but not in 2010. just to expensive

    i think this stand-alone tuner-server-box is necessary for the TV on the PC scenario to work because:
    -Normal PC’s will not be reliable enough. if this product is not VERY RELIABLE, it is not useable
    -if you simply put tuners in your normal PC, you have to leave it on all the time and think about it: this is WAY too complicated
    -Most people don’t even have desktops in their homes anymore!!!!!

    so my point is that this “server” is not more but much less complicated than adding tuners to your desktop(if you even have one).

    The only question for me is: how do you get people to buy this thing?
    1)the cost for purchasing this box can not be too high
    2)marketing: show people what the box can do in a very non-nerdy way

  36. Chris you are not as smart and informed as you think you are. Your hubris is truly offensive. Simply look at Toyota/Lexus and Honda/Acura re how they built brands over years. But trying to make a point to you is willful and useless… I cannot believe people listen to you BS and ranting… U r a fool with a foolish audience… There is a place for Xbox, Media Center and WHS just like there is a market place for a lexus and toyota (same platform fool) and suv’s and hybrid’s (different form factor and purpose). Just because they make a Hybrid and a SUV does that mean their market is challenged, or they don’t listen to customer feed back? NO. You logic stinks… Get back on whatever you where on when you went quite for a while… u need more time off to correct your ego and anger

  37. You give your business a fantastic name by calling your potential customers “foolish.”  If you can’t believe people listen to me, why you are reading and replying?  By association that makes you foolish, no?

    You heard of Saturn and Pontiac?  Look at what GM built over the years, now they don’t exist because they have to focus on “core platforms.”

    How many Media Center’s have you sold over the past month?  Seems your doing just great, so maybe you should focus your time on your business instead of getting online and calling your customers “fools.”

  38. The Idealist versus the Realist. (Ben and Jon versus Chris). I’m more of a realist myself (pessimist, cynic?), but I guess we all have to have a baseline of the ideal to refer to.

    I don’t have a point, I just want to thank all the parties involved for this very stimulating debate. As a small time OEM I just find this discussion extremely fascinating.

    I think historically it’s only wise to question Microsoft’s commitment to follow through.

    As a Microsoft partner I do appreciate the opportunity to carve out a niche and evangelize what they have enabled, but maybe have failed to properly market.

  39. new to this blog, but I need to add a few comments.

    1) WMC works great for me. We don’t have Cable Card here (Australia) and OTA digital TV is HD. OTA is how most people watch TV. WMC does all of this very well. Adding (digital, analogue, SD, HD, whatever) tuners to a PC has been – for many years – as simple as adding a printer or any other peripheral. This stuff ‘just works’. I read the comments about tuners and think that Cable Card is a US-only complication.

    2) I don’t ‘get’ WHS at all. What does it actually do for me that I can’t do already with a normal PC (and/or perhaps a NAS hard disk)? And because it can only be bought as a hw+SW combo, I can’t install it on an existing PC and see for myself. So nobody buys it. Do I really want another ‘PC’ (or server) in the house? Especially one I can’t use for even simple tasks (email/web)?

    3) Conclussion: Kill WHS. Put those functions into Windows 7. Leave WMC in Windows 7.

    4) Noisy PCs are not a good experience in the TV room. We need either *SILENT* PCs (eg: Dell mini 9 – no moving parts at all), or *SILENT* extenders. Silent PCs can’t do HD graphics, so extenders will be the best option for a while yet.

    5) I currently use the Linksys DMA 220 DVD/extetender. It’s great. I won’t be replacing it until there’s a Bluray version, although I’m in no hurry to do Bluray just now anyway. I guess I’ll keep using the Linksys for a while.

    6) Whatever happened to remote desktop? This seems like an ideal solution. Remote Desktop transports the *entire* PC screen to a thin device – so it means the TV (or whatever) can do everything that the host PC can do. Want to straighten a picture? Want to surf the web? Want to run MS Oulook? Want some bizzare new codec? Want to play chess or solitaire? – no extender can do all of this, and it isn’t the best way to try. Remote desktop to a ‘real’ PC and present the screen onto my TV. That way I get everything. Wyse – where the hell are you!!!

  40. I agree with Geoff.

    I am a techie have tons of storage and I don’t want WHS! It is such a incompelete product it’s like buying tires and rims for a car that doesn’t even exist. Meaning even if you wanted to you could never really use them.

    WHS’s only hope would be as an add on for Media Center! Media Center is a real product, WHS a software add on!

    The only way I see Media Center working is:

    Release a Media Center Server with WHS installed (I know it doesn’t work like that but I’m saying it like that for a reason). Make it an appliance as WHS today, not monitor option at all! No Keyboard, no mouse no nothing!

    What does that solve. Well for one cablelabs and anyone else should be happy. You can stream it encrypted to Players.

    Speaking of players. They need to have some kind of solid state ROM to boot off of, or at least install Media Center Extender on the HD. I mean it is not going to work for the main stream to tell them to press this button and wait 30 seconds for media center to respond!

    I should preface this with I have been an MCSE from 1999 upgrading all the way to today!

    DO I think this will ever happen. No. I don’t think Microsoft has ever gotten anything right, except for maybe MS Exchange! I waited for Microsoft to get it right for years, but it never happned. Where does that leave me today? With a brand new iPhone 3Gs and Macbook Pro… Granted I have Vista installed on VMWare Fusion, but for the most part I’ve switched!

    Someday I think Apple will step in any make Media Center the right way. Someday I will go to Richmond and ask these people why and how they always get it so wrong!

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