I can't believe Chris posted the press release but didn't go nuts around the fact the new XBox 360 Arcade has the same great Media Center Extender built in as all of its predecessors. I was happily surprised to note these have HDMI on board -- there is a LOT of bang for buck this Christmas in this new arcade SKU for consumers. Kudos to the XBox team for making it happen!



Categories: Media Center Extender | Windows Media Center | XBox 360 | Comments [65] | # | Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2007 9:28:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 9:50:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I no longer consider the addition of HDMI a feature to sell the product. How about updating the MCX software so we can play MPEG-4 content, something that Microsoft clearly sees as a plus considering it is all over the official v2 Extender FAQ and press releases.

So it's $280 for an Xbox 360 "Arcade" to get HDMI and a great gaming console but not additional codec support and I don't believe it is all 65nm yet, or spend $300 for a v2 Extender that has HDMI and plays more of the content that Media Center is supposed to "extend" in the first place (though, still not close to all of it)?

It is a hard choice, and bang for the buck might be there for the Xbox 360 but it is hard to suggest that someone should buy a $280 Xbox that doesn't even play the content they have, just to then suggest for them to buy a v2 Extender which has better support but still limited.

I've talked about all of this in the past
http://msmvps.com/blogs/chrisl/archive/2007/09/24/1212782.aspx

I really can't believe that you guys work in a division that is about "Connected Entertainment" when most of the products that come out of E&D don't connect in the right fashion. Xbox, Zune, eHome, MS TV, Windows Mobile. How many of these products really connect to each other as they should?

The Xbox 360 Arcade is a nice upgrade for the holidays, but far from a good Extender.

Chris
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 10:24:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Personally, I believe we oversold the whole 'it plays MPEG4 content' with the v2 hardware Extender stuff -- exactly because of what you point out -- it's the only thing in the ecosystem that can. If you want a great gaming machine AND the ability to extend your Windows Media Center experience then the XBox 360 Arcade has a really sweet price point. If you don't care about gaming but do care about MPEG4 content then a hardware v2 extender might be for you.

While we haven't *yet* acheived the 'Connected Entertainment' vision I would say we are probably leading the way. Almost all of the products you mention do have some sort of interoperability. Granted, it may be only accessible to the power users of the world -- but it is there. For example, I personally record content on my Media Center, watch it on my XBox 360 via Extender, and sync it to my Zune. (You would be right that I can't do that with any and all content -- but that's due to the content owners, not Microsoft.)

What other company would you name that is closer to the 'Connected Entertainment' vision than Microsoft...?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 10:25:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Whoops -- editing mistake caused me to delete a sentence. I meant to add we do have a gap if you really love gaming AND MPEG4 content and only want a single device.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 1:51:03 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
MPEG-4 might have been oversold in the v2 Extenders press, but at the same time it is much needed. Microsoft as a whole needs to understand that VC-1/WMV9 is not the codec to end at codecs, and that MPEG-4 support needs to be added as standard in all products. Xbox 360 Dashboard supports H.264 and MPEG-4 SP. It is being reported the v2 Zune supports MPEG-4 in hardware too. v2 Extenders support MPEG-4. It is time that Microsoft gets MPEG-4 (ASP and AVC) support in all of their products.

“Some sort” of interoperability is really the problem. A (sorry) half-arsed attempt really doesn't cut it. Examples would include the fact that Zune still doesn't appear to have 10' sync in Media Center when other portable players and Microsoft's previous Portable Media Center do. Purchases from the Xbox Marketplace are not portable to anything but the Xbox 360 Dashboard, which really sucks considering it really has the best content (HD) available from any source (iTunes, etc). On software interoperability, getting a Zune means maintaining two libraries on the same PC. One in Media Player for Media Center to use, then one in the Zune software for just the Zune to use. Outside of E&D, Windows Home Server doesn't do anything with Media Center. So many other examples, it just isn’t connected.

I know you guys are just getting organized so that you are working in the same group (finally), but it is really just crazy how non-connected the "Connected Entertainment" divisions products are.
As to companies closer to "Connected Entertainment" then Microsoft, I'd actually point to two; Apple and TiVo. I think that you guys leave Apple out because your strategies are completely different, but just look at how things work. iTunes, iPod, Apple TV. Everything I buy from iTunes will be able to go on my iPod, AND playback on Apple TV. Despite the fact that it isn't what I personally want in content deliver (I already pay DIRECTV, I'm not buying content twice), it is connected in every sense. Simple, user friendly, connected. All things Microsoft has yet to be able to do.

TiVo just today has managed to get their "connected" features out. Their Multi-room viewing and TiVoToGo appears to allow for the same, if not a more connected entertainment vision then Media Center.
Of course there are downsides to both of these, but in terms of companies providing "Connected Entertainment" between products Microsoft is failing, and others are succeeding.

Chris
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 3:44:45 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Apple doesn't ship a TV tuner solution in box or as an integrated third party solution for either Front Row or Apple TV. Sure you can get third party products which record TV, which can then be put in the library for consumption on other Apple devices but it's not even close to the ease of use represented by the EPG in Windows Media Center. Apple TV works great UNTIL you have more than 40 / 160 GB of content to sync to the device -- by contrast ALL of your content is available via Media Center and Extenders without having to manage sync lists. Sure, if you want to limit yourself to iTunes + iPod + Apple TV it all works. But many consumers want much more than that value proposition. Take yourself for instance -- you have DirecTV which works pretty well in Windows Media Center today. It's not perfect yet (no native HD a la OCUR) but you can take content from there and get it on your Extender extremely easily and on your Zune with a little effort (and even your IPod...gasp). You are correct in that we are taking fairly different tracks to the connected home vision -- ours is way more expansive than Apples today. All that and I don't even get to (a) where is Apples gaming machine (which in the connected home world IS a must have piece of the puzzle) and (b) where is the platform from Apple that let's you build interesting things that run on the connected home network.

That said, just go compare the various HTPC forums over at http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?f=26 and I think you will find the same sort of goodness and not-so-goodness between the various competitors in this space (Windows, Linux and Mac) -- I don't really believe anyone has a huge lead over the others.

And please don't get me wrong -- Apple makes good products, and what they do ship tends to work pretty well as long as you stay in their vision of the world. It's not nearly as complete a vision as the value proposition Microsoft offers today, in my opinion. Of course, I'm a Microsoft employee so you could simply dismiss everything I say in by calling me biased. Fair enough -- do keep in mind I'm typing this reply on a MacBook and own iPods purchased with my own money. :-)

I haven't seen any announcements from TiVO lately (looking at http://www.tivo.com/abouttivo/pressroom/2007PressReleasesPage.html). If you've got pointers please share. They are doing some interesting things, but at best they have an interoperability story several years behind Microsofts.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:47:58 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Charlie, with all due respect you missed the point entirely and the fact that you replied with this train of thought is exactly why Microsoft is in trouble.

TV tuners are not the issue, EPGs are not the issue. The fact that all Apple products together IS the issue. The fact that you guys continue to put “we have the only solution for broadcast HD” and “we include EPG/TV tuners” is your problem. Stop thinking so one sided. Instead, work on making products that function together. Instead, work on making products that are easy to setup and maintain. Yes, you do have THE system for what I want, but the fact of the matter is it doesn’t work how I want and for most is too hard to see the value proposition of it.

You say value proposition, and you are right. There is value in a $2000 OCUR PC, $280 Xbox 360 Extender, and $300-$350 v2 Extender. Only problem, that’s a hell of a lot of money for a solution that has been riddled with problems since day one. OCURs still don’t work right in most markets. CSRs still know nothing about them. Microsoft has still provided little to know information for troubleshooting. Instead, $300 for a dual tuner TiVo HD sounds better every day. I want to stay with Media Center, but I do feel that you guys from been trained to not understand what you really need to do to improve the product. Maybe I’m being too picky, but I think I speak for a lot of other people when I say y’all don’t get it most of the time.

The “connected home” is about more than having TV tuners, a gaming console, etc. Microsoft has the “home” part, and is missing the “connected” part.

As for TiVo, you can see the news at http://www.zatznotfunny.com/2007-10/tivo-series3hd-get-external-storage-multi-room-viewing-tivotogo/. To sum it up, they now offer external storage, video transfers between TiVo units, and transfer to the PC (HD included).

BTW, you don’t have to sync content to Apple TV. It can stream from PCs just like Extenders do. I don’t personally understand the need for a hard drive, but again this isn’t the point.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 10:33:23 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'll jump in here as a consumer and someone that probably sits in the middle of you two. More a shotgun, laying out of thoughts...

1. You *don't* have to manage your Zune library in two places. I'm looking at my XBox 360 Media blade and it allows me to connect directly to my Zune library vs. having to load it up via Media Player. So, one library.

2. As a Zune/XBox/Media Center user a 10' sync application seems, well, pointless. With the upcoming wireless sync I don't need an interface at all, I walk into the house, plunk it into the dock and forget about it, it's sync'd. If I'm picky about what I want to sync I'm sure not going to do it with a remote and TV, I have over 80GB of music and growing (thank you DRM-free Amazon).

3. I completely agree that both Marketplaces should be mixed. Same content via XBox as Zune and back again. Though, to be honest I never watch video on my Zune, who has that kind of time?

4. HD content on a Zune screen doesn't really make sense, that sounds like something that would look good in a feature checklist yet lacks any real-world use.

5. I also get caught between the MCE investment and the cheapness of Tivo. The whole OCUR thing kills me but then again I prefer the MCE UI, friends with Tivo seem to have just as many problems as I do (which are few) and I'm trying to reduce the number of boxes under my TV, not increase them, and I'd have a 360 regardless of the extender bits.

6. Until you can *purchase* new content via the Apple TV interface then it's just a toy. Anyone know if this is fixed yet, can you do a 10' browse of iTunes via Apple TV and purchase/stream?

7. I'm going to have to disagree with Chris on this one, he sure doesn't speak for me when he says, "y'all don't get it". For me the only things missing from MCE is the ability to homebrew a CableCARD solution and the lack of rollover recording storage (when C: fills up move to D:, etc.).

8. Setup and maintainence for MCE has never been a problem with me, then again I'm still just using an NVidia DualTV card with SD content. Personally I'm holding out to see if any of this IPTV works before worrying about a Comcast HD package.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 1:06:47 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I agree with Shawn; it’s not all that bad as Chris makes it seem, on the other hand it doesn’t exactly do what it should do.

Here’s my problem, media center hardware and software can actually do all of the stuff I want, but its not implemented for some reason.

Take QAM. It works in media center (if you have a cablecard PC), so why isn’t it enabled for non-cablecard PCs? (I think this may actually be a moot point once the next update to media center ships though)

MPEG4. It works on 360 hardware obviously (in dashboard), but it’s not implemented in the media center extender software. Why?

