Bad news for Windows Media Center fans these last few days, as we’ve received confirmation from both Linksys and HP that they’re discontinuing their extender lineups. Brent offers Microsoft some tips over on Geek Tonic, including branding their own hardware, to breathe new life into this fine multi-room solution.
That’s a good start, but where Microsoft has repeatedly failed in the CE space is in marketing their products. (See Zune.) Media Center is a solid offering that most people know nothing about or that it’s probably built right into their copy of Vista (along with the capable Windows Movie Maker – take that, iLife). Which is why these third parties are unable to move sufficient quantities of extender hardware to keep them in production. (HP’s earnings are down 17%.) And given that niche market, HP, Linksys, etc are essentially competing amongst themselves for the same small audience. Perhaps emphasizing Brent’s suggestion that MS spearhead a hardware extender product line. Beyond the Xbox 360. And invest some advertising dollars into it.
Speaking of that Xbox 360, other than a few standouts such as the Roku media streamer, we consumers don’t seem too interested in dedicated video hardware – we’d rather see these services bundled into multifunction devices. Converge, baby, converge. And while folks speculate on the possibility of a slimmed down PS3 refresh, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a smaller, sleeker, and quieter (!) Xbox 360 unveiled this fall. Although, that could be my wishful thinking. At $200, I’d put one in every room – Internet video on demand, Netflix streaming, Media Center extender. Oh yeah, it plays games too.
It’s possible Microsoft intends to de-emphasize the television component of Media Center going forward. Sure seems like the premium content providers are. DirecTV blew up their Windows tuner initiative, DISH tuning is MIA, and CableCARDs are still a bear. Plus, MS’s new Windows 7 media Remote Media Streaming feature (son of WebGuide?) conspicuously lacks support for live content. That’s not to say Windows 7 doesn’t feature (some) Media Center enhancements (and Vista MC gets Netflix today, no extender support), just that this doesn’t seem like the high profile, high priority project many of us have hoped for. Which opens the door for others.