HTPC Windows Media Center

Why enthusiasts won’t run WES7 but love it just the same

5-29-08-cannon-pc-ex-htpc I consider myself a Media Center “enthusiast” and I’m willing to bet that the majority of readers here fit into that category.  We don’t just like Media Center because it looks better than any DVR on the market nor because it provides more functionality.  We love it because it does all of that AND we get to play.  It’s a relatively open platform that allows a certain amount of customization that we enjoy doing.  Throw in the hardware building aspect and it’s perfect for us geeks who like to do things the way we want.  You know who you are.

I’ll use myself as an example.  I built my current HPTC myself.  Since the initial build, I’ve added hard drives, changed video cards and generally tried to make it better.  And that’s just hardware.  Software wise, I’ve added Heatwave, Media Browser, My Movies, Made for Media Center and a load of smaller applications.  I’ve tweaked, broken, screwed up and fixed the box more than a couple of times.  Oh, and I’ve used Media Center Studio to completely customized my menu.  More than once I’ve wanted to toss the thing out and take the easy route of calling Time Warner.  But I don’t.  The lure of the customization is just too strong.  This isn’t something I could ever do with a cable company DVR or Tivo.

This is why (right now) I’m not that excited about Microsoft adding Media Center to Windows Embedded Standard 7.  This platform is going to allow manufactures to build set-top boxes that function like Media Center but that will be completely locked down.  No customization, no add-ons, no applications.  While a certain amount of customization could be allowed, more than likely you’ll be given the standard feature set and that’s it.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun if you’re used to making your experience the best it can be for you and your family, does it?  You’re locked down.   You’ll take what they give you and you’ll like it.  This seems like every enthusiasts nightmare.  Like everyone else who has digital cable or satellite, you get the box from the tech and you’re done.  That’s a big change and while it’s not right for me, it’s good for enthusiasts and it’s good for the Media Center community in a huge way.  If done right, it could be what the community has been looking for.

Imagine a world where instead of being impressed but saying “Well I don’t feel like dealing with a PC in my living room” your father-in-law could have a Media Center experience with the stability of a set-top box.  All of the family and friends that currently think Media Center is too much to deal with could basically have the same system you do without the need to maintain another computer.  (I know four of these people personally.)  It expands our community of users and lends credence to the fact that we KNOW there are people out there who want this in a DVR.  As the community grows, so does the support from Microsoft and hardware companies.

Also, this is just in the here and now.  I know that at some point in my life I’m no longer going to want to play the customization game.  Waiting to see if the changes I make look great or destroy my HTPC.  Whether it’s when I’m 40 or 50 or when I don’t know but I know it’s coming.  I’ll simply get tired of the constant maintenance and upgrading.  This is where I hope this platform takes off.  While it may sound like wishful thinking to hope that Windows Embedded will contain Media Center that far into the future, I really hope it does.  Knowing that I could move to a whole home solution that will basically be a painless transition would be great.  I’d get to keep a familiar interface that does everything I want without having to continue the maintenance side.  I know I’m reaching here since we’re talking 10 to 20 years in the future but it’s a nice thought and at least, this could get the ball rolling.

dct6412_bigview_1 In the end, I have no desire to add a WES7 product to my current collection of CE devices.  I don’t see the need as getting away from a locked down, unchangeable system is specifically why I moved my family to the Media Center platform.  That said, this can only be good for the Media Center community as a whole and I hope that some hardware manufacturers are able, and have the desire, to run with this product.  So far, Media Center has been kept in the realm of enthusiasts and geeks.  Now maybe we’ll get to see how it will fare in the real world.


About the author

Adam Thursby

Adam Thursby is the founder and creator of The Digital Media Zone.