Sideshow. I thought one of the coolest things about Vista would be sideshow. A sideshow remote, plus a 5”-7” touchscreen I could put in my wall and controller my media center pc from around the house. Now that is a killer platform. Where are the sideshow devices? It’s been a year since Vista has been complete and I still can’t buy a sideshow remote, and I haven’t even seen someone announce a nice small touchscreen with sideshow. Functionality is there, product is not. For all I know, it will take another year for them to come out, then a year or so after that Windows 7 will be released and will be incompatible with the devices!

So much potential, but it just seems no one is working together to make it happen. Microsoft has brought the platform 99% of the way, but stopped there.
Brandon
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 1:44:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Shawn.

1. If you are a Media Center user (another Microsoft product), can you do the same? No. The fact that a user must must manage two libraries to use the features of that are included in a Microsoft OS is the problem. Yet again, this kind of thinking of it works in one scenario _is_ the problem. I think I'll quote when I say "develop for your consumers"

2. If 10' foot sync is pointless, then 10' media management would be just as pointless. If this is true, Charlie is about to be out of a job. :)

4. I'm not sure I said anything about HD content on portable devices, but I agree. Having said that, if I have an HD recording it would be nice to be able to downres it to put it on a Zune.

7. For you the only thing missing is CableCARD? What about the other things you are talked about above? CableCARD is the one thing Microsoft can't do much about. That's on CableLabs. They can fix software issues.

Chris
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 4:08:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I asked you who you thought was doing better and you brought out Apple. I merely picked some of the rather large, obvious feature gaps in the Apple story which demonstrates where they might be missing the boat as well in thinking about connected home scenarios. If you'd like, I can go on ad nauseum. :-) I would agree that TV tuners, EPGs and gaming consoles are not the *only* issue -- but they are part of the conversation because consumers have them and EXPECT them to play nicely.

Let's chat about the value proposition for two rooms in the house over three years (which favors TiVO) and see what the minimum investment will be when we compare with a TiVO solution.

For the Media Center home...

Media Center PC = I just built a Dell Inspiron 531s on the website including the ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo Analog/Digital TV Tuner with Remote Control and Windows Vista Home Premium for $909.
XBox 360 Arcade = $279.99
Hardware Extender v2 = $299.99

...for a total of $1,488.98.

I really get three rooms of entertainment, and a full blown Windows PC as well for that kind of investment. Note that's a big difference from the $2000 you claim above just for the OCUR equipped personal computer.

Let's do the same for the TiVO home...

(2) TiVo® Series3™ HD DVR = $1,199.98
3 Year Prepaid TiVO Plan = $299.00

...for a total of $1,498.98

Just a few couple of notes from reading up on the TiVO solution for the connected home as linked to from http://www.zatznotfunny.com/2007-10/tivo-series3hd-get-external-storage-multi-room-viewing-tivotogo/ (the comments on that post are also a good read). To transfer content to a personal computer (and by extension a portable device like a Zune or iPod) you need to get TiVO To Go software (see http://www.tivo.com/mytivo/domore/tivotogo/windows.html). But note as of right now: "Not yet available for Series3™ or TiVo HD". Go check out the hoops I need to jump through for multi room viewing (so I can watch content recorded on box A in another room on box B): http://research.tivo.com/91priority/index.htm. I would say TiVO is well behind Apple in the 'it all works together' category of the connected home.

Although I don't want us to get distracted I'd like to briefly address this point: "If 10' foot sync is pointless, then 10' media management would be just as pointless." You really, really can't take a binary view that every feature is just as important as every other feature. Otherwise I *would* be out of a job because we would be trying to 'boil the ocean' and would never actually ship anything. :-)

Chris, we earnestly strive to 'developer for our consumers'. I think what you may be missing here is the fact the market for 'our consumers' is much more broad and far reaching than you might see here in the blogosphere / online community.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 4:12:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Shawn -- spot on (well, except maybe for the TiVO cheapness which is somewhat of a myth as I just illustrated). I have a Zune, multiple extenders and don't have any problems. I also intentionally limit myself here at home to exactly what consumers have access to (i.e., no internal secret sauces).

Brandon -- good feedback. Who is saying we have stopped? :-)
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 5:14:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
You are still missing the point, as is Microsoft and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Again, the point of Apple products is that no matter how different the product strategies might be, they just work. It is rare that there products don’t integrate with each other. On the other hand, Microsoft rarely releases products that work together out-of-the-box and even after several product revisions they still don’t work.

Your comparison is also full of problems. Why would you compare a PC with SD/OTA HD tuners to a TiVo that has dual CableCARD tuners? It should look more like this…

Media Center PC = VM starts at $2000 for dual OCUR
Xbox 360 Arcade = $279.99
Hardware Extender v2 = $299.99

...for a total of $2,580

TiVo HD is $299, no need to factor in a TiVo Series 3.

(2) TiVo HD DVR = $598
3 Year Prepaid TiVo Plan = $299.00

...for a total of $898

Now, I’m the first to say that there can be value in the more expensive solution. Several people need to upgrade there PCs, and this is a great way to do it. However, knowing that Microsoft has a ton of cools features that I want that ever seem to work with the whole connected ecosystem, it is sometimes hard to justify it. Media Center has its advantages, and so does TiVo.

Jumping through hoops for TiVo to work is kind of funny. The TiVo solution was just announced, sorry for not clearly noting that.

But, speaking of hoops you should look at all the threads at TGB about CGMS-A not working and thus not allow people to recording anything with Media Center. You should looks at the dozens of threads about OCUR not working on AVS, TGB, and in the Microsoft DCT newsgroups. Don’t try and fool yourself to think Media Center “just works”, because sadly it doesn't.

Who is your market? I think you guys are also fooling yourself into thinking that you do know.

Your market is large and diverse. Your market is not definable in a sentence, or even a paragraph. There is no market research to really show what your market is. You think you know, but if you did the product would not be what it is today.

Matter a fact, the best that you are define your market is that most don’t use their PCs for TV playback at all. That’s not my opinion, it is a fact based on PMs in the TV group.

And yes, I’m going to be a little more picky and clearly my voice is going to be different and louder than whatever you consider your “market”. However, I don’t think I’m asking for much here. Integrated products that just work, something consumers expect from the start. If Microsoft considers this “broad and far reaching” then Microsoft has even more issues.

I've tried my best with the rest of the Media Center MVPs to push change and request feedback from the product teams. I can't say any of us have been the least bit successful in either of the two which might be where a lot of my frustration comes from. But again, having products that work together isn't asking much. Having logical features that work across platforms is the goal of the division. Having "some sort" of integration is not.

Chris
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 6:04:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Point taken on the type of TiVO box you can purchase. I'm trying to look at the *whole* of connected home entertainment here -- for example, also including music, video, photos and portability to devices -- not just the ability to record TV. So, let's take the two cheapest numbers -- mine for Media Center and yours for TiVO, since those represent the starting point for connected home for both...

Media Center: $1,488.98
TiVO: $898

Let's break it down to the number of rooms where I can enjoy my content:

Media Center: $496 Per Room (3 Rooms)
TiVO: $449 Per Room (2 Rooms)

Pretty competitive right there. If we start breaking it down to a feature chart and the flexibility across those three rooms the bang for buck factor clearly starts tilting in the Media Center solution favor.

I read quite a bit on TGB and AVS (not so much on DCT) and I think we do a pretty good job of supporting those folks. However, I'm not 100% bought in these folks represent the typical user experience for the broad market. If you don't have a problem what's the likelihood you will show up in a forum and say 'everything is working great for me'...? You can't look at only TGB and say it represents the entire health of your product (seriously, this is Statistics 101). There is lots of data that says we are doing many things right -- and that same data also suggests there is also room for improvement. Our job is to take that in and figure out the right mixture for consumers -- and I'm pretty darn proud of the job we've done to date.

Chris, I don't think you are asking too much -- like you, we truly want these things to 'just work'. It takes time to make that happen on the scale we are attempting to accomplish. In the meantime, many (perhaps most) of the connected home scenarios you want can be accomplished by the consumer with some amount of work on their part if they don't wish to wait on us to deliver a solution out of the box. I'm not entirely convinced Apple or TiVO (your proferred alternatives) have as good a story -- but I continue to watch and use their products to see how well they compete. :-)

I'm fairly sure that we get it more than you think we do, and I'm fairly sure I'm not fooling myself. We are very passionate about this stuff, and want to get there as much (if not more than) consumers who buy our products.

Our MVPs rock (including you) and certainly influence the product -- more than you think. Do not believe for one moment that just because you advocated for feature X which wasn't delivered that you therefore didn't have an impact. It's simply not true.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 6:57:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Great comments from both camps.... and all are valid, as long as you live in the US of A. If you want to see how MCE is failing (and to be fair the other two company's) look past your borders. In the UK no HD support anytime soon, no Zune, little if any content other than games on Marketplace, no V1 extenders nevermind V2....the list goes on.
ezryder
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 7:05:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
ezryder -- You make a GREAT point. The US market for connected home for Microsoft is going fantastic compared to overseas in many respects. I would extend your observations to Asia as well. It's not good enough for us (meaning the Media Center team) that only EN-US gets the love.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 7:08:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I am somewhere in the middle of the two of you, probably leaning a little more towards Charlie (not a name thing). BUT, given all the problems with OCUR to date, I have a hard time saying that the product "just works".

I work in IT and am pretty proficient with hardware and software, and while I still love the platform, it isn't as simple as just turning it on. As it stands now, I wouldn't recommend it to my family members who are looking for a dvr.

I am also a little disappointed on not being able to synch ANY tv from my Media Center to my Zune because I went the expensive route to get an OCUR machine. I get the whole content owner thing, except to my understanding TivotoGo works with their CableCard solution. This is functionality that I really want (commute via public transport would be much better if I could watch TV on my Zune during that time) but can't get from the current solution (and my understanding of what Zune2 will offer).
Charlie
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 7:10:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I completely agree with Chris here. You really are missing the point about product interoperability.

Apple and TiVO have stuff that has more limited capabilities than MCE. There's no doubt about that in my mind. But, the stuff they have interoperates with each other as expected.

For example: you poke a little fun at TiVO only just getting multi-room. But, then again, MCE can't actually do multi-room on a peer-to-peer basis - only with extenders. I can't even share my recordings like that.

Another example: the Zune and the 360 UPnP can take H.264 material. But the MCX software in the 360 can't, and you can't stream it without using the Zune software, because WMP11 doesn't seem to recognize it.

Final example: DVD changer streaming. You had years to work on this. It still doesn't work. Where's the multi-room with that?

