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Media Center Gets More Web Marketing

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Pete pointed to some excellent new marketing videos that were done for Microsoft and I noticed one thing that just keeps coming back to me.  None of them have anything to do with connected home entertainment!  What do they have to do with?  You guess it, watching TV on your PC.

Media Center definitely needs more marketing like this, preferably I’d like to see this wrapped up with Zune, Xbox, and Windows 7 but this is a good start (I’ve said that before though).  The Key Moment video was good, as was the Singing Antenna but I’d like to see this taken further.  The Sports with Windows video wasn’t bad, but between SportsCenters ads and DIRECTVs March Madness/NFL Sunday ticket ads I feel like the film maker could have taken a different direction that didn’t just merge and copy the two.

What do you think Microsoft needs to focus on in web advertising?

VidaBox vAutomation adds Powerful, Semi-Automatic

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Westbury, NY - March 11th - VidaBox is proud to announce support for LiteTouch®, an innovator in residential lighting controls, on their vAutomation™ control and integration platform.  All of the standard lighting controls can be integrated onto a single VidaBox TouchClient™ or vPad™, providing the convenience of whole house lighting control from any location.

"Not only did we develop a driver for LiteTouch®," says Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC, "but we've created a semi-automatic, integrated solution where virtually no programming is needed.  First, every lighting station and button can be configured within the LiteWare software. Next, by running a special program we've developed, this configuration is then exported for use by the CQC driver, and presented on our vAutomation templates.  These custom templates automatically generate scene keypads with LED status feedback, along with scene buttons for each LiteTouch® station.  This solution makes it extremely easy to set up LiteTouch® on vAutomation™ touch interfaces without any programming."

"We are excited to work with VidaBox in providing an excellent whole home automation solution," says Kevin Davidson, Corporate Training Manager of LiteTouch, Inc.  "VidaBox provides a simple interface and a powerful platform which allows LiteTouch to maintain our focus in providing the very best and the most reliable lighting control solutions in the world."

"By choosing LiteTouch® and VidaBox vAutomation™," Cheung continues, "dealers can offer a tightly integrated solution that allows lighting control to be added easily, without any complex programming.  This tremendously minimizes installation time without sacrificing quality.  Combined with integrated support for media centers, audio servers, and other smart home technologies, the vAutomation™ platform provides a truly all-in-one, complete solution."

vAutomation support for LiteTouch® is available now.  For more details and information on this innovative automation platform and VidaBox's comprehensive line of media servers, extenders, and complete entertainment and control solutions, please visit their company website at http://www.vidabox.com, or contact them at 516-730-7500.  For more details on LiteTouch and their lighting solutions, please visit their company website at http://www.litetouch.com.

About VidaBox LLC
VidaBox LLC is a digital entertainment and controls solutions company focused on manufacturing premium media centers, audio servers, and integrated home control & automation solutions.  VidaBox is on a mission to create user-friendly, stable high-performance Media Center systems that work right out of the box and integrate seamlessly with multizone audio and smart home technologies.  For more information, visit www.vidabox.com or call 1-516-730-7500.

About LiteTouch Inc.
LiteTouch lighting control products offer real-world benefits including convenience, security, time-savings, safety, energy conservation and design aesthetics. "Experience Lighting Control", an online tour detailing many of these benefits is available at LiteTouch.com LiteTouch, a lighting control industry leader for more than two decades, is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

VidaBox Launches the Affordable RoomClient:SE Medi

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Westbury, NY - March 4th - VidaBox has launched the new RoomClient:SE system, an entry-level, Vista-based media server.  Starting at $2248, the RoomClient:SE stores movies, pictures, music, and more for on-demand access via an on-screen, remote controlled interface.  Cover art from movies and music titles are automatically downloaded along with every archival.  Complete with 1080p upscaling and full Dolby Digital and DTS support, it's designed to deliver a stunning entertainment experience without compromising quality.

"The RoomClient:SE is the perfect entry-level unit," says Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC. "It has all the features and capabilities of our larger systems, such as storage and playback of DVDs, music, pictures, video, and TV - all in a compact-sized form factor.  What's even better is that integrators can expand upon the RoomClient:SE at a later time by offering their clients various upgrades, such as more storage, additional extenders for Blu-ray support, etc.  The RoomClient:SE strikes a great balance between being feature-rich, easily expandable, and affordably priced."

Based on Vista Media Center, it includes enough storage for about 150+ unencrypted DVDs, 900+ hours of TV, or tons of music and pictures.  Multizone AV distribution can be done by adding other VidaBox extenders, making the system flexible and expandable.  Integration of IPTV and other internet-based media on the RoomClient:SE interface provide access to a myriad of content out of-the-box.  The addition of third-party applications to provide and add more features make the RoomClient:SE an even more appealing choice for dealers and consumers alike.

"Integrators and tech-savvy customers can even add support for Netflix's 'Watch Now' feature on our systems," Cheung continues. "Media Center-based third-party apps like these allow clients to access and choose from thousands of movies instantly.  With its vast multimedia storage & playback capabilities and great price point, the RoomClient:SE is an excellent choice for any AV project."

The new RoomClient:SE is shipping and available now.  For more details and information on the RoomClient:SE or other VidaBox media servers, extenders, and complete entertainment and control solutions, please visit the company website at http://www.vidabox.com, or call 516-730-7500.

About VidaBox LLC
VidaBox LLC is a digital entertainment and controls solutions company focused on manufacturing premium media centers, audio servers, and integrated home control & automation solutions.  VidaBox is on a mission to create user-friendly, stable high-performance Media Center systems that work right out of the box and integrate seamlessly with multizone audio and smart home technologies.  For more information, visit www.vidabox.com or call 1-516-730-7500.

Is Hulu Coming to Media Center?

posted: 16 Sep 2009

I don't believe that Hulu has a large interest in Media Center, but those very same mockup’s that show Media Center’s “PCTV” marketing also show Hulu as a key experience.  My guess is that the material Microsoft provided to Lippincott said Media Center provides an Internet TV experience, and the designers took that as Media Center providing access to the most popular service for online TV shows.

I don’t believe that the content providers are interested in seeing Hulu on the big screen as it would jeopardize traditional content delivery.  Hulu’s entry into the 10-foot UI marketplace is heavily designed around the desktop PC, and their TOS makes that very clear.

Media Center Gets "PCTV" Marketing in Microsoft St

posted: 16 Sep 2009

It has been my theory that Microsoft is slowly ditching the concept of using and promoting Media Center as a whole home entertainment experience and moving to the “TV on your PC” concept which they have been actively promoting over the past 6 months.  This concept is something that most Media Center enthusiasts don’t want to believe as it turns Media Center into a product that most current users have no interest in.  What better way to find out the future of Media Center than looking at how it could be presented in the upcoming Microsoft retail stores.

Gizmodo got their hands on some leaked mockups of the retail experience, and while Microsoft’s PR is pushing the leaked images as “early prototypes and concepts of our retail store plans” I think it will further key us in on the future of Windows Media Center.

The images, which are presented in on Gizmodo show Media Center being marketed as “PCTV” with such usage scenarios as “watching the Today Show while checking emails during breakfast” and “watching American Idol while on the blog.”  Other key features in the mockup include PC as a PVR, watching Internet TV, and managing all media in one place.

The mockup of the retail experience is driven by what look to be PC monitors or small screen HDTVs.  A theater setting or living room with Media Center as the center piece doesn’t look to be in the picture if this mockup is to be trusted.  Also missing in the mockup is any mention of Media Center Extender’s.

I have no doubt will we see things that are not clearly outlined in the leaked images, however I do believe the marketing material for Media Center is what we will end up seeing.  Notably missing from the mockups are large displays for Xbox 360, Zune, and even Home Server.  I’m not sure Home Server will get a large amount of square-footage designated to it, but I do expect Zune and Xbox to have their place (both Zune and Xbox are outlined in the product offerings mockup image). 

What’s your opinion, will the marketing for Media Center be focused on whatever PCTV is, or can we expect Media Center being pushed as the 10-foot experience that we really want?

Microsoft Unprepared for Digital TV Switch

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Reports suggest that the Digital TV switch in the US went by with little confusion or problems.  Of course, if you rely on Windows Media Center your experience likely wasn’t in line with those reports.  Ben said the transition is causing grief for Media Center users, but for most that might be an understatement. 

Microsoft seemed to think they were prepared; after all they deployed a nice Service Alert tile in Media Center on the 9th that explained the issue.  What they didn’t do is update their servers and other online components to reflect the frequency changes that came with the switch.  Unlike most setups, Media Center replies on online data instead of communication with the ATSC broadcasters.  Microsoft is aware of the issue and seems to be making progress in various places, however this is one of those key updates that Microsoft had loads of time to prepare for and when the switch came it caused mass confusion among users.

The interim fix for the issue in Windows Media Center is to edit the atscchannels.xml file in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\eHome\EPG\prefs with the updated frequencies.  You can find those frequencies at various websites including TV Fool (just input your zip code) and the FCCs own database.  You can also delete the atscchannels.xml and manually create the channels within Media Center.  To do this navigate to Settings > TV > Guide > Add Missing Channels.  The frequency is the same as the “real” number shown in the TV Fool website.  Doing this manually requires you to assign the EPG listings to the channel through Settings > TV > Guide > Add Listings to Channel.

Update: This should now be fixed, re-run your Guide setup.

Xbox Unveils Entertainment Experiences That Put Ev

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Microsoft rewrites the rules on fun with controller-free entertainment, Facebook for your TV, plus instant on 1080p HD streaming video.

LOS ANGELES — June 1, 2009 — The future of home entertainment has a new name: Xbox 360. Today, Microsoft Corp. opened the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) with a historic Xbox 360 briefing that rocked, tweeted, revved and awakened the world to a new era of fun and entertainment. In addition to premiering 10 exclusive new games, revolutionizing the way we watch TV, and making it easier than ever to connect to friends, Xbox also welcomed visionary filmmaker Steven Spielberg to introduce “Project Natal” and controller-free gaming.

“Today with cultural visionaries at our side and controller-free gaming on our horizon, Xbox 360 authored a new page in home entertainment history,” said Don Mattrick, senior vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “For us, this E3 is about breaking down barriers — between generations, between games and entertainment, and most important, between video game players and everyone else — in a way that only Xbox 360 can.”

During its briefing, Microsoft showed why Xbox 360 continues to defy industry sales trends. First: A lineup of blockbuster games to ignite every passion, including “Forza Motorsport 3,” “Alan Wake,” “Halo 3: ODST” and “The Beatles: Rock Band.” Next? A host of groundbreaking Xbox LIVE services, from instant on 1080p HD streaming movies and television to Facebook and Last.fm tailor-made for your TV. And rounding it all out, “Project Natal,” a whole new way to play, no controller required.

“Project Natal”: No Strings (or Controllers) Attached

Unveiled for the first time to the public was “Project Natal,” pronounced “nuh-tall” and a code name for a revolutionary new way to play, no controller required. See a ball? Kick it, hit it, trap it or catch it. If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips or speak, you and your friends can jump into the fun. The only experience needed is life experience.

Compatible with any Xbox 360 system, the “Project Natal” sensor is the world’s first to combine an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device. Unlike 2-D cameras and controllers, “Project Natal” tracks your full body movement in 3-D, while responding to commands, directions and even a shift of emotion in your voice.

In addition, unlike other devices, the “Project Natal” sensor is not light-dependent. It can recognize you just by looking at your face, and it doesn’t just react to key words but understands what you’re saying. Call a play in a football game, and players will actually respond. Want to log onto Xbox LIVE? Simply step in front of the sensor.

