So by now most people have heard that Linksys has discontinued their DMA Media Center extender product line. Myself and several others contacted the company and learned that they have no intention of releasing a new extender either. This coupled with the fact that HP discontinued the HP Media Smart line well over a month ago has a lot of people wondering where Media Center users are going to do from here on out since the only extenders left are the D-Link DSM-750 and the Xbox 360. There’s a lot of speculation that this is somehow going to kill the extender market. I don’t see this happening. I think it needs to change and someone needs to change it.
While writing this I had a chance to read a great article from Brent Evans over at GeekTonic as to what should happen. I can totally agree with this article. Brent makes some great points on where Microsoft could take the extender model. Going the SageTV route and producing their own hardware would be a win-win situation for both MS and Media Center users. MS gets better control and, knowing it’s own programming, can better integrate extenders. Uses get a more robust solution.
But what if MS doesn’t want to get into that hardware space? Let’s talk about what else we might see and how it can improve not just the Media Center experience, but content viewing overall. First though, I want to cover why some of the media coverage of Linksys and HP stopping production is short sighted and kinda wrong.
The first mistake I’m seeing in articles covering this topic is that extenders are these stand alone, don’t do very much, boxes. The other is that we all have enough boxes in the living room so why add one more. (I’m looking at a recent Cnet article and one on EngadgetHD) This couldn’t be further from the truth. Media Center extenders don’t just add another box to your collection, they replace several. An extender properly connected to a Media Center PC can replace your DVD player, camcorder, streaming music player, and set-top box. Properly setup, all of these things disappear to a closet or an office somewhere else in your home. Not only that, but extenders aren’t “stand alone” pieces of equipment. They’re tied to a computer somewhere in your home. Comparing them to other media playback or even streaming components like the WD TV Media Player doesn’t even make sense.
On to how Microsoft (or someone else) could fix this. The first thing is how to integrate an extender into other CE devices. I think the only current products that have a chance of making this work are either Blu-Ray players (PLEASE!) or Televisions. Forget DVD. It’s not dead yet but I don’t see Media Center users needing one. As far as Televisions go, I was really hoping to hear something from Toshiba on this front. They announced extenders during CES in January and since then we have yet to hear a peep.
The other option is for a 3rd party to step up and release an extender much like the Linksys DMA-2100. No DVD, no frills. Strictly a box who’s only job is extending the experience. The problem here is pricing. Can such an extender be produced for low enough cost that the MSRP is low enough to entice Media Center users. The DMA-2100 was an expensive piece of hardware for what it offered. At $200 I think the SageTV HD200 is over priced as well. Nope, sorry tech companies, but if it’s not possible to release an extender-only box for under $100 then don’t bother. With PCs capable of running MCE at around $250 on the way, you can’t justify a higher price.
The other option, and one that Brent mentions in his article, is for Microsoft to finally allow Softsled. Basically, let me setup one PC with a tuner, and I can get live TV on every other Vista or Windows 7 PC in my house through Media Center. While I don’t want to buy four PCs, this would be the best solution for many people. Windows 7 is especially suited for this due to Recorded TV sharing and the ability to run on lower spec machines. Lower in many cases means quieter and cheaper. (Though they’ll never be as quiet or as cheap as an extender.)
In the end, I agree with Brent. The best solution here is for Microsoft to take “the Xbox” out of the Xbox 360 and sell a sub-$100 Media Center extender for those who don’t want a gaming machine. They would have made at least $300 off of me by now depending on the cost. I’m a gamer so I want one 360 in my home but not four. Doing this should eliminate the noise many people complain about with the 360, but give Media Center only users the function they need. Again, we all win.