The media center team needs to understand that simultaneously telling us to wait and then not tell us what features are coming is more or less the biggest turn-off ever to sticking with the product. Wait? Why?
Erwos
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:02:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Charlie -- Does the OCUR machine work for you now, and did you personally have any particular issues getting it to work. Yes, I know there are issues -- I'd like to know about YOUR issues. :-).

Erwos -- I'm not trying to poke fun at TiVO -- rather, I'm pointing out they have similar issues to Media Center and Apple in that it doesn't 'just work'. Media Center isn't all that different from TiVO when it comes to non-TV content (music, pictures, videos). It's interesting to note that IF you have H.264 on your computer you *can* enjoy it on the XBox 360 -- just not through Media Center. It's not perfect, but it's not blocked either. DVD streaming is a tough nut to crack most of which aren't technical. Yes, it's hard to wait, but in the meantime there is a good bit of stuff you can do.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:12:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I’m thoroughly enjoying reading this thread. Please keep up the dialogue.

I’m a PC hobbyist with an Electrical Engineering degree, and support most friends PC issues. But, I don’t make the decisions for the PVRs….strictly wife territory. We’ve migrated from:
1. DirecTV Tivo, to (because of HD-locals)
2. Comcast DVR (w/MSFTs software) running a Media Center PC(no CableCards) in parallel with XBOX v1 extender
3. Comcast DVR (w/TV-guide software) running a Media Center PC(no CableCards) in parallel with XBOX v1 extender
4. TIVO series-3 with e-SATA-750G

I do not represent the typical market, but I think I’m married to it. The discussion of market and buying decision authority is an excellent one. The forums are filled with the phrase, “wife approval factor”. The consumer electronics industry documents pretty well the power women wield. Their preference for thin TVs that look nice on the wall was huge in the beginning of LCD/Plasmas. The same can be said in the PVR space. My wife had a choice between the Media Center and MSFTs DVR……do you know which one she choose? The Comcast(MSFT) DVR every time. Why? Because it just worked…..there was never anything for her to mess with. Media Center is first and foremost a PC, and caries all the baggage: viruses, software updates, slow boot, glitches, etc. When we want to watch TV we want to hit a button and veg. Comcast took care of all the behind the scenes stuff. That’s not the case with a Media Center PC.

A year ago at this time I was giddy with anticipation for Vista with CableCards. As I followed Vista’s withering feature list, CableCards was interested in. I was pissed about the new OEM PC requirement, but was willing to make a new purchase. When Vista launched…..where were the CableCards? I couldn’t believe how long it took for companies to sell them. Then was aghast at the price. I was STILL willing to buy one, except supply sucked, people had a lot of Ver. 1.0 issues, and Dell/HP had this on again off again offer ability. The last one made me nervous because:

Microsoft doesn’t stick with consumer electronics products. Do I even need to make a list?
• TigerTV from the early 90s
• MSN-TV on/off offerings
• UltimateTV
• Media Extenders V1 left hanging
• Portable Media Extenders
• Heck even the cool cordless phone MSFT made.
• Losing the software for Comcast DVRs…..hmmm who is Comcast offering as a premium upgrade(if you’re in New England;))? Oh yeah TiVO.

A quad-tuner CableCard Vista PC (only avail from custom home integration vendors! WTF) with XBOX360 (can you say red ring of death) and V2 Extender is certainly the most powerful and flexible solution out there….but it doesn’t meet the needs of the market. It’s too expensive, has bugs, and takes ANY work to maintain. Finally who know how long MSFT will stick with supporting any of these products. It’s just too risky.

Chris is definitely a Technology Evangelist, so he speaks very passionately about his views. But remember he’s trying to support and help MSFT. He isn’t some TiVO or Apple fanboy, but he understands their products. I think he needs to be listened to. I also think he’s correct about integration and interoperability between MSFTs fuzzy-connected entertainment offering. MSFT has many great pieces of the puzzle, but they just don’t fit together right. The products tend to emphasize techie features over rock solid reliability and ease of use(something you’d set your parents up with).

PS: The TiVO isn’t perfect either. It has locked up before, and the file transfer (TiVoToGo) stuff isn’t bulletproof. The Comcast DVR would loose lyp-sync and “hang”. The DirecTV TiVO was a closed box, you couldn’t get anything off it. Oh yeah didn’t MSFT/DirecTV announce they were coming out with PC tuners like what? 2 years ago?

While I’m on my soapbox:
• HD-DVD. What has taken so long for MSFT to integrate the drive into a XBOX360 SKU? Also I can’t believe MSFT participated in the pissing match that gave us another BetaMax/VHS nightmare. Personally I’m not buying EITHER until one wins or combi players are available.
• I agree with Brandon….where are the sideshow devices?
• Why not implement a physical and logically modular solution. The core should be a consumer electronics level reliable product that provides the brains and networking. The e-sata hard drive should just slap on like XBOX360 (but have the entire range of sizes). It should have a bay to accept a DVD/Blu-Ray/HD-DVD/etc. You should be able to slide in 1-3 tuners (Cablecard, QAM, ATSC, DireTV, EchoStar). It should utilize any network storage device, but be optimized to work with Home Media Server. Without ANY modules it should act like a media extender and MSN-TV level e-mail/web. If you want to purchase multiple units they should all share resources transparently. The PC would have a soft-sled extender module, but it’s not the hub. The XBOX360 would integrate, but focus on gaming. I think you get the idea.


Thomas Allison
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:32:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Let's not sit here and pretend that OTA HD in the US really "works". How many years are we into the supposed ATSC support and there still is incorrect and missing guide data for the digital channels? Then we are told that it is being worked on but will only be in a the next "full" release which probably is many months away since the beta hasn't even started yet. Another good example is the missing cover art problem for music. How long do you expect us to wait when you won't even commit to fixing serious problems? And how patient do you think the average consumer will be with problems like this since that seems to be who you are targeting? I think unlike us they will try it and then move on when it doesn't seem to work...
Craig
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:41:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think the math is incorrect in the per room equation mentioned above. OK, maybe not the math but definitely the capability per dollar. The Tivo HD systems have similar capability to a OCUR equipped WMC PC (for recording TV, not talking about more PC type functionality), where you compared against a SD/ATSC system. I'm not aware of any dual OCUR WMC for 1500, I think Chris's # is much more realistic. Which makes the WMC solution (using his #s) come in at $860 a room not $496.

Also keep in mind that 2 Tivo HD systems have 4 tuners so you've got 2x the recording prowess. Moreover the Tivo solution scales much cheaper because of their peer based (vs. client server) approach. Getting 4 OCURs in a WMC box exponentially skews the numbers farther in Tivo's favor. And if Tivo2Go can make the OCUR'd content available to other systems, it has a capability that isn't even available with WMC.

While there are many reasons to use a PC based PVR it's very hard to make the value argument when OCUR enters the equation. The real value in a PC based PVR is the underlying strength of the platform, if the API's and transports were made available (like the rest of Windows) other developers could add the same richness to the WMC platform as they've done with the Windows Platform. Microsoft has historically excelled at providing parts of the solution and letting others stitch the bits together. I think the underlying problem is that MS is trying to hard to own the entire experience instead of following their proven road map for success.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:43:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
OCUR Issues:

-Tuner not found issues from June until September after almost every reboot (so much for automatic updates). Seems to be fixed by ATI Firmware 1.16

-Intermittent premium channels (HBO, Showtime...) disappearing. Ran down rat hole of signal strength with Comcast and finally had to switch cable companies (now RCN in Chicago). Now seems to be resolved, though I don't know if it was the cable switch (Comcast wouldn't give me actual strength readings and wouldn't own up to what was done to repair) or ATI firmware (read some stuff about head end issues causing similar problems that was fixed by 1.16).

Other Issues
-Macroblocking on fast motion video -- appears to be fixed with hotfix supplied by Microsoft

-Choppy video when watching HD broadcasts in 1080i (CBS, NBC...)using component out at 720p and nVidia 7600 GTL based video card. Still working this with Sony.

As I noted above, OCUR seems to be working great now. I just need to resolve 1080i broadcasts (football on NBC and CBS is almost unwatchable) and I will be a happy camper.
Charlie
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 8:52:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thomas -- what a post, talk about a firehose! It's gonna take a while to digest all of that.

Craig -- Head over to http://thegreenbutton.com/forums/90/ShowForum.aspx and post the details of your ATSC listing issues and send me an email if you don't get a response. My iTunes + iPod has more problems with missing album art than my Media Center. I'm just sayin'.

Andy -- The math is around the connected home scenario and what it takes to start living parts of the dream. I could drive down the cost on the Media Center side quite a bit if we eliminated TV altogether but I kept it in since it *is* a core scenario for so many people. It's not meant to be an Apples to Apples comparison between two systems that do exactly the same thing -- I don't even believe this can be done -- we can get close, but it's not exact.

Charlie -- Thanks for sharing -- I'm glad it's on the road to goodness for you -- your story is representative of many early adopters -- rocky at the start, but after working with us and our partners on the issues the joy returns.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 9:24:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sorry, I should have been clearer about the ATSC listings problem. I was referring to lack of support for sub-channels and the assumption that the guide data for the analog listings matches the digital channels. We were told it was shipped this way on purpose and might be fixed in the distant future which is hard for me to swallow.

As to the Tivo comparison I think the Tivo is more expensive than the numbers so far have indicated. You have to pay an additional ($7/month) for the second Tivo (the $299 doesn't include that). Also, I'm not sure how big the hard drive is in the PCs being compared but if you are getting the HD Tivo you most likely have to factor in an external drive to get any real recording capacity. And finally, looking beyond 3 years you still will have monthly fees for Tivo and you presumably won't for the PC.
Craig
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 9:41:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ok, so I am not sure if this will be pilling on but here goes.

On the love list:
360: use it for games and HD movies and love it.
Media Center UX: Makes me happy

Makes me not so happy list:
Lack of integration: I know MSFT has partners and they depend on them to deliver things and Apple keeps things closed which can make things easier. With that said, going back to Chris‘s point is that the MSFT solutions should just simply work together. Charlie the LAST thing you should have to be is a power user. I give props to the home server folks on getting things simplified.

Announce cool stuff then WAIT: One of the reasons I think Apple does so well in public perception is that they come out and announce a cool thing and then while the iron is still hot you can actually BUY the thing.

With MSFT something very cool like DirecTV + Media Center is announced and then TWO years pass and still nothing. Zune v2 announced then over a month wait and still waiting. Announce then release or don’t announce at all and let the rumor mill work for you.

I am a big supporter of the whole vision but it does great frustrating.