“The next step in interactive entertainment is to make the controller disappear,” said Steven Spielberg, visionary director and producer. “With ‘Project Natal,’ we’ll see games that bring everyone together through technology that actually recognizes us.”

The Best of the Internet, Custom-Made for Your TV

Groove, party or connect with a friend. Xbox LIVE, the world’s largest social network on TV, today announced that Facebook and Last.fm would be tailor-made for your TV, only on Xbox 360. Microsoft also announced Xbox LIVE Party for movies, which allows movie experiences to be shared — on the couch or across the country over Xbox LIVE in supported movies.

“We are always asking ourselves how to make the TV more social,” said John Schappert, corporate vice president of Interactive Entertainment LIVE, Software and Studios at Microsoft. “By bringing Facebook, Last.fm and Xbox LIVE Party for movies and TV shows to Xbox LIVE, we’re not only extending the walls of your living room beyond your home to your friends in different corners of the world, we’re creating the definitive social network, uniting more than 200 million people to share status updates, pictures, thoughts on music and the world’s best online gaming experience.”

The addition of Facebook to Xbox LIVE means friends are always connected, anytime, anywhere — from virtually any couch. But updating your status and sharing photos won’t be the only things you can do. Using Facebook Connect, you can share your greatest moments in gaming by posting updates and screenshots from supported games directly to Facebook. Don’t let your moment of glory fade away — make sure everyone sees it with Facebook Connect, starting with the future version of the premier EA SPORTS golf franchise “Tiger Woods PGA TOUR®.”

A first for TV, Last.fm,1 part of the CBS Interactive Music Group, will give Xbox LIVE subscribers access to millions of songs streaming through Xbox 360 to the best speakers in the house. Xbox LIVE subscribers will be able to create their own free, personalized radio stations and listen to them with friends in the living room or across the country.

Xbox 360 also solidified its place as one of the leading social entertainment networks by announcing Xbox LIVE Party for movies. Go to the cinema with your friends whether you are sitting on the same couch or in living rooms across the country. Starting this year, you can share a virtual theater, see your avatar (a virtual you) on the screen, all while you listen to each other laugh and cry at the movie through voice chat on Xbox LIVE. With movie parties, the only thing you can’t share is the popcorn.

Read Full Press Release

Microsoft Connects the Dots with Zune HD, Zune Mar

posted: 16 Sep 2009

This week Microsoft took the wraps off the next Zune, dubbed Zune HD.  It seems to be your basic next-generation touch screen only media player with the common additions of WiFi and an web browser (IE based).  There are some other interesting parts such as a HD Radio tuner, an OLED screen, multitouch, and even HD output at 720p via a dock.

The most interesting part of the announcement is not the device, but rather the service.  The Zune Marketplace will now integrate with the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, finally drawing a realistic picture of Microsoft’s “3 screen” vision of the future. Getting the most press is the HD Radio tuner, the non-HD resolution of the OLED screen, and the concept of Microsoft competing with the iPod touch.

HD Radio tuner doesn’t do much for me, it will give people a chance to explore something they likely have never heard of before, and apparently the FM radio tuner has been a big selling point among existing Zune buyers.  The resolution on the OLED screen is only 480x272, which many have noted is not even close to HD.  I’m not really sure why people think they need 1080p on a portable player, the lower resolution screen likely benefits the majority of people who put low-bitrate and resolution content on the device in the first place.  If you have HD content, the dock now outputs 720p over HDMI.  The big question in terms of resolution is actually what codec’s and resolutions it supports syncing.  If it supports all popular codecs and HD resolutions, that means I can sync without transcoding.

I have never seen the Zune as a good competitor to the iPod, I don’t feel much different about this one.  Microsoft is still playing catch-up here by connecting their services.  This is something Apple has mostly had for years.  Within the next 2-3 years I can finally see the landscape start to change a bit, but Microsoft is going to have a very hard time going after Apple when you compare numbers.

Lacking is any mention of Media Center, which wasn’t a shock to me personally.  I firmly believe Microsoft has moved on from what most reading this wanted Media Center to be, and of course for years I’ve said the Xbox was the real competition to Media Center (this will become much clearer as we go on).  Connecting the Xbox, Zune, and Windows finally makes all of the products marketable.  Microsoft also just announced that Xbox 360 has sold 30 million units and has 20 million on Xbox LIVE.

A few have noted that all the details have not been released and that Media Center integration could still be there.  I don’t anticipate it, but would welcome it.  I doubt we will see this act as a Media Center Extender as many have wanted.  If Microsoft could of improved anywhere in the Zune-Media Center connection I hope it was with syncing content, mainly TV.  The Zune does support syncing TV, but it doesn’t support anything copy protected (CableCARD, likely any future premium Cable/Sat services), and also doesn't support syncing content with Dolby Digital audio.  If this stays true just about the only TV content the Zune can sync (in the US) will be analog cable/satellite captures.  Even OTA content will be purely Dolby Digital next months, so even your favorite local channels will not sync unless Microsoft decides to change.

Xbox 360 Sees Record Growth in 2009

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Year-over-year growth jumps as Xbox 360 console sales hit 30 million globally and Xbox LIVE community reaches 20 million users.

REDMOND, Wash. — May 28, 2009 — Microsoft Corp. announced today that sales of Xbox 360 consoles have passed the 30 million mark globally, with its Xbox LIVE community swelling to more than 20 million active members. After the biggest year in its history in 2008, Xbox 360 achieved the highest percentage growth in hardware sales of any console so far in 2009, up 28 percent over the previous year.1

The success of the platform can be measured across the business, with Xbox LIVE now considered the world’s largest global entertainment network. Increasing consumer desire to connect with friends, download and enjoy blockbuster movies and TV shows, and extend the life of their favorite games has been the primary driver behind the growth of Xbox LIVE membership and the reason Xbox continues to expand offerings on the platform.

“We’ve always been confident that Xbox 360 offers more entertainment value than any other console on the market, and these latest numbers show that consumers agree,” said Don Mattrick, senior vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “We expect our growth to continue to accelerate. Our news at E3 next week will underscore our commitment to bringing blockbuster entertainment experiences to everyone and to growing the Xbox entertainment brand globally.”

Over the course of this console generation, U.S. consumers alone have spent $14.5 billion across all categories on Xbox 360 at retail.1 This number reflects strong interest in a comprehensive entertainment offering that includes the ability to connect with others socially and to digitally download entertainment, be it games, TV shows or movies. To date, consumers have downloaded nearly 1 billion pieces of gaming and entertainment content from Xbox LIVE Marketplace, including a broad array of premium high- and standard-definition movies and TV shows from top studios and networks around the world.2

In addition, Xbox 360 continues to be the platform of choice for the industry’s top games, generating $5.9 billion in sales to date at U.S. retail for third-party publishers, which is more than those of current-generation consoles combined.1 Xbox 360 also leads current-generation consoles in game purchases, with consumers owning an average of 8.3 titles each.1

Activity on Xbox LIVE, the industry-leading online gaming and entertainment service, surged following the launch of the New Xbox Experience in November 2008. Since that time, the community has recorded a 136 percent increase in new members, TV and movie downloads have more than doubled, and purchases of games, Game Add-ons and more on Xbox LIVE Arcade have increased by 70 percent.2 Xbox LIVE reaches 26 countries worldwide and is now in more homes than any satellite television provider.2 Before the end of the year, the number of Xbox LIVE members will surpass the number of subscribers to the largest cable provider.1 Consumers can expect more exciting announcements from Microsoft next week as Xbox 360 kicks off the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the world’s premier trade show for computer and video games and related products, with its press briefing on Monday, June 1, in Los Angeles.

About Xbox 360

Xbox 360 is a premier video game and entertainment system. It is home to the best and broadest games plus more entertainment than any other device connected to the TV. The digital center of the living room, Xbox 360 blends unbeatable content, including personal pictures and music, with a unified online social network to create a limitless entertainment experience that can be shared at home or across the globe. More information can be found online at http://www.xbox.com/xbox360.

About Xbox LIVE

Xbox LIVE is the most comprehensive gaming and entertainment network connected to your television, delivering the largest movie, TV music and gaming library on a single device, and instant access to select movies and TV shows.

With an active community of more than 20 million people across 26 countries, Xbox LIVE brings friends together — from the same living room or around the globe — to share the best in home entertainment. With an Xbox LIVE Gold Membership, enjoy exclusive benefits and premium access to movies, music, TV and games from the top studios and services, all in one place. More information can be found online at http://www.xbox.com/en-us/live.

Microsoft Announces the Expansion of the Zune Ente

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Premium Zune digital entertainment service to be available internationally on Xbox LIVE.

REDMOND, Wash. — May 26, 2009 — Microsoft Corp. today announced the evolution of Zune, the company’s end-to-end music and entertainment service, to a new platform and new markets. Zune will extend its video service to Xbox LIVE internationally this fall. This marks an important development in the Zune strategy and brings the Zune brand to more than 17 million international Xbox LIVE subscribers. In addition, Microsoft confirmed the next generation of the Zune portable media player, Zune HD. Available in the U.S. this fall, Zune HD is the first portable media player that combines a built-in HD Radio receiver, high-definition (HD) video output capabilities, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch screen, Wi-Fi and an Internet browser.

“The Zune music player is an integral part of the overall Zune experience, and we’re proud to be growing and extending our offering beyond the device,” said Enrique Rodriguez, corporate vice president of the Microsoft TV, Video and Music Business Group. “Delivering on Microsoft’s connected entertainment vision, this news marks a turning point for Zune as it brings cross-platform experiences and premium video content to living rooms around the world.”

Zune Service Expands to New Platform

Zune will be a premium partner in the Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace, bringing an exciting catalog of TV and film to the platform. Zune will occupy the first slot within the Xbox user interface in the Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace, exposing the Zune brand experience to millions of new consumers for the first time. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) next week, attendees will see firsthand how Zune integrates into Xbox LIVE to create a game-changing entertainment experience.

Introducing Zune HD

  • Zune HD is the next iteration of the Zune device family and brings a new level of listening and viewing experiences to the portable media player category.
  • Zune HD comes with a built-in HD Radio receiver so users can listen to higher-quality sound than traditional radio on the go. Users also will have access to the additional song and artist data broadcast by HD Radio stations as well as additional channels from their favorite stations multicasting in HD. If you don’t like the song playing on your station’s HD channel, switch to its HD2 or HD3 channels for additional programming.
  • The bright OLED touch screen interface allows users to flip through music, movies and other content with ease, and the 16:9 widescreen format display (480x272 resolution) offers a premium viewing experience on the go.
  • The HD-compatible output lets Zune HD customers playback supported HD video files from the device through a premium high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) audiovisual docking station (sold separately) direct to an HD TV in 720p.*
  • Zune HD will include a full-screen Internet browser optimized for multitouch functionality.
  • Zune HD is Wi-Fi enabled, allowing for instant streaming to the device from the more than 5 million-track Zune music store.

Does Home Server & Media Center Mean a Connected F

posted: 16 Sep 2009

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.

Ben 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 sticky 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?

The Story Behind Netflix for Windows Media Center

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Today Microsoft released their native Netflix application for Windows Media Center to much fanfare.  The release comes with a catch, but let’s back up a bit before we get to that.

I’ve talked about the need for Microsoft to get Netflix within the Media Center ecosystem, and ever since Reed Hastings joined Microsoft’s board I knew it was coming.  A year ago Microsoft announced Netflix would be coming to the Xbox 360 Dashboard and that rekindled my thoughts about the Xbox 360 being Media Center biggest enemy in the marketplace.  Today those thoughts are confirmed once again by the Netflix application for Media Center not supporting Media Center Extenders.

