One & Co is a design and engineering firm in San Francisco, the type that frequently get contracted out by big companies looking for fresh ideas.
Their "Microsoft Living Room PC" Concept looks so hot that I wouldn't even mind having a PC next to my TV or sofa if it looked like this.
(I don't know quite what's going on in the second image -- if that's a Bose-style speaker wall with a teeny-tiny screen on it, they should really add a bigger screen :)
Most people say that what is holding back the home theater PC from the mainstream is the ugliness, noise, and general unstable nature of PCs. If MS could find a manufacturer to sell Media Center PCs like this, I'm sure they'd have an easier time getting people to try them out.
According to PCWorld.com, Microsoft won't be releasing a new version of Windows Media Center this year. Microsoft announced this at the German computer show CeBIT, but also said that they will be releasing an update for MCE 2005. According to Product Manager Tom Laememel, the update will be "bigger than your standard Windows update, but smaller than a Service Pack."
Versioning pedants in the audience will notice that the current version of the platform is officially titled "Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005," which one would assume was a new version for 2005. However, this was released in 2004, meaning the next version released in 2006 might be versioned 2007 for the fun of it.
Confused? Don't feel bad; even PCWorld used the phrase "Microsoft plans to offer an update to Media Center" in an article titled Microsoft Skips Media Center Update, so it's not like they're sure where to draw the line. And don't get me started on the Windows 95 -> 98 -> 98SE (released in 99!) -> ME upgrade path (and Windows 2000 on a separate branch than the other year-versioned OSs). Now you see why I'm looking out for the pedants: I feel their pain.
I was reading through Ed Bott's comparison of TiVo, Windows Media Center and a cable PVR (via Thomas Hawk) when one of the feature descriptions caught my eye:
Built-in reaction time. When you're fast-forwarding through a show (or, more often, through commercial blocks), you're watching the video flickering by. And then you see the part you want to watch — and hit Play. Now, on a less intelligent machine, you'd be too late. You'd have missed the first 20 seconds of what you wanted, because the fast-forwarding had already blown past it.
But not on a TiVo. It compensates for your reaction time. When you hit Play, it doesn't begin playing from that point; it begins playing a few seconds before that, with uncanny "it knew what I wanted" accuracy.
MCE has this option as well. It's called Reaction Time Compensation, and it’s customizable using the TweakMCE PowerToy. SARA doesn’t do this, and the absence of this feature makes the experience of watching a recorded program annoying.
Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of this feature. I think that it should be on every PVR and DVD player. However, TiVo recently announced that they had recently received several patents including one that appears to describe this feature. From TiVo's press release:
The USPTO recently issued patent number 6,850,691 entitled Automatic Playback Overshoot Correction System to TiVo. Among other things, the patent describes a system that compensates for a user's reaction time when the user stops fast-forwarding or rewinding through program material.
I'm not a lawyer, and I'm really not a software patent lawyer, but it sounds like MCE's Reaction Time Compensation is doing what's covered in this patent. You can read the full text of patent 6,850,691 online.
Maybe it's because I get 100% of my information about Microsoft from Slashdot, but one of the points that surprised me from Thomas Hawk's interview with Media Center bloggers was that plenty of Media Center people have TiVos too.
Charlie Owen: Also by the way, You might be surprised to hear me say this, but if you try and like a TiVo, buy a TiVo. If, on the other hand you want something with more power, flexibility, adaptability and upgradeability choose a Media Center PC.
However, and a big however, I don't believe this is a entirely a Media Center vs. TiVo choice -- I know lots of people with both in their homes, peacefully coexisting (including eHome team members). I believe the market is big enough for both to thrive.
That point is illustrated perfectly with EtiVo by Shahar Prish (via Matt Goyer). It's a program that takes video files off of a hacked Series 1 TiVo and turns them into WMV files. While it isn't a MCE app, it seems like it could be integrated pretty easily. You can already control EtiVo from a web interface or a WinCE PDA.
Maybe some enterprising hacker will build an MCE front-end to TiVoToGo for people with MCE and Series 2? Heck, while we're lazywebbing, how about a TiVoToGo interface for Xbox Media Center?
Thomas Hawk recently posted his interview with Windows Media Center bloggers, which is an interesting insight for people like me who don't really keep up with Microsoft's offerings. One thing I liked was that the developers have pinpointed the most important litmus test for PVRs:
Speaking of wives, there’s something what we call internally here at Microsoft the "SAF"- Spousal Acceptance Factor. It’s a very important informal metric we use internally just like the "eating our own dogfood" metric where we take builds home to test in addition to formal betas and usability testing.
Matt's going to the CES on Friday and will no doubt have lots of good stuff, but TiVo news is already trickling out. During his keynote, Bill Gates announced a partnership between Microsoft and TiVo. No, they aren't going to stop competing in the PVR market, but they are making sure that TiVoToGo will work on Portable Media Center devices. Does that mean I can use the Media Center Extender for XBox to play shows from my TiVo? I'm not holding my breath.
There's a whole movement to make Home Theater PCs as component-like as possible, so you can throw a fanless computer below your DVD player without too much notice. Usually that means volume knobs and form factors that mimic typical home theater component hardware, but Alienware's new Media Center box really, really looks like something at home under your TV.
My Movies is a pretty useful looking plugin to Microsoft's Media Center Edition, enabling you to browse your movie collection, search through actor bios, and even keep track of which films have been seen, all within the MCE interface.
It's freeware/donationware, and just one of many MCE add-ons programmed by lone developers. MCE has a whole plugin API, including a software development kit, which is probably why a lot of folks say MCE2005 offers the most capabilites to consumers while still being developer-friendly.
According to Cnet, Microsoft and Comcast are going to make a big announcement on Monday. The article is short on details but hopefully it'll be plans to integrate Media Center 2005 with Comcast's HDTV (so comcast customers won't have to use their branded DVR box), but it'll probably be the unveiling of new set-top boxes for Comcast, powered by MS software. [thanks, Loren!]
Michael Gartenberg from Jupiter Research has long been a fan of Microsoft's Media Center over TiVo. Today, he posted a lengthy piece explaining why the release of MCE 2005 is a milestone without peer:
MCE 2K5 is important. This OS will serve as the hub for Microsoft’s home strategy and is the cornerstone for a vision of allowing you have your content live in one central location but still have the flexibility to access that content in other rooms in your home on TV screens or stereos, take that content with you on your laptop, burn it to DVD or CD, use a portable media player to take audio and even video and pictures and with WM10 Mobile, take it on your PDA and Smartphone as well. No one else has this clear and articulate a message about the PC as a hub for the digital home for all content, including TV, Video and Pictures.
I must admit, with MCE 2005, Microsoft does have an entire digital lifestyle, end-to-end solution. My only worry is whether or not the market exists for such a device, as it seems people are only slowly adopting each new technology and aside from a few gadget freaks like myself, few would be able to take advantage of every available option in the new release.