MikeB.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007 10:55:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I have had multi-room DVR capability for over 5 years now. I have had 2 ReplayTV 4000 (now 5000's) since they were released. It's amazing that Tivo is just getting around to it (and charging for it last I remember seeing - TivoNet?). It also took ReplayTV fans exactly 5 weeks from the release of the 4000 to figure out how to create a PC emulator for show archiving. I have also been able to setup recordings on one from the other, although it's not fully intigrated). The only thing I'm missing is HD.

Microsoft STILL doesn't have it right.

This is the absolute #1 reason my house has not converted to MCE as it's main DVR (it's third-string backup).

I may not be your typical user, but my wife is. If we have multiple MCE boxes (for multiple tuners), they had better be able to stream shows to each other (without hacks or resoting to My Videos), or she is going to be pissed if she can't watch something from the FamilyRoom MCE in the bedroom and that includes HD content!!!)

The idea of "Connected Entertainment" that not only I have, but my wife and even my daughter, not to mention friends & coworkers) is either:
a) Server-Client. Where the main MCE is a tuner-farm and a content server
b) "Hive". Where multiple MCE boxes figure out who is going to record what based on who's tuner is avail.
c) combination of both.
From the end-user's point of view there really should be no difference. From any box or any extender, you see one guide, that shows everything that is set to record. You setup a recording in one place (and it doesn't matter which box it ends up on, nor does the end-user really know where it is actually stored or recorded). You see one list of recorded shows (regardless of actual storage location). You can stream any content to any box or extender. Cheap SILENT! $100-$150 extenders on all TVs (my house is fully wired, I don't need wireless 'N', and I don't need an XBox). And it better be silent, as these will go in bedrooms.

This should not be asking for too much. There's no special hardware needed for this, infact there are a number of non-Microsoft solutions out there that do this, but they are way overpriced becuase they are only bundled with overpriced hardware.

Once you do this, then we should talk about 7-8" sideshow panels I can put in my walls. And then lets add "Party Mode" where each box/extender can play the same stream in sync (more important for movies, but very useful for Super Bowl parties as well).

-- Rob
Rob
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 11:06:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I love seeing this open communication between both of you.

I agree with many of the comments "attacking" Microsoft and the development of the platform. However, the key element that needs to be noted by the entire ehome/connected home team is this horrible wait and see scenario.

Years ago I embraced the MCE platform with the very first release. At that time I accepted the bugs and the geek factor of the platform. Of course everything you wanted to do was a pain and I spent countless hours tweaking and making things work right. Clearly this device did not pass the Wife Acceptance Factor test and 2 Tivo boxes remained in control of our entertainment.

Over the years I upgraded to each and every version of MCE. With each release or update the product improved. Finally with MCE 2005 I was able to prove to the wife the platform was stable enough for prime time. Although we did not give up the Tivos at this time we used MCE 2005 in conjunction with them and life was good.

Enter 2006 and the siren songs of Vista and VMC. I began to drool over the thoughts of cable card and Direct TV support. Oh yes, and finally real HDTV support. Then came the announcement of slideshow and my mind raced with the possibilities of whole house integration. Oh yeah baby HDTV throughout the entire house all served up by one bad boy VMC server in the basement. I was sold!

To eBay with the Tivos! Of course this was done under the guise that they would soon become obsolete with the HDTV so the wife was in. I explained my Vista dreams and that in early 2007 our home would be like Future World at the Epcot center! But as the Vista release approached my dreams were shattered. What no cable card for the home build enthusiast? Okay so it will cost me more, but for the impressive home built by VMC I figure it could swallow my pride and buy a *gulp* off the shelf computer.

Fast forward to today. Where is this dream world my friends at Microsoft have talked of? Sure I can get a dual OCUR machine but it may or may not work, and god forbid I allow it to sleep. Oh and I can also use my fire breathing, red ring flashing and fan roaring xBox 360 to stream HD. But seriously where are all the other goodies?

Those siren songs can sway you to steer your ship off course. Or in the case of VMC and MCE to waste an unthinkable number of hours. Like a wise sailor I'm growing tired of the siren songs sung by the Microsoft team.

Currently I have a VMC machine, an unstreamable Sony 200 disc changer, and a fire breathing xbox running the digital entertainment in my home. This the increase in HD TV available from my cable provider and others such as Direct TV my setup is not offering the content I want. Although I've invested thousands into the software and hardware I have now I'm forced to find another solution. I can choose to go back with Tivo where they will give me 2 boxes for $600 and allow me to transfer my lifetime services for another $400. Thus for HD glory I need only invest $1000 vs. the $2000-$3000 for VMC + Cable Card.

I guess with the $1000 I'd save I could buy a Sonos system and have the GUI playback I dreamed of with Sideshow, for music at least!

I know the Cable Card issue is not solely the doing of Microsoft, but there are so many feature lacking from VMC. Here's a small list of those that should be available from a super powerful computer with hardware based clients:

Multizone/Multisource Audio
DVD Streaming
Extender Syncing (think sport bar or party mode)
Peer Sharing (software extenders)
GUI Remotes

There are solutions out there with all these features. The challenge to the connected home team is to put them all together in a value priced package. And I know this is a unique concept for many at Microsoft to grasp - Those that innovate and create unique products rarely do so by only combining what is out there. Instead true innovation is obtained when one combines the best of what is out there with unique and new concepts.
Ryan Conway
Thursday, October 25, 2007 12:31:21 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I have to say I'm totally aligned with Chris on this debate. I compare Microsoft with Apple as follows:

Microsoft:

Too many engineers with too much money to spend - end result a gazillion independent pieces of the connected home solution (most of them shipping for many years now) delivered to the user as if they were shot out of a shotgun from multiple divisions in multiple products. Some interactivity to be sure amongst all this stuff but some just absolutely major gaps that are hard to fathom. Some examples:

1) First gen. Zune released but doesn't work with the MS gold standard of music management - WMP. Huh?

2) Windows Home server does great things for organizing a fleet of home PC's but can't serve up the great Media Center Interface. Huh?

3) Multiple Vista Ultimate PC's in the home can't control the TV tuners in the main Media center PC. Huh?

4) New Extender boxes released with better codec support than the 360. Huh?



Apple:

Laser like focus on how things play together. Neat features will in general *not* be released until they play well with the rest of the Apple ecosystem. IMHO Apple would not release the above products with these interactivity gaps.

The frustrating thing is that MS has so many more pieces of the puzzle than Apple currently implemented. MS is making progress in some areas - new Zunes work with WMP etc., but how many years has media center been shipping and you *still* can't control the tuners from a remote PC - unbelieveable.

Apple is taking baby steps but may very well win the race to control this connected ecosystem in the home.

I want MS to win! But it is taking foreeeeeeeeeever to get this stuff together........

-dave kinkley
Dave Kinkley
Thursday, October 25, 2007 12:57:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sorry Charlie but I have to say I agree with Chris's frustration. A couple of things that also need to be pointed out.

1: Softsled...This if it ever saw the light of day would simply send mce into a different league to all the afore mentioned products. I would happily pay $180 per license for it as I could then build my own extenders and configure with my own choice codecs and hardware. This would create a massive buzz in the CE market thus putting the mce product on the map. But personally I think softsled will NEVER see the light of day because it would interfere with the V2 extender market. No doubt this is the result of the financial controllers saying we cant do this because it will alienate our partners in the V2 extender market. Oh and by the way the on the subject of the V2 extender market does it actually exist in the USA because it certainly doesn't over here in Europe. Look at previous incarnations success or lack of. Why did they fail???...Simple answer, it was a lack of features and codecs. I think its actually hilarious that one can stream just about anything from 1 mce pc to another with the exception of live tv. Mce is without a doubt the best platform out there why not focus on the simple stuff. Forget trying to play ball with the big companies hoping they will license extender technology. Softsled would have people buying MORE pc's which is what Microsoft should be aiming for in the first place.

2: Make mce custom installer friendly. Invest in this market and these guys will make your product known to everyone. Imagine loads of demo rooms running a customized mce. Give them the tools they need like a true media only interface that blocks all access to the pc functions. (This should be in consumer version now) And allow them to customize the menu. Dont give the excuse we want it simple for everyone. Let the informed user tailor it to his/her families needs. All it really needs is an option on boot. True Media Mode partition or PC Mode Partition.

3: A tuner farm in home server to feed the above.

I think points 1 and 2 really would satisfy a huge amount of users Chris included as that ecosystem included with up and coming home automation software really can make the Microsoft connected home vision come true. Softsled would have no problems supporting future codecs. A pc based extender wipes the floor with just about anything else out there. Also the hardware involved is getting cheaper by the day. The xbox 360 will never be a Great extender and neither will the majority of the announced V2 machines because when it boils down to it they cannot compete against a properly configured mce pc. C'mon Charlie you already know this anyway. Chris complained on his blog about proposed V2 extender prices. I have a slightly different view. There is perceived value in the price of an item. I would happily spend $500-600 on an extender pc before I would ever spend a penny on an underspecified v2 extender. Much if not all I have said here is mirrored on TGB.

p.s. Charlie we know your 1 of the good guys
DaveH.
Thursday, October 25, 2007 2:39:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think all of the passion you are seeing here is because everyone truly believes in what a great product Media Center can be--and the frustration of seeing the finish line and not being able to get there. Of course, everyone may have a slightly different vision of what the finish line looks like, but everyone wants to get there. I don't think you would see the outpouring exhibited here if people didn't ultimately believe in the product. Its just time to start seeing some of the potential come to fruition.

To Charlie's credit (the other one, not me), OCUR does seem to be stabilizing for me and others based upon what I am reading on TGB and other places. To Chris's credit, I don't think Apple would have released a product that was as unstable and flat out buggy as OCUR was early this year. Ok, they control the ecosystem, don't rely on partners and didn't have to deal with CableLabs, but the truth is you are measured to a large extent by the company you keep.

All this being said, I wouldn't go back to my DirecTivo or Comcast DVR at this point, as the experience in Media Center is much better when its working. I think everyone would gladly accept small incremental improvements on a regular basis rather than promised big bang advancements that always seem to be just over the horizon.
Charlie
Thursday, October 25, 2007 9:48:11 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sorry Charlie, Chris is 100% right from where I'm sitting. Microsoft needs to pull their finger out and make all this stuff work together seamlessly.
Ian
Thursday, October 25, 2007 11:57:11 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've been looking at media centre systems for quite a while and have to say I still haven't found what I am looking for.

Everything to do with VMC is too US based unfortunately and misses a few targets. Cablecard is useless (unless the cable system in the UK is now working on it too), DVB-T is imperative, the guide is outdated and comes from the wrong source, subtitles (closed caption) isn't there never mind DVB-T text or red-button interactivity. 50Hz, 50Hz and since this is sooo important, 50Hz! Oh and in the Europe we have standard definition tv's that come in 4:3 AND 16:9 formats, though we still can't map resolutions via graphics cards correctly, and at 50Hz. Two tuners ‘supported'? Whats that, 5 possible extenders yet can only really watch two live shows without applying a hack! DVB-T in the UK has 6 multiplex's containing multiple channels of tv and radio each. Therefore with 6 tuners I could watch and record everything (theoretically, processing power notwithstanding). Collaboration with BSkyB and Virgin Media would be great as these are the only way to get HD programming currently.