I’ve been testing the Netflix application for a few weeks now.  Upon downloading the first beta I read  the release notes which talked about Extender’s not being supported.  I figured this was something that would change.  Sadly, it didn’t and was planned at all.  I didn’t think I’d get to post this part because it was told to me under NDA, but TechFlash actually posted it so I’m in the clear.  Part of the reason Extender’s are not supported is because Microsoft wants to make sure they don’t compete with the Xbox 360 Dashboard.

 Leaving the technical aspects of getting Silverlight to an Extender aside, this represents a huge problem and once again confirms to me that Microsoft will continue to push and promote the Xbox 360 Dashboard over that of the Extender platform.

Fellow MVP Richard Miller asked if I would rather Microsoft have not released the Netflix application, and it isn’t so much that I think Microsoft shouldn’t have released, but what I really want is Microsoft to define who Media Center is for (do I sound like a broken record yet?) and the future of some basic items like Extenders (I’ll have another post on this later, but Microsoft keeps assuring me Extender’s are not “dead”).

A few months ago I suggested that Microsoft was changing directions with Media Center to the more customer friendly “TV on your PC” concept.  I took a bit of flack from Microsoft on the post who suggested that wasn’t the case.  Maybe is it and maybe it isn’t.  Correct or not, I’ll stick to my story because it seems like everything that comes out confirms my suspicions.

Back to the Netflix application, the delivery of this is the future of Media Center.  Just like Internet TV, the Netflix application was automatically pushed to Media Center without any initial user interaction.  If they can just improve the installation it will be much more beneficial to end users.  While the interface is very intuitive I don’t have my Media Center connected to a TV.  Given this, I find Netflix’s website more convenient.  Moving forward, if the whole “TV on your PC” thing catches on this will be a huge issue of mine.  Media Center was designed as a 10-foot interface, using it as a 2-foot interface is kind of tricky and it's not as intuitive as it could be.  This has improved with Windows 7, but I would still rather use a website to find such basic content and leave the 10-foot UI where it belongs.

Microsoft and Netflix Enhance Movie and TV Watchin

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Latest content addition offers more than 12,000 choices of movies and TV episodes that can be watched instantly on a PC with Windows.

REDMOND, Wash. — May 19, 2009 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that more than 12,000 movies and TV episodes from Netflix Inc., the world’s largest online movie rental service, are now available to watch instantly on the PC using Windows Media Center on PCs with Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate. This newest content addition 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.

With Windows Media Center, consumers no longer need to jump from Web site to Web site to find the TV shows, movies, sports and news they want to watch. Windows Vista customers who are also Netflix members can simply start Windows Media Center on their PC and then select the new Netflix tile under TV+Movies to begin streaming movies and TV episodes instantly. People can also search the entire Netflix library, manage both their instant and DVD Queues, and even filter searches by titles that are available to watch instantly. Windows Media Center takes advantage of the Netflix recommended category lists to make it even easier to quickly find the movies and TV shows that consumers want to watch. Conveniently, Netflix in Windows Media Center is also designed to work with any Windows Media Center-compatible remote control.

The availability of Netflix in Windows Media Center marks the second recent content milestone for Windows, following the March 2009 launch of the Sports Channel, which offers a variety of interactive sports content from CBSSports.com, FOX Sports, MSNBC.com and more.

“Netflix is excited that the majority of the Windows Vista users in the U.S. can now access a vast array of movies and TV episodes from Netflix through Windows Media Center,” said Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications. “There’s no better way to enjoy movies than with Netflix, and this latest offering is another milestone that gives Windows Media Center customers a great experience using the Netflix service.”

The Netflix instant watching in Windows Media Center is powered by Microsoft Silverlight, one of the industry’s most comprehensive and powerful solutions for the creation and delivery of applications and media experiences. The use of Silverlight means that customers will have more accessible, more discoverable and more secure experiences. Windows Media Center is available on Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.

In addition to Windows Media Center users, Xbox 360 system owners already have access to watch movies and TV episodes instantly from Netflix via an Xbox LIVE Gold Membership. The offerings through both platforms allow customers to enjoy more than 12,000 movies and TV episodes.

“We’re continuing to work with the top content providers today to make watching TV on the PC a mainstream experience for the future,” said Craig Eisler corporate vice president of entertainment client software for the TV, Video and Music Business Group at Microsoft. “Consumers understand that content is the driving force when it comes to experiences, and with Netflix, we’re underscoring our broader commitment to deliver a rich experience with Windows Media Center.”

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Not Dead Yet

posted: 16 Sep 2009

School is out for the semester which means more time to kick back.  I'm sure most of you know that there is a lot going on, so post any specific questions you have here and I'll see what I can cover.

Microsoft, Media Center Integrator Alliance Announ

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Co-sponsoring this year’s contest with Media Center Integrator Alliance, Microsoft again seeks best residential project design based on Windows Media Center in custom installation industry.

ORLANDO, Fla. — March 12, 2009 Today at the Electronic House Expo in Orlando, Microsoft Corp., in cooperation with co-sponsor Media Center Integrator Alliance, announced the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. This industry design contest, now in its third year, seeks to recognize the residential integration business that best utilizes Windows Media Center in a custom home installation project. With the support of the newly formed Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA), a group dedicated to driving awareness and adoption of Windows Media Center technologies in the custom channel, the Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest will represent the best of the best in the ecosystem.

Last year, the winner of the Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest was a home installation designed and implemented by Los Gatos, Calif.-based integration firm cyberManor. The system was created for a family in Sunnyvale, Calif., that desired a centralized, user-friendly entertainment and automation system. The result was a complete integration solution with Windows Media Center at the helm.

“Once again, custom installers have the chance to demonstrate how a connected home can be designed using the Windows Media Center platform,” said Kevin Collins, director of the Custom Installer Channel in the Connected TV Business, Entertainment and Devices Division, at Microsoft. “Microsoft and MCIA are excited to give custom installers the opportunity to showcase their creativity, execution and personalized solutions for their customers using all the products that make up the Windows Media Center ecosystem.”

Contest Eligibility

The goal of Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest is to identify the best implementation of the Windows Media Center platform as designed and installed in a residential electronics system:

Read Full Press Release

CableCARD Opens Up, but Does the Marketplace?

posted: 16 Sep 2009

The news at CEDIA that CableCARD will now be open to all has got everyone worked up about Microsoft getting things right and that the platform is back where it needs to be.  However, while the news of CableCARD getting unlocked from OEM only machines is fantastic I’m not sure it chances much in the marketplace.

First of all, AMD appears to be out of the marketplace which is actually a much bigger deal than people might think.  While this hasn’t been confirmed, reports out of CEDIA showed that AMD didn’t have a lot to say about CableCARD in general.  Most likely the only reason we are seeing updated firmware for current OCURs is because AMD never actually wrote the firmware for the cards, Digital Keystone did.  Clearly competition is the best way to drive prices down, so AMD not focusing on the market isn’t a good thing.

The big news it Ceton will actually be releasing an MOCUR for retail consumption.   This isn’t the BOCR I have talked about in the past (CableLabs still hasn’t published any specs for that), but it is the first MOCUR.   My question here is what kind of distribution will Ceton be able to get?  I’m not exactly expecting the card to show up at my local Best Buy.  If CableCARD tuners aren’t going to be available at brick-and-mortar retailers the concept of the market opening up dramatically is still slim.  Maybe Dell and HP get back into the market now that OEM BIOS isn’t required, but they seem to have a bad taste in their mouth from previous experiences plus selling the tuners with new PCs gets us right back to where we were before.

Price is another issue when we talk about expanding the current marketplace.  Preliminary reports are that Ceton is currently targeting a price between $300-$600, which would be a huge upgrade from current AMD pricing, but this is still very costly when you consider 46 out of the 65 PCs Best Buy lists on their website cost $750 or less.  Without a big retail partner Ceton will surely not be an AMD-sided production run which means prices are likely to be higher simply because economics of scale doesn’t work.  Maybe if/when Hauppauge ships a CableCARD tuner the distribution side will be fixed (however, I don’t believe the HD PVR has retail distribution either).

There is still the possibility that Microsoft would market this for the living room, but that’s still highly unlikely.  Trust me, the lack of cable HDTV isn’t the one thing that stopped Microsoft from ever marketing Media Center and Extender’s, and it surely won’t change that.  Microsoft isn’t likely to ever market Media Center or Extender’s, or any pairing of the two.

It is no doubt the Media Center community will jump on this change, but do you believe Media Center is now in a better place to expand in the marketplace now that CableCARD is not locked to an OEM machine?

Microsoft Enhances the Digital Cable Experience an

posted: 16 Sep 2009

Customers get new capabilities, more options, and a better digital cable experience in Windows Media Center.

ATLANTA, Sept. 9 -- Today at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft Corp. discussed key Windows Media Center features for Windows 7 and announced a series of initiatives that enhance the digital cable experience in Windows Media Center. With the addition of native support for additional international broadcast TV standards, including QAM and ATSC, there will now be support for switched digital video (SDV), a new tool that will make it possible for end customers to add a digital cable tuner with CableCARD to their PC, and for existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV that is marked as "copy freely" (CF). In addition, Microsoft and the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA) announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, showcasing the many ways Windows Media Center can be used in a whole-home solution.

"We're continuing to work on creating opportunities for partners that will enable great entertainment experiences on the PC," said Craig Eisler, corporate vice president of entertainment client software for the TV, Video & Music Business at Microsoft. "Consumers understand that having access to content via the PC is critical when it comes to entertainment experiences, and with these announcements, we're underscoring our broader commitment to deliver a rich experience with Windows Media Center."

Switched Digital Video (SDV) Support Added for Windows Media Center

In response to customer requests and cable providers' deployment of SDV, Microsoft now supports SDV in Windows Media Center for Windows 7. In conjunction with a device known as a tuning adapter, supplied by a customer's cable provider, Windows Media Center and a digital cable tuner with CableCARD will be able to tune to SDV channels. Customers can enjoy SDV broadcasts on PCs running Windows Media Center in Windows 7 and a digital cable tuner with CableCARD.

End Customers Can Now Add Digital Cable Tuners With CableCARD to Their PCs

Microsoft and CableLabs announced that customers will now be able to add digital cable tuners with CableCARD to a Windows 7-based PC with Windows Media Center. A new tool will be provided by Microsoft that assesses the PC's ability to support the solution. This tool will analyze the customer's PC and enable digital cable support if the PC meets requirements, opening digital cable options to Windows Media Center customers across the country. Microsoft also announced that, with Windows 7, it has increased the number of TV tuners that can be connected to the PC from two to four per tuner type, thereby allowing customers to simultaneously record or watch as many as four digital cable TV channels.

"We are excited that digital cable customers will now be able to take advantage of this new opportunity to bring great cable TV programming to the PC," said So Vang, vice president of OpenCable at CableLabs. "We are dedicated to helping customers get the most from their cable service, and this will be a great win for both the customer and the cable operators."

Digital Cable Customers Can Now Enjoy More TV Portability in Windows Media Center

Microsoft and CableLabs also announced that they worked together to enable digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV that is marked as "copy freely" (CF). Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs, devices and portable media.

Windows Media Center Features in Windows 7 Highlighted

Using new Windows 7 features such as Windows Touch, HomeGroup, Remote Media Streaming and PlayTo, sharing recorded TV, videos, music and pictures throughout the home, while on the road and to remote locations has never been easier. There is also support for the AVCHD format. This allows customers to view HD video from many popular HD video cameras.

In addition, support for the international broadcast TV standards that was released with the Windows Media Center TV Pack 2008 will also be included in Windows Media Center in Windows 7. This includes native support for both ATSC and QAM, the ability to remap channels, and support for subchannels.

