HTPC Opinion Windows Media Center

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8

Yea I said it: Microsoft needs to remove Windows Media Center from Windows 8 and head down a new path. They need to burn that bridge, Indiana Jones with a machete style… Why Ben? Why would you publicly state something so outrageous and provoking on a Media Center focused site? Before you set Twitter aflame and curse Josh for signing a traitor on to the DMZ team, take a look at my eight reasons for wanting to ditch WMC for the new Windows 8 Start screen.

Developing for WMC is an Atrocity

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8You should congratulate Netflix, MyMovies and MediaBrowser for having successfully developed WMC UIs that work and look beautiful. Anyone who has seen MCML or looked at how many different files it takes just a get a basic WMC plugin knows that developing for this platform is a disaster at best. Eight different files using unique, unfriendly XML and .NET variant code are all it takes to make a WMC app with a button our two. Documentation for developers is relatively non-existent. This is why you don’t see lots of apps for Media Center, why it take forever to update the apps that are out there and why Media Center has not flourished like we all hoped it would.

Clearly no one on the Media Center team was listening when Balmer said “Developers! Developers! Developers!” You can have an Android app up on the entire Android platform with a single XML file and a Java file. WinRT is what all Media Center apps should be based on. HTML, JavaScipt, C#, C++, Silverlight. Done. Programmers, n00b and veteran, can understand and learn these languages easily. File structure is greatly simplified. As seen in the developer preview, Visual Studio 11 will have great WinRT UI WYSIWYG tools for Metro UI development. WinRT removes or lessens the barrier to developing great home theater applications, thus we could finally get the home theater support and app market we Microsoft fanatics all want and deserve.

Metro UI is WMC 2.0

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8The hubs and tiles of the Metro UI Windows 8 start screen respond to remote commands much like in Windows Media Center. Hubs and tiles are easily customizeable through a couple clicks of the mouse in the sub-menus of the Metro UI. There is no need to start a separate application when Windows starts, it is Windows already.

Today, Windows Media Center is pretty much uncustomiseable. If you install any new plugins, usually a new strip is created and eventually the whole system gets cluttered up. Yes, you can use Media Center Studio, an unsupported, crashy WYSIWIG editor for WMC. But that is for us hardcore Media Center fanatics, not the average Joe.

The Windows 8 Browser

You can have nearly the entire Internet at the buttons of your TV remote. Just hit the IE tile and up pops the Metro Internet Explorer. Now you can manage your streaming services, check your email or Twitter account, or pop up a YouTube video. The Win8 browser has its limits though. No support for plugins (not even Silverlight) will prohibit you from watching Netflix, VUDU or Amazon. Not to feer, that is what WinRT is for!

The Windows Store

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8Windows Media Center lacks a centralized location for managing, discovering and updating plugins. Yes, there is the Extras Gallery, but no one puts their apps there. Yes, the Digital Lifestyle had the right idea with their Made for Media Center app store, but it does not come pre-installed, it has no payment system for developers, and it is rarely updated. The Windows Store in Windows 8 comes pre-installed and provides a full-featured app store supported by Microsoft. This is where you will get your Netflix app and Your VUDU app and your Amazon Instant Video app and your MyMovies app. This is where you will get your à la carte movies and TV from Microsoft once they kill Zune.

Browsing Local and Network Media

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8Music, Videos, and Pictures are all represented as hubs in the Win8 Metro UI. However, we all know that MediaBrowser and MyMovies have much prettier UIs. There is no reason why they can’t build WinRT hubs that look beautiful and function in similar ways. If they could hack together MCML to build their rich interfaces, then doing an even better job with HTML, JavaScript and C# should be no problem.

Skype Integration

In 2011, Microsoft bought Skype in an attempt to either block others from gobbling it up or to gain some serious brand recognition in the teleconferencing market. Either way, it is inevitable that a robust Skype app will appear in the Windows Store on Windows 8. While there is a WMC plugin for Skype, a free native Windows application has to give the user a better experience.

Streaming Services

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8Streaming services are a primary function of home theater PCs. Netflix is already built into Windows Media Center. But what about VUDU, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and the soon-to-be Redbox/Verizon service? For that stuff, you either have to go through a browser or hack WMC to display an icon for a separate app that works with a streaming service. Ridiculous. Why not just replicate their HTML/JavaScript code from their websites into WinRT apps? Done. But why didn’t these companies make apps for Media Center? See my first point.

Angry Birds

Microsoft Should Cut Windows Media Center from Windows 8You know Windows 8 is going to have Angry Birds. Playing Angry Birds on your TV with a remote is reason enough to go to Win8, right?  Can’t wait for an Angry Birds app? Play Angry Birds in the Win8 browser. But in all seriousness, gaming on a Win8 HTPC becomes easier because there is no blasting in and out of Media Center to get to games. There is no hack-job customizing needed. The tile just appears when you install the game.  Performance is not degraded because Media Center is still running in the background.

Calling All Developers

There are a few things that need to happen in order for the Metro UI to be properly used as a home theater interface. Whether Microsoft makes these improvements or a third party developer does, these need to happen:

  • The Live TV, Guide and Recorded TV functionality needs to be replicated into a WinRT Hub. This would not take the Media Center crew at Microsoft much time to make this transition. The code is there; it just needs to be retweaked for WinRT.
  • Adjust the on-screen keyboard to support a remote control.
  • Native support for DVD and Blu-ray. While this is a pipe dream, this is critical to a sustainable, low maintenance HTPC configuration.
  • A “Home Theater” mode for the Win8 Start screen. This reworks the hubs and tiles for media and TV viewing. Really, you would only need three hubs: TV, Streaming and Gaming.

In the end this is how we are going to get the HTPC interface we have always dreamed of. Think WinRT, not WMC.