Think how this used to be, we had 2 living rooms, 3-4 bedrooms, all with tv's in and the kids rooms with computers and maybe a games console. Most will also have had a DVD player a VCR and some audio system. We could record anywhere and play anywhere thanks to the VCR or maybe a DVD recorder. We could even start watching something in one room and then finish it in another. We could bookmark things by taking note of what chapter each person was on, so if a child went out they could easily get to the point that they left at while everyone else continues to watch, or take multiple bookmarks. Live tv and radio was distributed around the house, if cable was required then a set-top box for that room.

Moving onto updated version, we have a similar scenario. DVD players in most of the rooms, micro hi-fi's too and the VCR has been replaced with the PVR, grant it a dual tuner version, but the content is tied to that part of the house. There is lots recorded and not enough time for each person to watch there recordings.

The promise, remove the PVR and insert Mediacentre and free the media from the sitting room. Ok, so how does this work. Everything is tied to that box still, you can't get a standard output to a tv to work nicely, especially if you have a 16:9 tv on the MC box. This is really too loud, untidy to be positioned in a living room, but it does play DVD's.

MS' vision. Get an extender in the room or use the xbox 360. Neither are good for Europe at the minute because the XBox doesn't work with 50Hz when trying to output a HD style signal to a TV and extenders, ha... you made a funny. I would not be buying these because they are over priced and do little. There is a computer, tv and hi-fi in the room, music and video is distributed by shares/wmp, can browse youtube etc, dvd's can be shared and played by powerDVD over the network. Its messy but it works ok. Would an extender solve this? not really, it would allow me to watch live tv from across the room. This is already done with the TV. Recorded shows are the only thing that misses out, though my PVR does allow you to copy off the file onto a computer. Archiving TV is thus achievable. An extender will not play DVD's over the network, they just may play them from an internal drive but the cost is astronomical. The computer is free as already owned, even has a dvd player, theres a dvd player under the tv bought from a box shifter for some ridiculously low price, a hi-fi to blast those tunes out and annoy everyone in the house. Lets face it, the extender can't do what we want at that price point and offers little in added value.

How life should be.
Mediacentre is a separate entity altogether, Vista is an OS, if the two are installed together then there should be a user friendly never touch the explorer desktop/shell mode.

It should come as a client-server architecture, allowing it to be installed on a single computer or the backend on a server in the basement or even run on MS Home Server. Wow, how sensible is that! The current VMC interface should be just that, an interface. Installable on any client PC and allowing connection back to the server for everything, live tv, streamed dvd's. These can all be encrypted for HDCP, managed DVD type copies or just on the network level allowing unencrypted DVD's to work while still working on the legalities of managed copies. HDCP/equivalent over IP already works for display on XBox/Cablecard. Yes I know about the DVD library function. Oh and native ISO support, none of this loading a virtual drive nonsense.

Bookmarks, preferably allowing multiple ones and distinguishable from each other. After all, there are 4 coloured buttons on most remotes that go unused a lot of the time. Press red to bookmark parent position, green for daughter, blue for son, yellow for the family as a group. Therefore anyone can watch any amount of any recording on any client without disrupting the others viewing position.

Be able to set recordings in the same way, by person whom wants to watch it.

Be able to record multiple streams off a single DVB-T tuner, my pvr can do it so why can't MC.

Work on TV's other than standard American, resolution-wise and refresh-rate wise, preferably out of the VGA port too. Powerstrip is fun :) Be able to allow for refresh rates according to the played media. Most European tv's from the last 5 years can use 60Hz so when playing back those region 1 DVD's or so, allow for adjusting the refresh rate of the TV. Yes, most even support NTSC as well as PAL, if resorting to composite/s-video inputs. Oh and it would be nice if LCD manufacturers followed your lead and supported 50Hz modes on their displays.

The ability to record by guide content rather than show time/schedule. For example, record everything with Hugh Laurie in, but not weekly repeats or on +1 channels. Allowing the sorting of these under season/episode etc. One problem I had when I was living in the US was trying to keep track of seasons and episodes as numerous channels were running different seasons concurrently so I got mixed up which what ones I should be watching and gave up on the programme in the end.

Sync Centre, be able to setup what can be synched to smartphones/zune/pocket-pc and let transcoding take place on the server during idle times. Integrating into WMP again if necessary to allow you to ativesync it on XP.

Even on the environment side. Only running a Server or Home Server for all tv recording duties makes more sense than Home Server, VMC (maybe two to record enough), along with the pc for homework, extender for tv and the tv to view. God forbid WMP being able to play back tv/dvd streams for when sitting directly at the pc. Could just all integrate (ooh theres that word again) into the library/playlists and allow a small window on the desktop, much easier to navigate with the mouse than VMC currently is.

This is probably just a muddled rant/groan (I really should read through it and edit it) but I would pay so much for this functionality. Myth-TV has some of it, Mediportal has a lot of it but about as stable as trying to make a pin stand on end. Please MS, get your media groups together and get them talking to find common requirements and get something out the door that Europeans would want rather than just live with.
Senty
Thursday, October 25, 2007 2:58:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I have fallen head over heels for the whole 'connected home' concept for quite some time and just spent the summer building the mothership.

Mind you, I started the journey before finding the mecca of info over at TGB to help me realize that this was all just a dream so far.

However, I have found that in my working with it I have been able to take advantage of all of the cool toys, without the benefits of ever getting HDTV content saved (ala TIVO) and share it throughout the home.

I chose the PC route as it was easier for a guy like me (a novice in the MCE realm) to afford the components piece by piece, where as the OCUR and the Apple routes are a large investment. You gotta remember, us middle class people want in on the action too. Just one step at a time.

I chose the Vista Ultimate route to maximize my chances of success, and so far it's worked well.

But cross-polinazation of other Microsoft products is just propoderous. OneCare 'closes the door' on my XBox 360 as an extender?? Are you kidding me? I've been to support and the likes, no luck yet. I dropped OneCare (that I paid for) and went to just the standard firewall and AVG for my anti-virus software. Shameful!

I again fall under the 'Wife-Approved' concept and I have been given the green light to maximize this experience in the house. She agreed to the DirecTV route due to the fact that I shared with her the knowledge of DirecTV and Microsoft working together (now 2 years and nothing more than "We can't talk about it, but we're still working out some issues" as seen on TGB forums) and so far no results.

I'm afraid to make an investment and buy the new HD-DVR's from DirecTV as I'm not sure that the support for my configuration is going to be there. Hell, I'm using an ATI card that is not officially supported (ATI PCI HDTV Wonder), but thru the workaround of KRAM got it work for my simple application.

A lot of the discussion here involves some real techy stuff, I think MS needs to remember 'the other guys' as well. Keep it simple. Maybe even reconsider announcements until you are sure the products will fly. The products work, most of the time. Just make sure that everything works the same way. My 360 can't stream teh same media that MCE can?? Seems odd! C'mon MS, your one big happy family. Share the wealth! I cannot stress to you how important the inclusion of Media Extender functionality was to your 360. My wife went nuts when she saw all of the toys! She's a happy camper, until we can't watch our HD content..... Booo!!!

I'm still drooling over talked about products that have seen the light of day. Slideshow just being one of them.

I love the conversation here and this is great to have the direct feedback Charlie! Thanks for being open to discuss this with us!

Continued success guys!

Aaron
Thursday, October 25, 2007 3:57:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Charlie, if you're just trying to figure out the base cost of entry for a connected tv solution why use the Tivo HD, why not go with the Series 2 it's only $99 a box. Knocking $200 off the per room cost further skews for Tivo. I'm not saying that Tivo is better, or that I would prefer it, just trying to understand why you made the $/room comparison in the first place when (as you state) it's not really possible to do an apples to apples comparison.

There are much better ways to measure the value WMC delivers v. a solution like Tivo. For me the major value with WMC (really any PC based solution, but WMC has the prettiest UI) is the flexibility of the platform for users to shape the experience for themselves (although this is much less true with OCUR). The issues I have with platforms like Tivo or Apple, is that we have to embrace their vision for how devices should be used and how they interact. With WMC I don't have to buy your device (like I do with Apple); I can use any device including a competitors (iPod for e.g.) and have it join into my ecosystem. The v1 Zune should have played better in the environment from the beginning, but no one has to buy a Zune because almost* any other device can be integrated.

Of course where this falls apart is with extenders, I really only have one choice of vision there.

* I'm not aware of any device that can't be included, but there probably are one or two
Thursday, October 25, 2007 5:29:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I also yearn to see Media Center approach its potential. The prospect of a truly connected home is enticing.

Many of the issues and suggestions expressed above ring true for me as well. The DirecTV partnership is my particular concern, at the moment, as the increased HD offerings they provide bumped my Media Center back to a number two position in my house. I haven't been floored by the shiny new HR-20 in my living room, but it does what it does rather well. Out of the box it gladly stores HD and SD programming and dynamically switches the output to the original aspect ratio. Its guide is accurate. It also provides weather forecasts and presents caller ID info on my TV (which VMC no longer does). Oh, and did I mention that it'll display photos and play music from networked PCs as well?

If DirecTV's PVRs supported multi-room viewing, I suspect my wife would ask me to liquidate my Media Center. As it is, it has become an overpriced DVD and CD jukebox.

I prefer Media Center's architecture. It's very hard waiting for that future to arrive, though. I'm trying to read Microsoft's investment in 5-page Zune 2 ads as a renewed push into a connected home. Seeing that marketing is encouraging, but I'm still waiting for the "Wow" to start, let alone "The Social". Features should work and integration should *not* be an afterthought.
Kinche
Thursday, October 25, 2007 5:55:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I absolutely *love* this interaction and the feedback. I really had no idea this blog post would generate so much interest. It's getting hard for me to respond to each comment here, but I do want you to know that I'm reading and internalizing each and every piece of feedback -- and forwarding specific, actionable items along to the various teams who have responsibility for those areas.

Keep it coming...
Thursday, October 25, 2007 8:02:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'll throw my hat into the ring here, too. It's a fascinating discussion that is hitting on many great points. A good old fashioned round-table discussion (even if it did start off a bit square).