New Firmware for ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuners

In conjunction with the Microsoft and CableLabs announcements, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) will be providing a new firmware update that is available to all ATI TV Wonder digital cable tuners being used with Windows 7 and Windows Vista. This firmware update will allow existing digital cable tuner with CableCARD customers to enjoy more portability for digital cable TV marked as CF. Customers will be able to play CF-marked digital cable recordings, such as those from local channels, on other PCs, devices, and portable media. In addition, the firmware will contain support for SDV. When installed on a Windows 7-based PC with a digital cable tuner with CableCARD and a tuning adapter from a cable provider, it enables access to switched digital channels in locations where SDV has been deployed.

2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest Winner Announced

Microsoft, in collaboration with the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA), announced the winner of the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. The winning installation was submitted by Dustin Anderson, general manager at Vision Audio in Lubbock, Texas, who built a system with Windows Media Center at the core of the entertainment experience in an extensive whole-home installation for a customer in Odessa, Texas. The installation integrates six Windows Media Center-based servers, one Windows Home Server, five dedicated theater-style rooms, 12 media racks, 98 speakers, and 30 zones of distributed audio. The home includes products from key MCIA member companies such as Autonomic Controls Inc., Crestron Electronics Inc. and Niveus Media Inc.

The Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest, now in its third year, encourages integrators to show off their talents by presenting their most unique and creative installations that leverage Windows Media Center technologies. Vision Audio's integration of the family's music, movies, videos and pictures, as well as the integration of Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server with the Crestron home automation system, and the large scope of the installation set it apart as the winner for 2009.

"We're thrilled to receive this recognition from Microsoft and the MCIA. The Windows Media Center platform has enabled us to be on the cutting edge of technology, which has provided us with critical business advantages during the economic downturn," Anderson said.

More information on the contest and images from the install can be found online at http://www.microsoft.com/ultimateinstall.

Also on Display at CEDIA EXPO 2009

At the Microsoft booth at CEDIA EXPO 2009, Microsoft will show additional hardware and software installations that enhance the digital cable experience. Demonstrations include these:

  • The new Zune HD portable media player using the Zune HD AV dock to display 720p content on an HDTV. The Zune HD and updated Zune PC software will launch on Sept. 15.
  • A home server powered by Windows Home Server software. The upcoming Windows Home Server Power Pack 3, currently in beta testing, will add enhancements for Windows Media Center. Power Pack 3 features include the option to move recorded TV content to the home server in a variety of resolutions, and the ability for users to see statistics about the home server through Windows Media Center.
  • A technology preview of the new Multi-Channel Cable TV Card from Ceton Corp., which enables PCs with Windows Media Center to play or record multiple live channels of premium HDTV at once, and stream live HD channels or recordings to multiple TV sets throughout the home, all with a single CableCARD.

OCURs Finally Approved for Tuning Adaptor Support

posted: 16 Sep 2009

While I still haven’t seen specs updated to confirm how I believe CableLabs would handle Tuning Adaptor’s with OCURs , I can confirm that the next firmware release (in theory 1.19) will support Tuning Adaptors as CableLabs has officially approved all ATI OCURs as Tuning Adaptor ready (hooray for me being wrong!).  In addition the firmware should allow for less DRM on non-flagged CableCARD recordings.  Expect more next week at CEDIA.

This is one of the very few predictions that Ben at Engadget HD made that I believe will come true.

Going Beyond The Enthusiast Market

posted: 16 Sep 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You Think of Windows 7 Media Center?

posted: 16 Sep 2009

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

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

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

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

Yes, The Green Button is Having Issues

posted: 31 Jan 2009

Microsoft appeared to have fixed one of the issues I was having on the backend, but that fix has caused the entire site to come to its knees with wonderful message like "Value cannot be null. Parameter name: relativeUrl" when attempting to make a new post or reply.  Unfortunantly, since I don't have direct access to the server there is nothing I can personally do about it.

Sadly since you can’t make a new post or reply, The Green Button will effectively be down until Microsoft can fix the issue.  Ian’s forums on The Digital Lifestyle might be a good overflow forum until Microsoft fixes The Green Button.

Microsoft Focuses Media Center Marketing, Platform

posted: 15 Jan 2009

The first sign of a business in trouble is when you must reinvent yourself to stay alive.  Microsoft might 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.

Media Center Gets Blu-ray, Just Not From Microsoft

posted: 09 Jan 2009

I’ve talk about Microsoft and Blu-ray more times than I can count and it never fails I end up saying they will not be the ones to build Blu-ray support in Windows.  My thoughts have officially come true with yesterday’s announcement that Microsoft is outsourcing Blu-ray support in Windows Vista to Cyberlink.

According to the press release, PowerDVD “automatically integrate with Windows Media Center to enable full Blu-ray playback capability on PC equipped with the appropriate hardware.”  The extent of that integration remains to be seen, but I’m hoping for full integration using Media Foundation and PVP (aka real integration).  What we will likely end up with is Media Center launching PowerDVD in a Play Movie-esk way.

I guess this is a good start and I’m interested to see what the product will look like but I’m not getting my hopes up too high just yet for it being the perfect solution.

Microsoft Loses the Online Content Fight

posted: 09 Jan 2009

I shouldn’t actually call it a fight because that implies one actually gave effort, but CES 2009 has shown that Microsoft is effectively out of the race to provide a platform for streaming and downloadable content via the PC.  I say via the PC because the Xbox is still alive and actually putting up somewhat of a fight.

With every major display company now pushing integrated online content embedded or easily attachable to their displays the PC is now becoming irrelevant.  No longer is the concept PC-to-TV, it is Web-to-TV and Microsoft fails to offer compelling products that work under this infrastructure.

Media Center had strong potential to rule the online world.  In 2002 when Microsoft introduced Media Center the Online Spotlight provided a mechanism for content providers to offer 10-foot versions of their streaming services.  As time went on however Microsoft had a difficult time keeping content providers interested with big names like MTV Network pulling content for reasons unknown to anyone but Microsoft.  In late 2007 Microsoft offered up their Internet TV plug-in which scrapped content from their MSN properties.  Then in early 2008 Internet TV got an upgrade that introduced interactive ads, a feature that I thought would give Microsoft a leg up in streaming   Alas, Microsoft has failed to secure any additional web content.  Even Netflix, which is on the Xbox 360 didn’t get ported to Media Center (while unofficial plug-ins fill the gap for users).  Windows 7 hits hard on integration of broadcast and broadband, but that only goes as far as the content you have to offer.

My advice to Microsoft, buy boxee and integrate it into Media Center, Xbox 360, and Zune.  Unless you have some big partnerships in the works (CES would have been a good place to unveil those), your platform is effectively dead for online content delivery (broadcast isn’t looking that hot either).

Ceton Announces Development of Next-Generation Cab

posted: 09 Jan 2009

(Via Media Center Blog)  LAS VEGAS, NV -- 01/08/09 -- Ceton Corp., a Seattle-area technology company, today announced the development of the next-generation Ceton cable TV card for Windows Media Center-enabled PCs. PCs incorporating the Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card will be able to natively support high-definition pay TV including premium cable TV channels, without the need for a separate cable set-top box, including playing or recording up to six simultaneous high-definition TV channels using a single multi-stream CableCARD(TM) and single RF connection.

The Ceton solution also enables standard- and high-definition cable programming to be securely distributed from a Media Center PC to multiple TVs throughout the home via Media Center Extenders while preserving the encryption and digital rights of the content. The Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card was developed using Microsoft Corp.'s broadcast TV platform capabilities in Windows Media Center and conforms to the CableLabs® OpenCable(TM) OCUR and DRI specifications.

"PCs running Windows Media Center are a great platform for enabling a wide variety of really useful whole-home entertainment options," said Gary Hammer, president and CEO of Ceton Corp. "The Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card for Windows Media Center-enabled PCs not only brings pay TV functionality of the set-top box inside the PC in an easy-to-set-up and very cost-effective way but it also enables unique capabilities such as whole-home distribution of premium HD TV content with up to six tuner support with a single multi-stream CableCARD."

"Microsoft is pleased to see Ceton deliver this new hardware solution built on the robust capabilities of Windows Media Center and its broadcast TV platform," said Geoff Robertson, General Manager of Windows Media Center for Microsoft. "Ceton's digital cable tuner will bring multi-stream pay TV services to Windows Media Center-enabled PCs and multiple connected Media Center Extenders."

The Ceton Multi-Channel Cable TV Card for Windows Media Center-enabled PCs is expected to be available bundled with Windows Media Center-enabled PCs from leading manufacturers in 2009.

About Ceton Corporation

Ceton Corporation is a Seattle-area technology company that is developing the next-generation of in-home digital entertainment and communication solutions. Combining stellar hardware and software engineering capabilities with market-making, patent-pending technology, Ceton aims to help unlock the potential of the digital home to unleash a new generation of in-home connected entertainment and communication services for PC and device makers, software developers and consumers. More information about Ceton and its solutions is available at http://www.cetoncorp.com.

Ceton Gets Official with Industry First MOCUR

posted: 09 Jan 2009

Microsoft might not have hit on it in their Media Center-less keynote, but there is one big change getting ready to happen.  Well over a year after it was first spotted, Ceton is out with the news that they will be shipping an MOCUR in 2009 (Via Media Center Blog).

There are a few things that are unique to the Ceton MOCUR over the current ATI OCUR.  The first and most noticeable is the ability to use a single M-Card and tune at up 6 channels.  While most people know that M-Cards can offer multiple streams, not many know they actually can be well above two.  Using a single M-Card and a Ceton MCOUR with add-on tuners you will be able to record up to six shows at once.

While you will still need a CableCARD Ready PC (sorry, no home built) this tuner will be a welcome change from ATIs.  Ceton will hopefully stay a-top their firmware releases and ship the tuners with that relaxed DRM support that ATI hasn’t bothered to get around to yet.

Sadly, this isn’t a BOCR.  CableLabs has still not finished the specs for two-way CableCARD tuners for the PC.  While not noted in the press release, Ceton will hopefully be providing support for SDV Adaptors which CableLabs has said will work with OCURs but that a timeline for support has not been made public.  If SDV support isnt planned on, this tuner will be dead in the water.  I’ve got to believe that Ceton wouldn’t release the tuner at this stage without ensuring SDV support.

Big hat tip to the Media Center Blog

CyberLink to Demonstrate PowerDVD with Microsoft a

posted: 08 Jan 2009

TAIPEI, Taiwan - CyberLink Corporation is pleased to announce that PowerDVD will be utilized by Microsoft Corp. in a demonstration of their newest version of Windows Media Center, for Windows 7. This demo will be shown in the Microsoft booth (7144), in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Additional demonstrations of the forthcoming version of PowerDVD will be available to PC and Consumer Electronic manufacturers and members of the press by appointment, in CyberLink’s private suite in the Hilton Hotel.

CyberLink has been working closely with Microsoft to support many of the advanced capabilities of Windows 7. PowerDVD Cinema mode has been designed to automatically integrate with Windows Media Center to enable full Blu-ray playback capability on PC equipped with the appropriate hardware. PowerDVD Cinema mode integrates seamlessly with the advanced user experience that Windows Media Center provides and allows consumers to be able to use a remote control to select and watch Blu-ray titles from the comfort of their couch. PowerDVD also provide a great user experience when launched directly from Windows, with new and exciting ways for everyone to browse and enjoy movies and video files on any Windows desktop or laptop PC.

TrueTheater™ HD, one of the new video technology CyberLink will demonstrate in PowerDVD, provides the capability to up-sample videos and transform standard definition video files, or DVD titles into high-definition quality. This would allow users to enjoy DVDs today in high definition quality.

