Should Media Center Be Decoupled from Windows?

Screencap via EngadgetHD

Charlie Owen, who previously worked on the Microsoft Windows Media Center team, has been sharing his MC thoughts over the past week or so and it’s definitely been interesting. His latest post asks the following question:

Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?

I believe ackaging Media Center with the Windows operating system definitely was not the correct decision. I understand the reasons MS did it and I agree it might have helped in making some more aware of Media Center, but locking in the development of a true HTPC product cripples that software due to the extremely long, drawn out product update cycles. To stay relevant in the Media Home space, you have to keep up with the frequent changes in the environment. And tying any updates to the OS has MS falling behind other alternatives far too fast. If Microsoft is happy keeping Media Center as a “add-on” to Windows like Windows Media Player, then fine. But I do not agree that it is in the product’s (MC – not the OS) best interest and I think it was done to the detriment of the larger group of Media Center users – who even after pushing MediaCenter into the OS for these several years, still are made up of enthusiasts – not the “regular Joe’s.”

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7 thoughts on “Should Media Center Be Decoupled from Windows?”

  1. I really don’t think it matters either way. Ultimately the things that hold back Media Center are out of Microsoft’s control. Namely hardware costs and DRM restrictions from content providers.

    I’d also like to point out that even Vista Media Center is the best solution available today (assuming you don’t mind the cost and the extra maintenance) so while it could be better, I’m not complaining.

  2. I think the biggest problem with Media Center is that it’s a computer, not an appliance. It is subject to all of the headaches of a computer (drivers, updates, viruses) without enough benefits to appeal to the mass market. And by locking it down (due to DRM), Media Center isn’t a great solution for tinkerers or enthusiasts.

  3. Yep, I’m with Greg. There will always be a limited number of folks interested in managing a PC as their DVR hub. I was really bummed when LG killed their Microsoft Media Center DVR. It was SD only but had tons of potential. That’s the form Microsoft needs in this space. Or drop some tuners (at least ATSC, preferably CableCARD) into the Xbox 360 and create some lightweight extenders. (The rumored Xbox 360 as an IPTV STB for AT&T’s U-Verse service was also a killer idea. If you get U-Verse.)

  4. Ben’s comment “Vista Media Center is the best solution available today” is definitely an opinion – one I don’t necessarily agree with no matter how many times he says it ;)

    It might be the best option for some people given what they use it for, but it’s not the best for multiple TV, full media HTPC in my opinion.

    But all HTPC software shares many of these same problems. I’ll have more to say about that soon…

    Greg & Dave, I agree making the HTPC more of an appliance will help gain acceptance. But it will still be a niche – a small one at that. This is why MS and even Apple struggle at making it worth throwing many resources at.

  5. I love Media Center. I have a SFF computer hooked up to every TV in my house (yay Dell Outlet coupon deals) and a Windows Home Server to store everything. I have 2 HDHomeRuns providing me with four streams of live TV. Each TV has access to all of the recorded content from the whole house plus all of the DVDs and Music stored on the Home Server. And since it is regular Windows and Media Center is hackable I can access NetFlix streaming, run Hulu or view my SlingBox as well.

    It is a full entertainment solution.

    Until Comcast decides to encrypt all my QAM channels and then it becomes much less awesome.

    Was it the easiest thing to setup? No, but it is the only solution I have found that gives me all of those features and a pleasant interface.

  6. PeteyNice, I’m hosed here in Nothern Virginia. Only the locals are clear QAM and even if I went the CableCARD route, Cox is using SDV. Maybe we’ll hear some good news of out CEIDA in a few days.

  7. Here in Albany, NY, Time Warner went SDV and only a handful of the digital channels are clear QAM. Without a tuning adapter (or better yet, handling the tuning adapter functionality internally), the Vista Media Center is dead on arrival.

    Plus, the mass market PC vendors are out of the CableCARD market. To gain any traction, a CableCARD equipped Media Center has to retail well below $1000.

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