Being somewhat of an outsider at Microsoft (I've been here 2 months now), I've begun to see how things “work”. The main overarching thing I've learned so far is that Microsoft is big. I mean really big. Not only the number of people here or the size of the user base or the number of projects going at once, but also the ideas and visions. While this can lead to some really cool products like Media Center, it also leads to conflicting goals/plans at times. There is a lot of leap-frogging that goes on here trying to meet customer expectations. Different delivery dates, different priorities, etc. What may be a primary feature in one group is a secondary one in another. While that certainly isn't an excuse, it is an explanation.

Oh, and about that size thing. I had it “easy” with WebGuide. When I wanted to add a feature for streaming and needed some code built into the core app, I just had to look in the mirror to find the developer. Here you might be dealing with 3 other teams with different priorities and time lines. The shear scope of work and consideration that has to go into what appears to be a small change in another group's code is overwhelming at times. You have to decide whether or not to keep a dependency to improve compatibility, or to remove it to ship on your time line. Unfortunately, all of this tends to lead to parallel development efforts that produce similar but incompatible solutions.

I will guarantee you, though, that there are a lot of people here who care about the issues and are trying to fix them. Working in my new group targeting the CEDIA channel has added a unique perspective. We are getting some very direct feedback from installers/customers about their wants and frustrations and are forwarding the info to the correct people in eHome and beyond.

While some might say that I've already begun sipping the cool-aid, it's more that I've become a lot more aware of how things get done here. Hopefully some of the recent org changes will help create a more “unified” vision and I'll certainly do what I can to further this goal.

My $.02…
Thanks.
Doug
Thursday, October 25, 2007 8:20:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Now see, that's what I'm talking about Doug!

Keep your ear to the ground and LISTEN TO US. We may be demanding at times, but we all have the same goals, as you do, at times!

A pure example that you guys have there at MS is Larry Hryb (Major Nelson). That guy is solid gold! He's definitely got a pulse on the community and is so damned interactive around the service! What a novel idea! He takes it back to his team and they tackle it head-on!

It may seem quite fan-boyish, but it's that we want to have a solid product, and if we, the end-users, can help get there, then we should be having our voices heard!

Cheers guys! I think this is very cool!
Thursday, October 25, 2007 8:37:44 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
How about some information FROM MSFT. I know you can’t tell us product releases….but you could tell us some marketing information.

How many people actually use WMC? Usage by country?

What is the biggest user demographic? Male/Female? Age Group? Household income?

So come on….throw us a bone….otherwise we’ll just continue to ramble.

I love that WMC is sorta free/included in the OS. But it makes it a bit hard to make a profit. If it’s hard to make a profit, then how do you determine the investment amount for product development. Perhaps MSFT should make some limited core WMC functionality free, then charge for upgrades like streaming DVD changers, more than 2 tuners, whatever. That gives people the power to vote directly with their pocketbooks. This thread has made it clear the appetite of some of the customer base is WAY larger than MSFT’s desire to invest in product development for WMC.
Thomas Allison
Thursday, October 25, 2007 9:14:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I see both Chris's and Charlie's point of view on this matter. Microsoft has more pieces but is not as integrated as lesser solutions.

Microsoft's message is unclear and the solution takes more tweaking than most consumers are willing to deal with. As a MCSE and an AV hobbyist, I see the issues with the platform within my own setup. The current approach won't work until the message and solutions get sorted out. Here is what needs to get fixed in a hurry before Apple and others expand their offerings.

One Marketplace and credentials that interoperates on all media delivery platforms:

Combine Xbox Live Marketplace and Zune Marketplace Content and do away with Microsoft Points. No need for a different gamer card and Zune card. On login for purchasing and social interaction.

Codecs:

If I buy a media based OS like Vista Home or Ultimate I should get all the codecs I need. Third party apps wouldn't need to install them and break whatever I already have. ALL the major codecs should be in the box and supported throughout the ecosystem. Don't have to worry what is supported on the Zune vs Xbox360 vs V2 extenders.

Digital TV, HD TV and HD-DVD:

A solution must be brought to the table that works for Cable, Sat. and HD Media. Right now there is not a solution that I can plug in to my existing MCE system and have the access to the programming like my Cable DVR, Sat Receiver or HD-DVD player. Instead of relying on third parties to integrate a solution that is costly and will not be adopted, Microsoft needs to brand its own add-on(s) to address the issues like OCUR and Managed Copy. Like Xbox360 does for gaming and Zune is attempting with portable media.

Control:

Where is sideshow? Remote control of the media throughout the home and seamless mobile access is needed to make the dream a reality.

The bottom line is if Microsoft depends on third-parties filling in the gaps and integrating a solution their market share will erode and will open the door to Apple and or Sony.

MrZippy
Thursday, October 25, 2007 10:58:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I can't believe I read this entire thing. Great Discussion. As a media center enthusiast with a wife who is quite computer literate, but really can't fix problems on her own, I just have to chime in. I wonder whether Microsoft views my wife or me as their typical media center customer? Would she have built or bought a media center computer, connected it to our TV, and set it up? Of course not! She'd get a DVR from the cable company. It's up to me. I'm your media center customer. I think each of your media center users (at least the person who set it up) is quite tech savvy.

I started with an MCE2005 dual analog tuner machine I built about 2 years ago for ~$1000. It's in my living room in an HTPC case. 6 months later, I bought an HDTV and added an HD tuner. Later I added a second HD tuner. I love it, but after reading about the new Tivo features at Arstechnica (http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071023-tivo-series-3-and-hd-get-bonus-features-multi-room-viewing.html), it's tempting to go that route.

I figure $300 Tivo HD for the living room with dual cablecards, $300 3-year subscription, $300 for a second Tivo HD for the bedroom (no cablecards, just analog and unencrypted HD since I don't watch much TV there), $250 for a 3-year subscription (a second household subscription is cheaper), and share recordings between the two. I'm out $1150 for 3 years. It would cost $2000 for a cablecard PC + $300 for an extender. If I spent $1150, I'd still have $1150 left with Tivo vs. a dual cablecard PC. That's a lot of money for subscriptions after the initial 3 years are up. Of course a PC has a lot more functionality, but the extender does not.

My ultimate dream of course is to have the PC/tuner farm/media server tucked away somewhere, with extenders and other PCs connecting to that main PC accessing ALL content. That is a true connected home. I don't yet have kids, but I envision they'll have a computer and large monitor in their rooms but no TV. Their computer monitor will be the TV, with their PC connected to the media server to watch TV. Why use an extender when you can just use their PC? Most teenagers have a PC in their room already, or it will be that way in the near future. I'll also need an extender in my living room and bedroom. One of the Mediasmart TVs from HP would be awesome as long as it streams all content.

Things I would like to see done to make this happen:
1. Softsled. Hmmm, a comsumer electronics device (v2 extender) can connect to a media center PC to access content and schedule recordings, but another PC cannot. That makes no sense.
2. VIDEO_TS streaming to extenders (actually stream all types of files, but this one is most important to me). Do what the Tivo can't and let us stream unencrypted DVD streams like home movies. This definitely goes toward the principal of everything working together, and it can't be very difficult to implement. It was said that DVD streaming (from a changer) is not technically difficult, just difficult from a content protection standpoint. So start with something that requires no content protection.
3. Streaming protected content from a DVD changer to PCs/extenders. This would be further down the line. Get #2 working first.
4. Multi-room viewing. I should be able to start watching a program in the living room, pause or stop it, and continue in the bedroom.
5. Unencrypted QAM support. Okay maybe this doesn't fit here, but I'm sick of OTA HD. My wife dusted the other day and bumped the OTA antenna. It pointed a slightly different direction and The Office recording was screwed up. We need QAM now! If it works with an OCUR device with no cablecards installed, there's no reason you shouldn't support it.

That was long, but I feel better now.
Nick
Friday, October 26, 2007 1:13:14 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I would like to weigh in as probably the least technical person following this discussion. I'm a TIVO user who has spent the last 2 years casually investigating the idea of putting together a media center solution. Let me just say that from my perspective, the issues that go into figuring this out border on insanity, and if I can't do it, very few people ever will. Cablecard/OCUR/V2 Extenders/Slideshow... Please make it stop. You need to put together a solution so that someone can buy 1 device, hook it up to their HD TV, and have it work. Of course it should work seamlessly with Xbox and Zune and connect to other PC's in the house. The issue is not the money. The issue is the simplicity. Provide a simple solution, market it so people know what it is, and provide information so people can understand what it is and how to use it. Right now Media Center has NONE of this going for it. When I upgrade to HD it will likely be a TIVO or DIrect TV setup because for the life of me, after all the research I've done, I still can't understand this foreign language of how to put a Media Center system together.
Al nyden
Friday, October 26, 2007 1:20:35 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Nick said:
"4. Multi-room viewing. I should be able to start watching a program in the living room, pause or stop it, and continue in the bedroom."

See, this seems like such a no-brainer. I have been able to do this with my 2 ReplayTV units for 6 years now!!

I was telling my wife about this great deal Office Depot has on a little fan-less VMC box that was too good to replace the kitchen PC, but was good enough to replace the RepayTV in the bedroom. She said fine, until I told her that, without hacks, the 2 MCE boxes could not share their content, and even with the hacks, you would have to go to the "My Videos" section to view the shows on the other box. She said "Deal killer". There is no way she is willing to take a step backwards in features & functionality, especially features she has had for 6 years, to replace the Replays with MCE's. Replays & Tivos are nothing more than dedicated computers. Why should 6 year old technology have better whole-house integration than the latest, greatest Media Center??
Rob
Friday, October 26, 2007 2:07:28 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Great discussion. I never bother reading every single comment, but the passion that everyone has is showing through and through making this thread very compelling to read from start to finish.

I would consider myself to be the "Media Center Power User" in my house simply because no one else has the tech savvy to implement MCE. From everything that has been presented to us it is very apparent that Microsoft has intentionally implemented this current client/server relationship (MCE Extenders/MCE PC). I won't get into the pros & cons of client/server vs a more peer-to-peer (hive-based) architecture, but I will focus on the missing paths of the current architecture.

1) If my MCE PC (server) is powerful enough I should be able to slide in as many tuners as I want be it 1,2,4,6 or more. No restrictions we are dealing with a server machine! And also on that note back when no-one cared about MCE we were the ones who were supporting MCE, now as a power user I can't put in my own CableCard ..

2) Media is media if the server understand the media available, the clients must be intelligent enough to handle the same media. Yes this means if my Wedding DVDs (stored as Video TS) are able to be viewed under the server they should be visible to any client that I add as part of the MCE ecosystem. This is integration.

3) Multiple MCE machines must be able to interact with each other in an intelligent way. If xxx user purchases another MCE machine, both machines should be aware enough to utilize the extra tuners, recording locations, photo paths, etc. that are now available in the ecosystem. (Shared resource pooling).