“We are proud that PowerDVD is Microsoft’s choice to support Blu-ray Disc playback for Windows 7,” said Alice H. Chang, CEO of CyberLink. “PowerDVD is the leading DVD, Blu-ray Disc and AVCHD movie player software application, chosen by top-brand PCs and optical disc drives purchased by consumers and businesses around the world. We are excited to demonstrate the smooth integration and the incredible sights and sounds of Blu-ray disc movies for Windows 7 at the coming CES.”

VidaBox Unveils new Products at CES 2009

posted: 08 Jan 2009

VidaBox Releases New vPad8, an Enhanced Ultra-Mobile Tablet Designed for Automation

VidaBox LLC, a manufacturer of digital entertainment and control solutions, is proud to present the vPad8™, a thin and light ultra-mobile tablet PC.  Running on Windows XP embedded, it features a full-color touch screen with 800x600 resolution and comes standard with WiFi connectivity, making it an ideal control interface device.

"We're excited to release the new vPad8™ panel," exclaims Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox. "This is a smaller, less bulky version of our original vPad10™.  We've also added some improvements like a brighter screen for easier legibility in direct light, and optional protective rubber bumpers, making it extremely durable."

Read Full Press Release

New VidaBox Touch3.6 Touch Pad Provides Truly Customizable Controls

VidaBox, a manufacturer of digital entertainment and control solutions, is proud to debut the Touch3.6™, a full-color touchpad capable of presenting an interactive, fully-customizable interface.  This 320x234 resolution screen will allow control of any device via RS-232, TCP/IP, IR, and other control protocols through the vAutomation™ platform.

"We're absolutely thrilled to offer our dealers the new Touch3.6 panel," exclaims Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC. "Integrators can finally install a double-gang sized panel to control anything in the house - lighting, security, climate, shades, whole house AV, and more.  This is all possible because of vAutomation's support for customizable interfaces."

Read Full Press Release

VidaBox Now Offers Pre-packaged Whole House Audio Solutions with Multi-room Distribution Systems

VidaBox LLC, a manufacturer of digital entertainment and control solutions, is proud to offer complete whole house audio packages.  Based on the VidaBox line of multiroom audio servers, these packages include NuVo® multiroom distribution and amplification equipment.

"These new packages are a natural progression of delivering new features and better value for our dealer base," states Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC. "Most of our integrators are already using NuVo® and Russound® in their multiroom audio installs.  However, many of them shy away from adding a VidaBox audio server into the mix because of the learning curve, even if it means having new features like internet radio, sleep/wake functions, or whole house audio control from a single TouchClient™ or vPad™ touch panel.  By marrying the two as a complete solution, dealers can get a single package that eliminates setup and installation headaches, since VidaBox takes care of all of the configuration work at the factory."

Read Full Press Release

VidaBox Releases new TouchClient8 In-wall PC Touch Panel

VidaBox LLC, a manufacturer of digital entertainment and control solutions, is excited to announce the availability of the TouchClient8™, a full-color, 8.4" in-wall touch panel with an XP embedded computer.

"From the first day of offering the TouchClient12™, we kept getting asked, 'Do you have a smaller version?'" says Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC. "As always, we listen intently to our integrators, and created this new, smaller version called TouchClient8™.  It has the same great features & connectivity options of the original design without any sacrifices, just with a smaller, 800x600 native resolution touch screen."

Like its larger cousin, the TouchClient8™ runs on XP embedded, and has stereo speakers, dual USB, dual Ethernet, and dual RS-232 ports - allowing the possibility of local automation directly from the TouchClient8™.  It only requires a 12V power source & a network connection, or a WiFi network using its built-in 802.11b/g wireless card.  There are no moving parts like fans or hard drives, allowing every TouchClient8™ to enjoy long life and high-reliability.

Read Full Press Release

Microsoft Mediaroom Gets More Power and Gives TV a

posted: 08 Jan 2009

Mediaroom-based services can now add Mediaroom Anytime, enabling TV viewers to enjoy previously aired programs or restart currently airing shows without preplanning or prior DVR recording; new immersive applications complement the Mediaroom TV experience with content and services from the Internet.

LAS VEGAS — Jan. 8, 2009 — At 2009 International CES today, Microsoft Corp. unveiled Mediaroom Anytime, a groundbreaking feature set for the Microsoft Mediaroom multimedia and IPTV platform that allows viewers to truly watch TV on their own time. In addition to existing Mediaroom features, such as video on demand, DVR Anywhere and Remote Digital Video Recording, the new Mediaroom Anytime features take time-shifted TV to the next level, enabling viewers to access previously aired shows directly from the Interactive Program Guide or immediately restart currently airing shows without any preplanning or prior DVR recording. In addition, Microsoft announced that the Mediaroom platform has reached nearly 2.5 million subscriber homes worldwide, an increase of more than 1.5 million new connections in the past year alone.

With the new Mediaroom Anytime feature set, service providers now have the ability to offer their customers the following benefits:

  • Restart Anytime offers the ability for viewers to rewind or restart the currently airing program from any point, regardless of whether the show is being recorded or the TV was switched off or tuned to another channel.
  • Live Anytime allows viewers to scroll backward in the Interactive Program Guide to watch previously aired programs. These previously aired programs also can be made accessible through the service provider’s video on demand library.
  • Download Anytime extends Microsoft Mediaroom-powered services to more consumers by enabling viewers to download on-demand movies and programs to their set-top boxes so they can watch them anytime regardless of bandwidth constraints. For example, viewers could watch high-definition programs on low-bandwidth networks.

SingTel plans to trial Mediaroom Anytime features — Restart Anytime and Live Anytime — and aims to offer the service to its mio TV subscribers in 2009. Mediaroom Anytime functionalities can be added to SingTel’s existing Microsoft Mediaroom-powered connected TV service offerings via a simple software upgrade that requires no action by existing subscribers.

“mio TV aims to be at the forefront of new innovations and services that will let our customers control what they watch, when they want,” said Low Ka Hoe, SingTel’s director of IPTV Business. “The ever-evolving Mediaroom platform and the new Anytime features allow us to continue delivering enhanced value and a truly immersive TV viewing experience to our customers.”

Read Full Press Release

Random Notes from Microsoftメs CES Keynote

posted: 08 Jan 2009

Media Center

  • 10 million Media Center users a month
  • Average Media Center session time is ~90 minutes

Xbox 360

  • Xbox LIVE membership that has grown to 17 million active members.
  • Xbox 360 has sold 28 million consoles sold to date
  • More than $1 billion spent on Xbox LIVE since the launch of the Xbox 360
  • Xbox 360 has largest game attach rate
  • Xbox LIVE Primetime channel brings together the best of TV and gaming in an interactive way.
  • Primetime will create scheduled programming, offer interactive and social features.
  • Average Halo player playing 150 hours on Xbox LIVE
  • Two new Halo titles this year.  Feb 28th release for Halo Wars.  Halo 3 ODST in 2009.
  • Since NXE launch, downloads of video content up 60%
  • Over 45 movie/TV studios providing content on Xbox LIVE
  • Over 60 millions song downloads on Lips and other music games.

Mediaroom

  • Mediaroom platform has reached nearly 2.5 million subscriber homes worldwide (250% growth over last year)
  • Mediaroom Anytime lets you watch previously aired content
  • Mediaroom adds interactive third-party application support (BBC Top Gear as an example)

Windows Mobile

  • Windows Mobile is getting new Internet Explorer with Adobe Flash support
  • Lots of new phones shown
  • Microsoft/Netflix will offer software that enables Windows Mobile customers to update and view their Netflix movie queue.

Windows 7

  • Windows 7 is up on MSDN/TechNet.  Public beta on Microsoft.com on Jan. 9

Other

  • Ford Sync will get updated with TellMe support
  • Zune Social is up to 2 million users

Microsoft Skips Media Center at CES Keynote

posted: 08 Jan 2009


Windows Media Center was talked about in the CES keynote, but despite the several mentions of bringing the “three different screens” together, Media Center is still lacking in Microsoft’s digital home vision.  Windows Media Center has really reduced to this PR statement…

“Consumers today have access to more digital media and are increasingly using the PC as the hub of their electronic experiences. The “Play-to” feature in Windows 7 allows easier streaming of music, video and photos to devices in a home network. Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center in Windows 7 have built-in support for more media formats so people can use their PC to play more media content and sync it to a broader range of devices. As an alternative to monthly digital video recording (DVR) fees, Windows Media Center, available in some editions of Windows 7, with a TV tuner and improved user interface, makes recording TV free and easy.”

“Connected TV” was covered with a focus on Mediaroom reaching 2.5 million homes.  This is the second year in a row that Media Center, Microsoft’s former baby has been a no-show at the CES Keynote.  No Media Center on Microsoft.com, no Media Center at CES keynote.  The Xbox 360 is still the Media Center’s biggest enemy.

What happened to the Digital Decade?

Windows Helps Consumers Connect to the Digital Wor

posted: 08 Jan 2009

At CES 2009, Microsoft announced advances in Windows 7 beta, Windows Mobile, Windows Live – all designed to help consumers connect and live a ‘life without walls.’

LAS VEGAS – Jan. 7, 2009 - At the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft is shining a spotlight on something besides the biggest LCD screen or the coolest new tech gadgets: It’s showing consumers how Windows can make their lives easier, more productive, more enjoyable.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer opened the show with news that a beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft’s newest operating system, will be widely available for download on Jan. 9. He also announced the final availability of Windows Live – free software and services designed to bring a person’s online world under one roof and help them keep their life in synch.

Along with a new version Internet Explorer Mobile that helps today’s mobile phones connect to the Web in a more powerful way, these announcements underscore Microsoft’s efforts to design software that connects the PC, the web, the phone and even the television in a way that is easy to use and fun. It’s all part of Microsoft’s technology vision to deliver a “life without walls” for consumers.

Says Bill Veghte, senior vice president of the Windows business group at Microsoft: “We are excited to have the strongest pipeline of new technology for Windows in our company’s history. We really listened to what our customers want. And we think what we’re showing at CES gives consumers choices and experiences they haven’t had before.”

Windows 7: Available in Beta Today

With Windows 7, first shown at the D: All Things Digital Conference his past May, Microsoft is confident it has an operating system that reflects what customers want. Windows 7 designers have surveyed more than a quarter of a million people to learn more about how they use a computer and digital devices. The Windows Research Team also conducted thousands of online interviews, and enlisted 3,600 customers for user research and usability studies.

One thing they learned was that while people enjoy the convenience and features of the many digital devices they have these days – from cameras to music players – they also want it to be easier to use their devices with their PCs, to do everyday tasks such as moving pictures from a camera to multiple PCs, or sharing music, or printing to a network.

Read Full Press Release

Windows Mobile Gets Netflix Queue Updating Softwar

posted: 08 Jan 2009

Developing...

"This month, Microsoft and Netflix, the world’s largest online movie rental service, will offer software that enables Windows Mobile customers to update and view their Netflix movie queue. Changes will appear instantly on Netflix on Xbox LIVE, extending the existing service that launched in November. Xbox 360 is the only game system that lets people instantly watch thousands of movies and TV episodes streamed from Netflix, many in HD."

Microsoftメs Ballmer Announces Availability of Wi

posted: 08 Jan 2009

Company previews simpler, better Windows operating system and highlights connected entertainment offerings at CES.

LAS VEGAS — Jan. 7, 2009 — In a keynote address at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer announced the beta availability of the Windows 7 operating system as well as the availability of the latest version of the Windows Live, a suite of personal communications services and applications.

“I’m thrilled to announce the availability of the Windows 7 beta, which is on track to deliver simplicity and reliability,” Ballmer said. “Windows 7 and Windows Live are part of an incredible pipeline of consumer technology that is making it easier than ever for people to communicate, share and get more done.”

The beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft’s next-generation PC operating system, can be downloaded today by MSDN, TechBeta and TechNet customers. Consumers who want to test-drive the beta will be able to download it beginning Jan. 9 at http://www.microsoft.com/windows7.

Microsoft also announced the global availability of Windows Live, a free suite of communications and sharing applications. Windows Live makes it easy for people to communicate, share and keep their online lives in sync and in one place with one login. The new and enhanced Windows Live services — including PCMag.com 2008 Editors’ Choice winner Windows Live Messenger — along with Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Photo Gallery are designed to work seamlessly with more than 50 popular Internet services. Ballmer also announced new alliances with the following companies:

Dell Inc. In February, to offer a comprehensive experience for consumers to connect, share and personalize their content, Dell will offer preloaded Windows Live Essentials (a free suite of applications for instant messaging, e-mail and photos that complement Windows Live on the Web) and Live Search on a majority of its new consumer and small-business PCs globally.

Facebook. In the coming months, Facebook users can choose to share content they post on Facebook, including photos, directly into Windows Live.

Verizon Wireless. Under a new five-year relationship that covers mobile search and advertising, Verizon subscribers in the U.S. will be able to use Live Search to search for local business and shopping information; access maps and directions; perform general Internet searches; and find ring tones, games, wallpaper and other online mobile products and services.

Read Full Press Release

Xbox LIVE Primetime Channel Brings Interactive Gam

posted: 08 Jan 2009

Developing….

“new interactive entertainment genre with the premiere of the Xbox LIVE Primetime channel, which brings together the best of TV and gaming. Xbox LIVE Primetime will debut with an online version of the popular TV show “1 vs. 100” that enables thousands of gamers to play together with real hosts and compete for real prizes."

Xbox 360 Records Its Biggest Year Ever

posted: 08 Jan 2009

Driven by record sales at retail along with an 84 percent jump in online consumer spending; global install base lead over PlayStation 3 expands to more than 8 million units.

REDMOND, Wash. — Jan. 5, 2009 — Despite a tough economy, the gaming industry held strong in 2008 and Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system recorded the biggest year in Xbox history, with more consoles, games and online entertainment experiences sold than any previous year. It was a year in which life-to-date unit sales of Xbox 360 systems climbed to 28 million consoles worldwide — expanding the product’s lead over Sony PlayStation 3 to more than 8 million units. The Xbox LIVE community also grew to more than 17 million active members, as online consumer spending increased 84 percent from last year. Since the launch of the Xbox 360 three years ago, more than $1 billion has been spent on Xbox LIVE. This amazing growth was fueled by the launch of the New Xbox Experience1; the broadest selection of hit games, TV shows, and movies available; and mass-market price points, starting at $199.

Xbox 360 is experiencing record-setting sales around the globe, particularly in Japan and Europe, nearly doubling market share in these key territories. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) specifically, Xbox 360 has now sold more than 8 million units, extending its lead over the PS3 by more than 1 million units.

“For Xbox, 2008 will be remembered around the world as a pivotal growth year at retail and online — even in the face of tough economic conditions,” said Don Mattrick, senior vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “Worldwide, a record number of players flocked to our broadest games and entertainment lineup ever, while the New Xbox Experience thrilled millions of fans by making our console even more engaging. And yet, we’ve only provided a glimpse into the new world of interactive entertainment that we’re imagining. The best of Xbox 360 is yet to come.”

One of the biggest trends in 2008 was consumers taking advantage of the convenience and value with digital distribution of games and entertainment content. One of the most popular offerings this holiday was Netflix on Xbox 360, which as a Netflix member provides users with access to unlimited viewing of more than 12,000 movies and TV shows in DVD quality as well as many in high definition. 2 In addition, Xbox LIVE is home to the largest library of downloadable games, game add-ons, movies and TV shows.

Read Full Press Release

Toshiba Introduces Network Devices Designed for Th

posted: 07 Jan 2009

New TV, LCD TV/DVD Combo and Standalone Player Utilize Widget Channel, Developed by Intel® and Yahoo!®, and Microsoft’s Windows Extender for Media Center Platform to Deliver an Exciting Content Solution for the Home

CES, LAS VEGAS – January 7, 2009 – Toshiba America Consumer Products, L.L.C. (“Toshiba”), announced its new audio/video (A/V) devices with Network Player capabilities, which deliver on the promise of digital convergence in the home. Toshiba is launching this initiative across three product categories – REGZA® LCD TVs, LCD TV/DVD Combos and standalone players – in an effort to meet individual consumer needs.

Toshiba’s new A/V devices offer consumers access to a diverse range of rich content over the Internet. With an extensive library of TV shows and movies, music, sports, and information services such as stock prices and weather forecasts at their fingertips, consumers will be provided with greater flexibility to easily customize and enhance their entertainment experience.

“Toshiba took the initiative to bridge the ways consumers normally access Internet content and entertainment media with the introduction of network devices that will bring the Internet
experience to consumer electronic products in the home,” said Yoshi Uchiyama, Senior Vice President, Corporate Planning. “According to a recent study conducted by NPD for Toshiba, a
large majority of consumers cite simplicity as the essential issue for adoption of Internet content. Therefore, key to Toshiba’s home network strategy is a focus on simplicity – making it simple to connect, simple to operate and simple to access content. The new line of Toshiba AV devices with Network Players will open up an entire new world of content delivery in a way that consumers will like.”

Getting Connected
Toshiba’s A/V devices with network player capabilities use a combination of two core components, including the Widget Channel, developed by Intel and Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Extender for Windows Media Center.

While consumers may be familiar with widgets from the PC world, TV Widgets, enabled by the Widget Channel framework, now take that simple to use “dashboard” experience and place it
into the TV allowing consumers direct access to numerous sources of content simply via their remote control. While some TV Widgets may be pre-installed, consumers now also have the
flexibility to customize their experience by adding widgets of their own selection based on their interests or needs. TV Widgets will feature a rich array of content and as more TV Widgets become available, consumers can add them to the Network Players to enhance their assortment.

By integrating Extenders for Windows Media Center in Toshiba’s new A/V products with Network Player capabilities, the devices will act as “hubs” for delivery of content anywhere in
the home. Using a home network, Extender for Windows Media Center technology allows users to access a wide range of digital content from Windows Media Center on the PC to their big
screen TV. Windows Media Center also delivers an extensive amount of Internet TV and movie content, live and recorded TV with the addition of a TV tuner, plus photos, music, home videos and more.

The combination of the two software platforms in one hardware device will deliver on the promise of the new digital lifestyle.

Toshiba will approach the market by offering several choices from which consumers can select the product that best fits their particular needs.

The Network Player capabilities described above are scheduled to be built into certain models of Toshiba’s REGZA LCD TVs. This will provide consumers with easy access to the rich media experience without the need for an external set top box or device.

As the market leader in the LCD TV/DVD Combo category, Toshiba will also integrate the Network Player capability to offer flexibility and simplicity for consumers whether they choose to use it as a primary TV in the home or in the bedroom, kitchen or children’s room.

Toshiba will also develop a standalone player, which acts as a hub for content delivery into the entertainment space. The new player can deliver content directly from the Internet, content from
the PC with Extenders for Windows Media Center or from its built in DVD player with 1080p upconversion. With an SD card slot and USB port for added flexibility, the device allows consumers to access their entertainment content in any room of the house and all at a value that consumers have come to expect.

Toshiba’s A/V devices with Network Player capabilities will feature picture quality enhancement technologies, allowing viewers to enjoy a wide range of content upconverted to near HD quality.
The new models are planned to ship in the second half of 2009, and product pricing and availability will be announced later this year.

Niveus Media and ADI Serve Up Premium Home Enterta

posted: 31 Dec 2008

Available through ADI, the Niveus Media Server – Vail Edition provides a no-nonsense, high-performance entertainment experience.

Milpitas, CA – December 30, 2008 – Niveus Media has teamed up with ADI to distribute the Niveus Media Server to custom electronics installers across the country. Now available at ADI branch locations, the Niveus Media Server – Vail Edition is an energy-efficient entertainment server designed to store, aggregate, and distribute HD content throughout the home.

With support for movies, music, photos, and much more in its slender frame, Vail is packed with advanced technologies to deliver stunning in-home audio and video reproduction. A CES Innovations 2008 Design and Engineering Awards recipient, Vail is based on Windows Vista® Home Premium featuring Windows® Media Center. It is equipped with an optional Blu-ray Disc™ drive, 250GB of storage, and proprietary Niveus technologies including the new Niveus Movie Library movie management interface!

Through Vail, digital photography and video collections are securely stored and accessed throughout the home; CD collections are merged with downloaded audio tracks to create a uniform and all-encompassing music library; and Blu-ray Disc™, DVD, and digital movies from leading content providers such as VideoGiants, are aggregated in the Niveus Movie Library, an attractive and intuitive movie management interface.

As Niveus’ first energy-efficient media server, Vail Edition offers remarkably low power consumption at less than 180W. Niveus engineers were able to integrate the industry’s finest components into Niveus’ most compact media server, at just over 2 inches in height and 17lbs in weight.

Suitable for rack mount installation or living room placement, Vail is engineered with a silent active cooling design for cool and quiet (less than 30db noise) performance. For seamless integration into the home network, Vail is built with the proprietary Niveus ConvergencePanel™ high-performance audio and video ports.

All Vail Editions sold through ADI are bundled with an exclusive HDGiants content package, including 1 HDNet film and credit towards the purchase of MusicGiants downloads. Dealers will have the opportunity to earn recurring revenue on all the content that a customer purchases.

“The ability to store, control and stream High Definition content has become extremely important, and the Niveus Media Server – Vail Edition provides an excellent solution to do so,” said RJ Hirshkind, Senior Product Manager for A/V for ADI. “This technology will help dealers build advanced home theaters that can manage HD video, music, photos and more.”

For more information, please visit www.niveusmedia.com.

Please Donメt Buy From This Company (ii-View)

posted: 30 Dec 2008

Just a friendly reminder, if you are on the web today researching products from the company “ii-View” then please think twice before buying or supporting the company.  For the past 1+ years a representative from the company has been spamming The Green Button.  This leads to me taking hours out of my life to delete and clean up the utter garbage that this company has to offer.  I have e-mailed and PMed the member (who is on his/her dozenth user account) on several dozen occasions with them not taking the hint.  I figure the best thing to do at this point is let anyone who happens to be search for information on this company to know their business practices.  Hopefully before long this post will appear as the #1 result on a Google search for “ii-View.”

I’m not going to link to the company’s website, because that would just drive traffic to their site for you to see their awful products and claims about what they can do (which they can’t).  Any company that depends on spamming a forum or website isn’t worth your money.  I’d actually be surprised if they didn’t take your money and run.

iiView is not a company you want to give your money too.  I’ve e-mailed the company, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone like the CEO is indeed the one spamming the forum.  They will have a booth at CES, I'd suggest not going or going and maybe throwing a tomato or something at them.

Don’t buy, visit, or slick any links going to iiView or their new branding of “Se7enwindows.”  These products are spam and not worth your money, time, or eyes.

Officially, this is what ii-View says they are... "ii-View is a Hong Kong company founded in 2006 by inventor and businessman Cyril Alonzo. ii-View designs and builds one of the first true hybrid computer/televisions to enter the commercial consumer market. This media system is designed and built to run on Microsoft’s Ultimate Vista™ software."  In other words, they are nothing special and have realized spamming is the only way to get traffic.

iiView, ii-View, Se7enwindows, Vista TV Media Center

メ08 Disappointments: TV Pack

posted: 30 Dec 2008

The biggest disappointment of 2008 has to be Microsoft’s failure to produce a follow-up release to the RTM release of Vista Media Center.  The TV Pack, which was previously codenamed Fiji was delayed well over a year with no information give by Microsoft as to the reason why.   Things finally settled down and Fiji was released as the TV Pack in August (officially at CEDIA in September).

