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BrustBlog Pontifications on Microsoft and the Tech Industry


Today, over email, I found myself advising my wife’s friend on a potential Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) PC purchase.  In the course of all this, he asked what seemed like a simple technical question, but I realized later than it has wider ramifications.

 

His question was whether an MCE PC could replace his stereo receiver.

 

People familiar with this product line understand that MCE machines can integrate digital music and photos into their living room/home theater setups, and that they have DVR/PVR (TiVo-like) capabilities as well.  People more familiar with the products know that MCE machines can also replace their CD and DVD players, and even their FM tuners, and they can act as CD and DVD recorders.

 

But depending on the model you buy, you can also run stereo speakers, or even surround sound speakers (my HP z545 actually has 7.1 speaker outputs!) directly from the MCE machine.

 

So as long as you’re comfortable dispensing with AM radio, audio cassettes, and VHS (and assuming you’re satisfied with your MCE PC’s digital-analog converter), MCE machines can act as thoroughly integrated AV/digital media devices in a single box.  This makes these devices much more cost-effective than they might at first seem and I think it’s worth considering the fact home entertainment could evolve in this direction. 

 

And that could be a huge opportunity for Microsoft.  It could take them beyond the early adopter gadget freak market into the mainstream of consumer electronics.  And rather than just being an also-ran, Microsoft could have a killer product and a big, new revenue stream.

 

If Microsoft is serious about this market, they need to do a number of things to make the MCE devices have broader appeal.  Here’s a top ten list off the top off my head.  I may post more as I think of them:

 

  • 10. Add Dolby Pro Logic for enhanced sound on 2-channel audio sources.
  • 9. Add support for DVD Audio and/or SA-CD.  The latter would require MS and Sony to make nice…no easy task, but I think BillG wants it to happen.
  • 8. Add DTS decoding capabilities for a better DVD experience (my MCE box has Dolby Digital built in, but I have to use the digital audio output into my AV receiver to get DTS decoding).
  • 7. Add aux A/V inputs so old fogies like me can hook up their VHS decks, tape decks and turntables.
  • 6. Add top-notch digital-analog conversion.
  • 5. Strike OEM deals with audiophile manufacturers.
  • 4. Consider a retail partner program akin to the authorized dealership programs many home entertainment brands have (imagine a Microsoft-certified installer coming to your home to set up your gear).
  • 3. Add true HDTV support, not just through antenna signals, but by offering component video and DVI inputs (I know, I’m pushing it here).
  • 2. Consider, as with the Xbox, building a dedicated software environment for Media Center devices that is not based on Windows XP.  To work in most peoples living rooms, these boxes shouldn’t require the kind of maintenance and patching Windows does.
  • 1. (drum roll…) Realize that the living room is a major front in the battle against Linux.  TiVos are Linux-based (and they work very, very well) and HP has announced that they will introduce new media computers that are Linux-based.  If Microsoft wants to beat Linux, they need to look beyond the data center!
Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2005 10:58 PM | Back to top


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