4) Not an issue but a request for feedback: Consider a 2 PC home (1 for me, 1 for the wife) both are MCE machines. What is the Microsoft solution for both PC's to be aware of each other's content and to share it in a meaningful way. By that I mean if the wife records her TV shows "ABC whatever" then decides to use my PC, they should be available in the TV shows section right? if not what is Microsoft answer to this situation? (this can be applied to more than just TV shows; videos, pictures, etc..)

Other Stuff:

5) If I obtain a video from the xbox marketplace there must be an EASY way to share it across ALL Microsoft products. MCE should be able to use it. Zune should be able to use it. I bought into the Microsoft model; with an Xbox, with a MCE machine, with a Zune, now let me leverage them to MY BENEFIT!

6) How do I share content/Live TV with non-mce machines? I already asked the first question should be how do I share my content with mce machines.

7) Zune library not integrated with the MCE library (aka WMP)?
J Manghera
Friday, October 26, 2007 9:04:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This post on engadgethd is sure in line with our discussion here.


HP's Media Center PC with CableCARD for $1250
http://www.engadgethd.com/2007/10/26/hps-media-center-pc-with-cablecard-for-1250/

We didn't realize this was news, but after we discovered that Sony was selling ATI's CableCARD tuner for $300 by it's lonesome, we realized how few people knew that you could buy a Media Center PC with a CableCARD tuner for less than $3000. We agree that $300 for a CableCARD tuner is out of control ridiculous -- especially compared to a TiVo HD which sells for the same price and has dual CableCARD tuners -- but to go around and pretend like they only work with "expensive" Media Center PCs is ridiculous. Sure it sucks that it costs $300 and that you have to buy it with a OEM like HP or Dell just to get it, but we for one are just glad they are a reality, now if only DirecTV or Dish would make a tuner like this for Media Center.
Thomas Allison
Monday, October 29, 2007 6:36:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I just spent the weekend setting up vista on my in-law's computer, and hooked up their tv to the computer to use the Media Center.

We all use Kodak cameras, which use quicktime (.mov) for video.

But apparently the Media Center is blind to .mov files.

I don't want to use a 3rd party app for this. Will the vista media center have .mov functionality, or are they (and me) pretty much screwed when it comes to watching our home movies on the TV?
Tom E
Monday, October 29, 2007 8:28:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Don't know if you guys are still watching this thread but:
Charlie: Media Center is by far the best thing available!
Chris: I feel your pain!

Everything (portable, 10', extender, touch panel, cel phone, etc.) should play everything. Simple as that.

The "Connected Home" idea is not going away. Wouldn't it be nice if nontechies could use content around the house and in the car effortlessly? Isn't Microsoft uniquely poised to make this happen?

Drivers, codecs and whatever else needs to be in place. Processing power for transcoding should be called upon across the home network on an "as available" basis for gender changes and lower resolution devices. Cable Labs needs to fix their worthless card system or get on with Switched Digital Video. Congress needs to stop being the lap dog of the MPAA and the RIAA. Fair use laws were fine. We need LAN friendly mobility with our content. IMHO they can lock out WAN non-drm tranfers if they want. Microsoft has to get up and running with DirecTV and DISH in HD. All tall orders to be sure...

Openness is why I like Media Center. This all reminds me of the early PC days. Apple owned at first, like they're trying to now, but Microsoft encouraged outside developement and overran them in a big way. TIVO is just the AMIGA of today, eventually doomed to nitch markets and ultimate failure.

I love my VMCs but the other three members of my family never use them. They are the ones that need everything to work with everything if Media Center is going to experience any serious success.
HDTVJunkie
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12:20:11 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Charlie,

this discussion has been a great read - as you can see most people here have invested heavily (in regards to personal amounts) of money on this platform. However, all we hear back from Microsoft regarding the future, is we can't talk about it and share our plans. This isn't good enough when we have faith in your product, and better, less well connected functionality exists.

In my home, we have one media pc, we'd like to have an extender or another media pc in our home gym that we're setting up, but we don't want the noise of an xbox, and well, will extenders ever reach the UK? Probably not.

So, the only way we can be connected is using the Xbox, we don't want a gaming machine, and don't really want to buy a console, as we'd never use it as such.

In order for myself, and probably others, to remain loyal to MCE, we need to know whats planned, and what the anticipated deadlines are for its release, otherwise we may just end up going to Sage, BeyondTV etc... and using their more advanced facilities.

For me, there are 2 real concerns (bearing in mind I'm in the UK):

1) Native DVB-S integration
2) Heterogenous Guides, thereby allowing more than one tuner with different guides...

Just my 2p...
Tony
Tony Park
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 10:32:06 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I think msft has given up on monitoring this thread. If they haven't. then please read this editorial:

http://www.audioholics.com/news/editorials/one-htpc-very-cheap-best-offer
One HTPC... Very Cheap... Best Offer

I'll spoil the punch line. It's a good read.


...
Oh, what's that? You want it to work? Properly? All the time?

Fuggeddaboutit
....
Well I'm done. I won't be baited any longer. Maybe someday Apple will come out with a real HTPC and I'll take another look. It will likely cost $15,000 and only do three things, but it will do those three things exceptionally well.

Thomas Allison
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 11:37:25 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Nope, haven't stopped monitoring -- just been musing how I wrap all of this feedback into a response which...

A) Hopefully demonstrates 'we get it'.
B) Gives you something you can hang your hat on for the future.

I think the first goal is relatively straightforward. The second is much harder given that I can't actually talk about the future.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007 9:14:39 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I would consider myself an enthusiastic Media Center user and I absolutely love the idea behind Media Center. I use a customized Shuttle Barebone connected to a flatscreen LCD to watch TV. I live in Germany and like many people over here I receive TV via Satellite. And that leads me to a really sad part concerning Media Center: In all the years Microsoft did not manage to implement native support for DVB-S and DVB-S2 tv tuner cards. The only way to use Media Center with DVB-S is to simulate a DVB-T tuner card by using a registry hack that Hauppauge offers. I just can't understand that. DVB-S is a very wide spread standard in Europe and every stupid satellite receiver for $20 is able to receive DVB-S. DVB-S2 which is used for HDTV broadcasting ain't supported at all since it uses the H.264 codec which can't be used with LiveTV.
A few months ago I read about rumours that Microsoft was about to develop a huge Media Center update codenamed Fiji which would also address European tv standards. I even applied for beta testing but never received an answer (just like many others I talked to). I have no idea what the status of that is.
Anyway, although I love Media Center I have to give it up. I own a Full-HD tv and of course I'd love to get the full hd experience. There's quite a few hdtv channels in Germany that I just can't watch cause there's no support for DVB-S2. I gave up hope that Microsoft cares about the European market and that there will be any support for DVB-S2 any time soon. It's sad but that's how it is...
Stefan
Thursday, November 1, 2007 5:07:40 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I am living in Canada. I love Media Center and have my DVD's ripped so I can watch them through MyMovies. I rip them in vob format so I can get all menus etc. I would like to be able to play these DVD's through an extender like my 360 but it won't play them now. I also would love to be able to record HD content on VMC or control my HD DVR through media center and then be able to watch it through an extender. Its these types of things that are making the whole experience not quite as good as it can be and I would love to see these issues resolved.

Thanks for this thread.
Cyriel
Thursday, November 1, 2007 9:04:12 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Let me start off by saying that I love Media Center and have been since 2005. I am not a typical PC user, but then I am a firm believer that most Media Center users aren't, I have technical skills like most other users. I am frustrated like many others with the poor "connection" between Microsoft products. I will be buying a new HDTV soon, and will regrettably probably abandon my Media Center rig, as much as I love it, I will be using the cable company DVR, and I will tell you why.

1) Cost
- While there is now support for CableCARDs, even if it is buggy, it will mean buying a new computer, and not build my own. When building my own I can cut down on costs by cutting out unneeded options, but through an OEM it would end up being at least $1,500. I currently live in a Comcast region and HD service costs $7 a month, and HD with DVR costs $12 a month, so for $5 a month I can get dual tuner recording. I am not willing to pay the difference to get video and music streaming, the Xbox 360 dash does that better than Media Center for some reason.

2) Bad Integration
- I sync my Zune with the Zune software, stream MPEG-4 from the Zune software, listen to music with Media Center, where does Media Player come in? The whole reason for the price premium of Media Center is to integrate all your media in one place, but that one place can't play MPEG-4 while my Xbox 360 can. Not to mention that Home Server has no place in this integration.

3) Disregard for Customers
- We have been asking for a software extender for YEARS. I know this is simple, it uses RDP and there is clearly a need for it, but we have been ignored for years. Another place where we have asked and not received is Home Server. Get your act together and have Home Server run Vista Media Center rather than basing it off of Server 2003. This is one area where releasing the product early with too few of features is worse than late.

Basically I guess I am saying I feel let down by Microsoft. I bought into the Media Center platform for years, while waiting for new features while none of it happened. I am sure I am not the only one who will be making the sad migration to cable company hardware in 2008. I will check every now and then to see if I can use any of my Microsoft products together like it should truly be, Zune, Xbox 360, and Media Center all in harmony.
Dan
Friday, November 2, 2007 2:02:37 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Chris,

Please, when you do your response, take in consideration the many questions people are asking about. And provide a answer to those.

1 - Multiple PCs sharing tuners.
2 - Support for overseas (DVB, ISDB).
3 - EPG issues (ant not having the ability of providing your own).
4 - Lack of extenders worldwide (and since theres no way for a PC to act as a Extender, means no extenders overseas, except for the crippled xbox).

Everytime this subjects are brought to MS, the response is the same: Silence or "we are aware off", "we get it". If you want to get a MS employee to stop responding a forum thread, ask about softsled. They vanish.

Just getting it doesnt do any good for your users.

I myself migrated both my MCE machines due to the lack of personalized EPG (xmltv) and lack of mediacenter PC integration. I always considered going back to MCE, but the more I read, the more I get convinced that MS get's it, it just can't deliver. I use MediaPortal now with a server (headless much like a HomeServer) and 4 clients that share content and tuners.

There's a great distance between wanting to innovate and actually doing. And some people are being able to innovate on MS vision faster than MS itself.

Thanks for this thread.
Julio
Saturday, November 3, 2007 1:23:01 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hey all -- another longtime MS Media Center employee here (actually.. I'm the VP that's been running the group for a few years), and I just wanted to say I read the thread and also appreciate the comments. I, like tons of other people around here, peruse a bunch of the forums to make sure we are hearing what people are saying. At risk of sounding like a guy just echoing the same old line, there are a ton of us who work on the team who feel as passionately about this stuff as you do. WE ARE HEARING YOU! I think the thing that's most frustrating for us, though, is that doing this work is just hard and takes a long time. I think you probably got a sense of that from Doug's post. Also, we have tried to "slow down" our pre-announcement of new features. (As an aside -- some of you are frustrated because we announced DirecTV a long time ago and said "hey, maybe better to announce when stuff is here/ready" ...but at the same time many of you are asking us to let you what new features are coming. It's a hard balance for us to strike.