Of course the disappointments set in a few months early, with DIRECTV and H.264 being dropped, and then the announcement that Microsoft planned the TV Pack to be OEM-only.   Then came some bugs, torrents getting leaked, all around poor communication from Microsoft, broken third party and first party functionality, and I’m sure you know the story by now.

Not only was the TV Pack a disappointment, it was nothing short of a failure.  In my opinion it has been the worst coordinated project to come out of Microsoft since I’ve had a chance to cover the company.

Given the long delay and ultimate fate of what became the TV Pack I wish Microsoft would have just waited or simply released a scaled down Update Rollup in places like Japan where it added a bit more value.  Luckily the TV Pack functionality will be rolled into Windows 7 which I’m sure the eHome team was working on concurrently with the TV Pack anyway.  To those not running the TV Pack, I’d just write it off and wait for Windows 7 to bring a more stable and polished product.

The TV Pack has been a huge disappointment of 2008.

Please Donメt Buy From This Company (iiView)

posted: 26 Dec 2008

Just a friendly reminder, if you are on the web today researching products from the company “iiView” then please think twice before buying or supporting the company.  For the past 1+ years a representative from the company has been spamming The Green Button.  This leads to me taking hours out of my life to delete and clean up the utter garbage that this company has to offer.  I have e-mailed and PMed the member (who is on his/her dozenth user account) on several dozen occasions with them not taking the hint.  I figure the best thing to do at this point is let anyone who happens to be search for information on this company to know their business practices.  Hopefully before long this post will appear as the #1 result on a Google search for “iiView.”

I’m not going to link to the company’s website, because that would just drive traffic to their site for you to see their awful products and claims about what they can do (which they can’t).  Any company that depends on spamming a forum or website isn’t worth your money.  I’d actually be surprised if they didn’t take your money and run.

iiView is not a company you want to give your money too.  I’ve e-mailed the CEO of iiView, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the CEO is indeed the one spamming the forum.

Don’t buy, visit, or slick any links going to iiView or their new branding of “Se7enwindows.”  These products are spam and not worth your money, time, or eyes.

ム08 Disappointments: Xbox IPTV

posted: 24 Dec 2008


2008 was going to be the year of IPTV, and while AT&T and Verizon have made great strides in the IPTV marketplace, Microsoft hasn’t done much to push what was promised on their end (Note: Microsoft powers AT&Ts IPTV DVRs).  Of course the prime example here is the concept of using your Xbox 360 as an IPTV DVR.

The concept had been thrown around online for some time, but at CES 2008 Microsoft made it official and announced they were working with BT in the UK to bring the functionality to life.  That’s about the last time I heard anything on that subject.  I’m not sure if the service never launched with BT, but to say the concept has been anything but a failure would be pushing it.

AT&T is still the only US provider using Microsoft’s MediaRoom IPTV software, which means they are just about the only option for this concept coming to life in the US.  I don’t see the concept that appealing for IPTV providers (I actually said it would flop in Nov ‘07), but it will be interesting to see if CES 2009 brings anything about Xbox and IPTV back into the spotlight.

Embedded Automation Updates mPanel, Adds RadioRA S

posted: 24 Dec 2008

Embedded Automation keeps adding significant value to their mControl home automation software.  Just this month just have added support for Lutron RadioRA and HACS AB8SS Speaker Switch Box, released a new mControl driver for remote control of their mPanel in-wall touchscreen, updated their mPanel Software which includes new digital media and digital control capabilities, and showed mPanel running other HA software applications.

RadioRA is a big addition to mControl and might represent things to come for Embedded Automation.  Up until now mControl has mainly been limited to control of lower end lighting control systems.  These systems (Z-Wave, INSTEON, X-10) are fine for the DIYer, but RadioRA joins CentraLite, LiteTouch, and UPB which were released a few months ago on the big higher end side of things.

Anyone using mControl with a higher end lighting control system?  Is there an additional platform you would like to see Embedded Automation support?

Niveus Media And HDGIANTS Team Up To Deliver Premi

posted: 23 Dec 2008

Niveus dealers and consumers can now purchase HDGIANTS’ movie collections for playback on any Niveus Media Server.

Milpitas, CA – December 22, 2008 – Niveus Media is teaming up with HDGIANTS to bring collections of the industry’s best movies to Niveus customers. HDGIANTS is committed to offering premium digital content that maximizes the capabilities of the Niveus Media Server and new Niveus Storage Server – Cargo Edition, to deliver an unparalleled entertainment experience. The collections are available in packages of 50 or 100 titles and include top-rated films from major movie studios.

“HDGIANTS gives customers easy access to large collections of high-quality audio and video content which helps Niveus and its dealers demonstrate the increasing flexibility and performance of the Niveus Entertainment System,” states Tim Cutting, Niveus Media CEO and Co-founder. “Through its relationships in the movie industry and its commitment to maintaining the integrity of the original audio and video productions, HDGIANTS has developed a niche in the market and has created an engaging and viable solution for our customers.”

HDGIANTS acquires the highest quality masters from premier studio partners in order to provide customers with supremely engaging in-home video playback. When loaded onto a Niveus Media Server, HDGIANTS’ Collections demonstrate the encompassing functionality of the Niveus Media Server and the new Niveus Movie Library, a proprietary movie management interface which aggregates and displays all movies complete with high-res cover art and detailed metadata. HDGIANTS’ movies are integrated with the customer’s entire movie collection and are accessible via the Niveus Media Server or connected Media Center Extender, creating a seamless and unified, whole-home movie management experience.

“HDGIANTS is committed to supporting our hardware partners and their custom installers and we consistently work on creating content packages that help drive sales and increase their profit margins,” says Scott Bahneman, CEO of HDGIANTS. “The Niveus demo movie collections are a perfect example of a tool that equips dealers with a successful way to showcase a high-end entertainment solution and sell more home theater installations.

As Niveus continues to enhance movie integration with the increasing functionality of the Niveus Movie Library movie management interface and availability of HDGIANTS’ premium movie packages, it has become essential to offer a robust storage solution that can house a user’s expansive HD movie collection. The Niveus Storage Server – Cargo Edition, available with up to 16TB of scalable storage, enables secure storage of thousands of movies, complete with expanded metadata and high-resolution cover art. HDGIANTS content stored on the Cargo Edition can be accessed via the attached Niveus Media Server or connected Media Center Extenders.

Additionally, with each movie collection purchased for use on a Niveus Media Server, HDGIANTS will include a $75 music sampler including audio tracks from today’s most renowned musicians, allowing the customer to experience Niveus’ high-fidelity audio output and elegant music interface.

As an added bonus to dealers, HDGIANTS plans to automatically enroll participating Niveus Authorized Dealers in its dealer program, which promises recurring revenue on all content that a customer purchases.

Featuring hit films from the last 40 years, the HDGIANTS’ 50 and 100 movie packages are now available. For more information, please visit www.niveusmedia.com.

About Niveus Media

Founded in 2003, Silicon Valley based Niveus Media, Inc. manufactures award-winning media server hardware and software solutions, optimized to manage all HD entertainment in multi-zone applications. With the most advanced media servers, storage servers, proprietary software and service technologies, Niveus revolutionizes the aggregation, distribution, and enjoyment of today’s digital media.

About HDGIANTS

HDGIANTS delivers high definition entertainment directly into the living room through its proprietary content delivery platform. Our HD MediaStore™ is integrated into top media servers for convenient delivery of HD movies, music and other digital media. HDGIANTS is the perfect companion for home audio and video systems and anywhere else that high quality content matters. For information on HDGIANTS, visit www.HDGIANTS.com.

Short Bits: SideShow Remote, Big Screen Savings, V

posted: 23 Dec 2008

Ricavision is officially dead now, but Phillips is sort-of taking their place with the SRM7500 SideShow Remote.  Hardly the eye candy that the Ricavision was, but at least it is shipping with a much lower price tag.  Clear downside here is the screen which will limit functionality.

The Holidays are here and that means deals for you on Media Center plug-ins.  Up until January 15 you can save up to 40% off on Big Screen applications

Speaking of deals, how about getting a free DV cam?  Microsoft has launched their Media Center Consumer Video Testimonial Program at The Green Button.  Microsoft will send you a $140 Flip Camera (not sure about model, but my guess is this one) for you to make a quick 2 minute video about your life using Media Center.  You send them the video on CD/DVD along with the camera back, and they send you a brand new Flip Camera for you to keep!

NCTA says there are officially 374,000 CableCARDs deployed in third party devices (eg. TiVo, Media Center, HDTVs, etc).  You can compare that to the 9.76 million CableCARDs deployed in the boxes leased by Cable Providers.

Linksys: モNo Plans for Models to Replaceヤ DMA2

posted: 20 Dec 2008

Silly me, I figured the fire sale on Linksys DMA2100 and DMA2200 Extenders over the past two months might indicate them getting ready to drop a new hardware revision on us, but sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case.  Consumer Electronics Daily is reporting that Cisco (eg. Linksys) “has no immediate plans” to replace the two Extender SKUs.  Cisco did note that a firmware update would likely be the next step.  When that update drops or what is included remains to be seen.

The DMA2100 has sold for a low of $59 at Dell.com a few week ago.  The average price now is about $125, which is nothing to turn up your nose at (unless they drop to $59 again).  Isn’t it amazing how the drop to a reasonable price seems to get more people on board with Extenders (hint, hint)?  How many of you purcahsed an Extender because of the recent sales?

What issues does Linksys need to focus on for their (hopefully) upcoming firmware update?

Okoro Media Unleashes Intel i7 Core Media Centers

posted: 19 Dec 2008

Okoro Media Systems, manufacturer of digital entertainment systems for the high end audio video market, is pleased to announce the availability of the Intel’s new i7 Core processing technology to our high-end 2009 Digital Entertainment Systems. Keeping with our mission of bringing the latest in cutting edge technology, our i7 Core series machines will continue to bring unprecedented 3-D gaming performance and will provide better performance for streaming movies, and music to multiple zones.
 
“Our customers expected us to push the envelope with systems that can provide the greatest performance when they are playing the latest Blu-ray movies in 1080p with TrueHD audio, while recording multiple HD channels and extending content to multiple zones. With the integration of Intel’s i7Core  technology in our  line of premier Digital Entertainment Systems, we can provide our customers with unparalleled video performance.” says Christopher Curry VP of Sales and Marketing.
 
The following systems are based on Intel i7Core technology:
OMS-TH550
OMS-GX100
OMS-GX300 
The upcoming
RK200 & RK300
                                              

During this 2008 festive season, Okoro Media Systems wants to make your holidays even brighter with some complimentary gifts to enhance your Digital Experience. We want to help you with those “Stocking Stuffers”.
 
With every purchase of a BX series or system that is upgraded with a Blu-ray player we will add the critically acclaimed box office smash hit - The Dark Knight Blu-ray movie to your order, as a gift from us.
 
We want to continue the gift giving by adding an additional 5% promotional reduction to the listed MSPR price of the following OMS Models: TH550, BX300, BX100, GX300, GX100, and ZX100.

 

The complimentary Blu-ray movie Batman- The Dark Knight and the 5% discount will be valid until Sunday, January 11th, 2009.

For more information, please contact Okoro Media Systems at 877-539-4788 or visit www.okoromedia.com.

