Where Do We Go From Here? Media Center and Embedded

Jan 13, 2011 by

Microsoft-at-2011-International-Consumer-Electronics-Show-CES_1294293149872With CES 2011 over, it’s time to talk about where Media Center goes from here.  While some awesome Media  Center products were shown at the show, enthusiasts have to wonder what this means for them.  The products demoed weren’t exactly aimed at us and this could change the landscape greatly for those of us who like to tweak our systems.

Over the past week we’ve seen some great hardware that will hopefully make it to market.  Between Ceton’s new six tuner CableCARD device, Silicon Dust’s HDHomerun Prime and at least two Windows Embedded set-top boxes, things are looking great on the Media Center front.  New gear, along with faster chips that seem perfect for an HTPC would paint a picture of progress and tranquility in the community.  That may only be a veneer however and one that could wear off quickly.

According to Ian Dixon, who spoke with Mark Pendergrast of the Windows Embedded team:

“Media Center’s development has been shifted to the Embedded team and they have a lot more freedom to do custom modifications than the Windows team had. This means that each OEM can customise the look and feel of Media Center to suit their needs. Microsoft are pitching Windows Embedded Standard 7 with Windows Media Center as a complete solutions for OEMS who can develop their own set top boxes and media devices using Microsoft technology and with it being based on Windows 7 it integrates with the rest of our Windows products.”

and

“We are not going to see anything new on Windows Media Center front for Windows 7, all the development is going to come from the Embedded team for now and we should see some interesting solutions coming from OEMS.”

Now it’s been mentioned on Entertainment 2.0 that Windows Embedded getting Media Center is a good thing.  Really, it’s a great thing!  Knowing that there will be devices that I can give to less technical friends or family members and they can have the same rich and robust experience that I do is phenomenal.  It’s something that Media Center as a product needs.  It opens a wider audience to Media Center and turns the product into a money maker instead of a time suck (for Microsoft).  I fully support the idea of Media Center set-top boxes and I hope they’re a great success.

What truly scares me about the above statement is that Media Center has been given to the Embedded team.  Where does that leave those of us who don’t want an embedded system due to the lack of functionality or customization?  Are we destined to be stuck to Windows 7 for the remainder of the time we choose to use Media Center as our DVR?

These are the questions I’m hoping that Microsoft can answer in the coming months.  In all the years I’ve been using Media Center I’ve never expected millions of people to start building HTPCs and using it in their home.  There’s a certain geekiness involved that most people just don’t have.  Personally I think that’s a good thing.  To get the best experience, you have to do the work.  It takes research, a certain amount of knowledge and more dedication then letting your cable guy hook up an STB.  That said, bring on the embedded boxes.  Show millions of people how great Media Center is.

I’m not one to declare the death of Media Center.  There are plenty of people out there willing to do that.  What I think may be coming however is a change in the landscape as I mentioned above.  Something is nagging me that says that Microsoft sees this as an OR function instead of an AND function.  Media Center can be on the PC OR STB, not both.  I understand that providing both increases the development time and cost a bit but it could also be a great help to Microsoft and their partners.

How?  Simple:  We beat on it.  Enthusiasts are the people who take your software and push it to the absolute limit.  We bend it, break it and generally trash the thing until every bug is found.  We twist Media Center in ways that no “consumer” with an STB is going to.  1) because they don’t know how, 2) because they don’t want to and 3) because Embedded won’t let them.  All well and good for those people but don’t leave out the folks who helped you build a better product.  Microsoft hasn’t listened to every demand the community has made but I have no doubt that community ideas are alive in Windows 7 Media Center.  Crowd-sourcing works.  Mass numbers of people seeking and informing you of bugs works.  Don’t remove us from the loop.

Again, I don’t see Media Center dying any time soon.  Microsoft wouldn’t have taken the time to shove it into Embedded if they thought so either.  What I do see is a shift in who they value.  While getting partners, content providers and consumers on board is a good thing, it doesn’t have to be the only thing.  Let us enthusiasts keep our PCs.  Let us push ideas and complain over at TGB.  In the end you’ll produce a better product for the masses and we’ll be happy too.

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  • http://twitter.com/Ogre Kristopher Gilbert™

    I’ve heard that Media Center in 8 will be a downloadable application and will look exactly like 7′s MC. They’re going to push everyone toward a future version of the Zune Software that records TV and supports plug-ins.

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  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

    Nice post. Agreed philosophically, and it’s a bit disheartening to learn that WMC development is only going to be for embedded systems going forward. Unless, that is, we are allowed to mod the future WMC STBs. Then it’s probably even better — a dedicated “PC/STB” that we can expand/enhance ourselves as enthusiasts.

    That said, perhaps, if they get it right, we will no longer need to tweak and hack WMC because it’ll provide everything we want right in the box! One has to wonder how much people would tweak of WMC had all the net-connected goodies (and apps / app market) from the get-go?

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    Thank you for taking the time to talk about this, I feel strongly about this and I take pleasure in learning about this topic.