Can DISH Network One-Up DIRECTV?

posted: 19 Dec 2008

Now that we are fairly certain that DIRECTV will not ship with Windows 7, the big question remains to be will DISH Network?  Around the time the TV Pack started beta testing, I did hear that some testers had been contacted about testing DISH Network Tuners, and that talk has popped back up in the past few weeks.

Going under my theory that Microsoft has all the plumbing in-place for DIRECTV support, there is no reason that same framework can’t work for DISH Network.  If DISH Network wants to make a Media Center tuner, they can using this framework, and they might have already.

Looking around, their are some other hints about the possible DISH Network Tuner.  Ben's photos of the eHome Lab show Windows 7 running with a branded Start Menu saying “TV with DISH Network.”  In addition to that, several people, including Dave Zatz have brought up the possibility that the unmarked white box in the photo below is a DISH Network tuner.  Of course, the tuner being in Microsoft’s Lab means nothing as Microsoft as evidenced by the suspended DIRECTV HDPC-20 tuners also present.

(Photos via Engadget HD)

Back to the framework which I believe is complete to ship with Windows 7, here is something Microsoft showed at WinHEC.  That is premium Pay-Per-View TV being ordered via Media Center.  We know that’s not from a CableCARD as tru2way tuners don’t have any specs from CableLabs yet.  It chould be DIRECTV, but considering that Channel 510 happens to fall in the range of DISH Networks PPV and most PPV content on DISH Network happens to be $4.99, there is a good possibility you are looking at working PPV via a native DISH Network Tuner.

So, should you jump and switch to DISH Network because of this?  I wouldn’t suggest it.  Should you keep checking back to see when we get more details?  I'd suggest it.  I’m a DIRECTV customer, so even if this DISH Network tuner is real I likely wouldn’t be testing it.  That said, I’m looking forward to see what happen with this.  Given DISH Networks TurboHD package for $24.99 has every channel I’d ever watch, and the fact I can get ATSC HD using an antenna in Media Center saving me from having to add HD Locals to the package, DISH Network does look like a good deal if I could get a native Media Center tuner.

DIRECTV and Microsoft: What Went Wrong

posted: 14 Dec 2008


Now that DIRECTV has suspended development on their HDPC-20 Tuner where does that leave us?  There are a lot of differing opinions going around about why DIRECTV canned the tuner, whose fault it is, and where do we go from here.  Most people are pointing the finger at Microsoft, and with their history of releases how could you not?  This doesn’t mean however that Microsoft is totally at fault, but let’s look at the whole situation to see how we got here. 

Timeline

January 2006 – Microsoft and DIRECTV announce partnership to “develop new ways to expand the reach of digital music, television and movies throughout the home and to portable devices.”  Nothing is said specifically by either party about a Media Center tuner.

January 2006 – Microsoft employee Sean Alexander says “In the future (timing wasn't discussed), you'll be able to have an installer come out and install a DirecTV tuner into your Media Center PC and get your local channels complete with DVR.”  This however, was not an official Microsoft statement.

January 2007 – We really start asking for information about the assumed DIRECTV Tuner.  DBSTalk.com does Q&A with DIRECTV at CES, DIRECTV says “Still in progress, internal beta testing” when asked about HTPC Tuner cards.  Confirmation that a tuner card is in the works.

December 2007 – Microsoft states in an online job posting that they are “working with newly developed dual satellite tuners” for the next Media Center release.

January 2008 – CES comes around again and DBSTalk.com gets a flyer from the CES floor for the HDPC-20.  This is the first official confirmation that the tuner exists.  CES attendees hear information about the public unveiling of the tuner to be scheduled later at CES.  This didn’t happen however, leaving several people confused.  No one from Microsoft or DIRECTV is talking now.  DIRECTV had the flyers to give out at the show, so something happened that caused either Microsoft or DIRECTV to back out of the public announcement.

February 2008 – Top Media Center OEM Niveus Media now lists “HD Satellite” tuner option on their website with “TBD  (To be determined)” availability.

March 2008 – Microsoft started sending out e-mails for the Fiji (codename for TV Pack) beta program.  Several leaks happened around this time including an e-mail asking select beta participates for information about their DIRECTV account.

July 2008 – Fiji beta testers leak more information including DIRECTV and H.264 support being pulled from the release.  It is suggested by some in the beta that they never received tuners from DIRECTV.

July 2008 – It is reported that Microsoft will be releasing a second Media Center update in 2008 with nothing to backup the statement.  The proposed purpose of the second update was to add H.264 and DIERCTV support.  This didn’t happen.

September 2008 – Subscription news service Consumer Electronics Daily (CED) reports that Microsoft "continues to look at ways" to make the tuner happen and that news will be announced at "the appropriate time.”  DIRECTV made no comment in the article.

November 2008 – Ed Bott finds a driver for the HDPC-20 in the PDC build of Windows 7.

November 2008 – Microsoft invites several bloggers and journalists to tour the eHome Labs (no, I wasn’t invited).  Ben Drawbaugh scores pictures of the DIRECTV HDPC-20 working in Microsoft’s Labs.

December 2008 – DIRECTV e-mails several in the community to tell us that DIRECTV has “suspended the development of the HDPC-20 tuner…after assessing the impact of missing the August 2008 release of Windows Media Center update [Fiji, TV Pack] and considering timing of the next release.”

Talking a Step Back

The big question now is what does all of this mean and who is at fault.  Let’s explore a few things here.

Microsoft is a software company; they don’t make hardware (generally speaking).  Microsoft’s main goal is to produce various software frameworks so that other companies can come in and produce hardware to work with their platform.  I’d actually say that this is the reason Microsoft has been successful as a company, but it is also their largest fault.

Anyway, Microsoft makes software and third parties make hardware (and most of the time drivers to go with this hardware).  Seeing as Microsoft is going to produce the software aspect of this DIRECTV Tuner, it means they want to produce a common framework to allow third parties to integrate a number of different things into their Media Center platform.  I’ve gone over this time and time again, but to refresh I’m talking about things like H.264, Pay-per-view order, content protection, etc.  DIRECTV on the hand has to make the hardware (or contract it out) to pair with Microsoft’s software framework.

DIRECTV has suggested that they are suspending develop of their hardware because of the impact of H.264/DIRECTV support not shipping in the TV Pack and the wait until the next release. (Windows 7, highly publicized to have a 2009 ship date)

DIRECTV-less TV Pack, whose fault?

This is a bit hard to answer because outside of DIRECTV and Microsoft no one really knows.  What we do know (or rather, think we know) is that Microsoft had plans of shipping DIRECTV support in the TV Pack as evidenced by the beta e-mails.  We also know (or think we know), that neither Microsoft nor DIRECTV shipped tuner to beta testers.  Microsoft then cut H.264 and “subscription-based satellite TV support” before the TV Pack ship date.  Notice they never said they cut DIRECTV support.

The main thing we don’t know here is why beta testers reportedly didn’t get tuners.  Hundreds of options here, but here are three main ones.

  • Possibility that DIRECTV didn’t have stable hardware/drivers
  • Possibility that Microsoft had issues with H.264 support in the TV Pack
  • Possibility that Microsoft had issues with other software aspects in the TV Pack
  • Possibility that Microsoft and DIRECTV are fighting like kids about something

There are various possibilities about why beta testers might not have been shipped tuners and why support was cut from the release.  I don’t think you can make a clear judgment about who was at fault knowing what we do.

On the Road to Windows 7

Given on how Microsoft operates, we knew that the next chance for DIRECTV support was in Windows 7.  Microsoft doesn’t push out Media Center updates to add functionality months after a major release.  Things were now looking good for Windows 7 DIRECTV support, at least from the outside.  CED published reports saying DIRECTV and Microsoft are still working together, and Windows 7’s projected release date keep moving up.

Ed Bott finds the drivers in the Windows 7 build, and then Ben gets pictures of the tuners in the lab.  We are all thinking that Windows 7 with DIRECTV is a-go.  DIRECTV then says they are “suspended development” of the tuner and points to the conflicts with the TV Pack as a prime reason along with the “timing of the next [Media Center] release.”

What’s DIRECTV Hiding?

Lets say Microsoft and DIRECTV missed the TV Pack ship date, again we really don’t know why.  In the e-mail statement DIRECTV is basically implying that they are done with their part and just waiting on Microsoft.  Is this really the case?  I fully believe that Microsoft had 90% of the software framework in-place to ship with the TV Pack.  In fact, if you look in your RTM TV Pack registry you can find some DIRECTV bits hiding pretty well.

If DIRECTV was ready and willing to release their tuners, why cut the project after all your initial expensive and development?  The tuners seem to be real, and if it was Microsoft who screwed up the TV Pack you would think that DIRECTV is sitting on a near finished product waiting for Microsoft.  DIRECTVs enginners can jump back on a new project and leave their efforts intack for Microsoft to start Windows 7 beta testing (which is basically 6 months after the TV Pack release).

I’m thinking that DIRECTV might not be a clean in this whole ordeal as some might think.

DRM, Doubtful to Blame

Whenever there is a hold-up on a product like this the first thing in peoeple’s mind is that Microsoft is DRMing it up and thus causing massive delays.  Considering CableLabs approved Windows Vista with their very strict content protection guidelines I think it would be a huge stretch to think that Microsoft was holding up the project in this way.  Their system already works, and has been for two years (mostly, DRM might actually be too protective given the bugs).

It has been suggested to me that DRM might be to blame because DIRECTV offers service outside of the US.  I was personally expecting to see the DIRECTV Tuner be US-only, but if it was international this would be a contract issue between DIRECTV and their content providers.

Who needs who?

Media Center is hardly the platform it should be, and DIRECTV might have misevaluated the commercial need of such a tuner.  It is also possible that their DIRECT2PC, TiVo partnership, and their own Multi-room Viewing features could be playing into things (along with the economy).

Microsoft has no leverage here.  They have a platform that hasn’t lived up to expectations of any market and they have to be pleading with broadcaster providers to help them save their platform.

Maybe DIRECTV has come to the conclusion that there focus should be elsewhere.  Of course, if it turns out that DIRECTV was not prepared to ship with the TV Pack this is a godsend for us users.  I want a stable platform, and with DIRECTV in charge of hardware/drivers for this they need to have their heart in the game before I want to play.

Ben argues that DIRECTV only released a statement because they want to downplay expectations about the tuner.  I don’t follow the concept because DIRECTV has no visible reason to do any sort of damage control.  This is where Microsoft should have stepped in, but alas has failed to do.  When/if Microsoft makes a statement (which they need to), it will likely be very simple and there is a good chance it will not mention DIRECTV by name.

As far as I know, Microsoft’s framework is done for third parties to integrate DVB-S tuners into Media Center.  What third parties (eg. DIRECTV) do at that point is largely up to them.  The only thing I’ve been told by Microsoft is that when two companies are involved they can’t say anything.  NDAs are play there just as they would be in any business partnership.

Bottom Line

I firmly believe both companies at a fault, but Microsoft will always take the most abuse because they can’t seem to conjure up a good Media Center release.  This is not DIRECTVs platform falling apart before our eyes, it is Microsoft’s.

Given that I think the framework is there, we might see other providers step up to the plate and offer solutions.  I strongly suspect others have like projects in development, but then again so does did DIRECTV, so I guess we have to wait for an official word at this point.

DIRECTV Kills Media Center Tuner; Windows 7 to be

posted: 09 Dec 2008

DIRECTV has informed several bloggers and journalists in the Media Center community that they suspensed development of the HDCP-20 Media Center Tuner.  Windows 7 will not include native DIRECTV support, which will servely impact the Media Center platform as a whole.

I’ll have more on this later tonight, but I wanted to go ahead and get it out there.