I realize for many of you we will just not be able to go fast enough. I wish that weren't the case -- but whether it is or not, we are hearing the feedback and we do believe in pretty much the same vision you are describing.
I think one of the things that makes us "slower" is that we are working hard to bring the industry along with us. We wopn't be satisfied until we have a wide range of serious extender partners. We won't be satisfied until we have a wide range of bradocast TV standards supprted -- and that means around the world as well as premium content companies. Finally, each time a new group at MS spins up a new product effort (think WHS or Zune), there's a mlutiplying effect on every other group to support it. There's a *lot* of work associated with trying to do things this broadly... and it takes us time. The trade off we face is whether to NOT ship a Zune or NOT ship a WQHS for the 1-2 years of time that would be required to do the other work. However, for *most* customers, there's enough value in having the 'standalone' product that we usually choose to ship and invest the integration time after a first-version is in the market. For you, this is a painful approach, unfortunately. It's good for us to keep hearing your feedback.

in any case, thanks for the discussion and for sticking with us, whether as users or as people interested enough to just be checking us out.
Joe Belfiore
Saturday, November 3, 2007 6:56:13 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I appreciate you sacrificing a few hours of sleep to read this LONG thread and give us a post. Thanks go to Charlie for drawing your attention to this. I’m glad we have your attention, because your leadership will be required to correct these deficiencies.

Let me some up your post; YAWN!

Do you think your post achieves either of Charlie’s Goals?:

A) Hopefully demonstrates 'we get it'.
B) Gives you something you can hang your hat on for the future.

I realize repeating your marketing message is important, but no matter how many times I say, “I can fly, I can fly” I’m still stuck on the ground. I believe we do have your attention, but your post doesn’t demonstrate you get it. My perception is that the community/press is losing faith in MSFT’s ability to DELIVER on its “Connected Entertainment” vision. I can understand your reasoning about version one products not integrating fully, but Media Center, Media Extender, Zune, and XBOX are all past their first-version. Are the integration issues which started this thread are all worked out? I think not. I’ll forgive you for Home Media Server’s lack of fitting in given it’s a version 1.5. They did do an excellent job on what HMS does.

I tried to let Google educate me a bit about your division’s resources. It seems you have some 40+ program mangers and upwards of 600 people? Perhaps many more. You need to focus this huge resource pool and start tightening up the products and their integration. You need a product that I could recommend to my mom and dad, not just my software developer friends.

Why not focus’s MSFT’s $150M investment and deliver some new revenue streams. You have the code base to deliver features that people would pay for: Softsled, DVD changer streaming, codec support, etc. Sell them as a Plus pack or one by one. We want more, and I’m willing to pay for it.

Once you have some revenue, how about spending some money on advertising what is possible in Media Center. CableCard support and Media Center is the only feature that is worth it in Vista. Please get the public aware of what they’ve already bought, or could get by buying a new CableCard PC. I’d suspect more people are aware of AppleTV than Media Center.

Pre-announcement of products: 3-6 months max. I know the DirecTV deal isn’t totally in your control. They’ve been very distracted, but two years? Give me a break. I think it takes less time to build the DirecTV10 satellite.

My impression is the problems with the connected entertainment family are not technical……they’re political or bureaucratic . That’s why your personal involvement and leadership is essential to DELIVERING on your promises.
Thomas Allison
Saturday, November 3, 2007 8:40:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Thomas, a couple of things...

1) I didn't personally bring this thread to Joe's attention, so don't thank me.

2) I could be wrong but I don't think Joe was trying to fulfill my personal goal of responding with 'we get it' or 'the future'.
Sunday, November 4, 2007 6:20:17 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
So Charlie and Joe,

How bout that softsled for Vista? Man, talk about something that would just shut everyone up and get them off your back... something that might address the whole "extender" debaucle and sell tens of thousands of Vista licenses...

What's that? No comment?
Keith
Monday, November 5, 2007 6:43:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I did a blog post on the lack of a softsled a couple of weeks ago, and why it alone keeps me away from Media Center:
http://www.halsteadyorkcompany.com/blog/?p=28

If I was on the Media Center team, I'd put the breaks on *any* new feature and focus instead on integration and extensibility. Deliver a really good user experience across the connected home (even at the expense of cool features), and let the community build out the things they want from there.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007 10:36:48 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I feel that Microsoft was once the innovator oand leader of media center products, but latetly nothing really interesting is happening. Too much BASIC features are missing for non US markets! Too much of recent featurea are US only!
You guys are actually making long time users abandon your otherwise great product.

I really love WMC, but theses missing features keeps me from using it for real:
* DVB-T HDTV (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC)
* DVB-T encrypted channels

Important missing features:
* Support for MPEG-4, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC and AAC in different containers (MP4, MOV, MKV, AVI)
* Support for DV (AVI, DV)

Other missing features:
* DVB-S/DVB-S2
* DVB-C
* Subtitles
* Text
* US only features
* No extenders
Long time user
Wednesday, November 7, 2007 9:00:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Another UK user with DVB-T. I've got a mix of desktops and laptops running xp, xp mce, and various vista flavours. I've got an xbox and xbox360. All these sit on the home lan (a mixture of wired, wifi and powerline). I've also got a series 1 Tivo. About to join this mix is a WHS box.

I consider myself technical and tend to build my own PC's. I've gone with MS technology at home as I want(ed) out-of-the box it just works, needs to be wife/family friendly and I've already got the PCs and Xbox anyway. I mainly use media centre as a PVR for DVB-T in tandem with Tivo for sky satellite, but want to get music, photos, home video, DVDs, podcasts, access to movie trailers, etc, etc all setup and working at some point.

1. MS needs to offer home/family mutiple licenses - this should be really easy to do
To get the latest and fullest media experience I need to upgrade all my PC's to vista either home premium or ultimate - not really sure which to choose and not wanting to miss out I've plumped for ultimate. However I can't buy a multiple home/family user licence (compare with Apple) to cover all my PC's so its really an expensive option here in the UK to upgrade them all. So at present 1 PC is running vista ultimate, but I really want them all to be the same to make my life simple with drivers/updates/remotes. Vista laptop only has home premium because thats all Sony offered on the model I have.

2. Need to support existing kit - some homebrew stuff can largely do this surely the mighty MS can
Now I've gone vista, my original xbox cannot be used as an extender. In truth I don't think mce 2005/xbox extender was ever officially avaialable in the UK. But nevermind that, I can use my xbox360 but like others have said its just too noisy. My solution is to stick XBMC on the original xbox and use that (I've cheated stuck a big drive in it and convert dvr-ms to mpg and ftp it over so its played locally rather than streamed). By the way XBMC has other benefits (divx support amongst others).

3. Non xbox based extenders in the UK (and vista to have inbuilt extender fuctionality)
I Would like to access the media (mostly recorded tv) on the TVs in the bedroom and kitchen. I can't find anything to do this in the UK other than a noisy/ugly xbox360. I even though about a mac mini (as a box sitting in the bedroom it passes the wife test) and bootcamp vista, but as others have said a vista pc can't act as an extender to another vista pc. My rubbish solution is to create a DVD of the paricular program to watch on small form factor DVD player.

Ok thats my top three, but I share many other gripes around DVB-T (EPG, teletext, encrypted channels) and DVB-S (I still can't replace the 6/7 yr old series 1 Tivo) and I haven't even got around to thinking about HD or how I'm going to use and get the most out of WHS.
paul
Thursday, November 8, 2007 9:08:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
This thread is a great thing, and I hope it leads to even better things, but Joe was right. A lot of users are frustrated with the 2yr old DirecTV announcement. And frustrated with the no cable card or DirecTV unless you buy a new system. And frustrated with the 2 useless first gen extenders I have. And frustrated with the beta that never started (that probably means a release is probably still along time off). And on top of that, no news, none. Sure, DirecTV launched they’re new HD stations, but I have no clue when I'll be able to take advantage.
Should I switch to Cable? Should I give up and go with DirecTV's DVR?
Vista was touted feature by feature years ahead of its release. But virtually nothing is known about the next version of MCE? Will a version ever steam DVDs?
MCE isn't going to be a Halo 3 announcement. I'm not going to be drinking MCE Fuel MtDew. I actually almost have to put forth effort to know when a new MCE release is coming and what it will offer. And when I faithfully go to these sites, it's depressing. I'm going to have to retire my current MCE computer. It's fully capable of handling Cable Card or DirecTV, but I can't use it. And my 2 extenders have been useless since I upgraded to Vista. I still don't know when I'll be able to watch SCIFI in HD. Or if it will ever do some of the things I want.
The whitepaper idea is awsome, but how about some kind of official update?
Platup
Sunday, November 11, 2007 3:26:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Microsoft is doing a lot of cool work, I think the theme here is "BRING IT ALL TOGETHER *FOR ME*"!!

1. I think back to the decision to make Media Center an OS flavor instead of a give-away app. Media Center *could* have been the Microsoft version of iTunes...the hub of the digital world. Instead, I have to know Media Center, Media Player, Zune Software, Active sync, Maybe-Plays-for-Sure, etc, not exactly the best customer experience.

2. Rather than a big server "tuner farm", NAS+distributed tuners is the better option, IMO. Two years from now, Draft-N, GbE and 1TB SATA drives will be commodity components. I use a 4 drive NAS today and it's been up a running without reboot for over a year. It's whisper quiet and uses < 50W of power. Compare that to a home server with a > 500W power supply, a bunch of power hungry PCIe cards running Windows, getting patched, updated, upgraded and rebooted week after week after week...How about having a Media Server NAS (maybe 10GbE) that runs an intelligent scheduler that can turn nodes on and off on the network, schedule recordings across available tuners, and stream content to lightweight extenders or other Media Center apps on the network.
Tim C
Wednesday, November 14, 2007 8:44:09 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I really do hate to continually beat the dead horse here, but Charlie, bless your little heart...

You and your MS PR-speak cronies have ZERO credibility talking about ANYTHING MS is doing for the benefit of the consumer until you address softsled and its arbitrary exclusion from Vista. There is no reason for it, beyond pushing your own concept of a ridiculously tightly controlled media distribution network and imposing that on someone despite the hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars they've fruitlessly invested in your technologies based on unfulfilled promises. Until you've achieved the necessary competence/authority to speak about softsled, please... PLEASE... stop spoon feeding us this drivel about the extender platform. It's just pathetic at this point.
Keith
Monday, November 19, 2007 3:43:40 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I'm new to Media Center I have only started using it since I got Vista Ultimate at home. I am technical however and have worked in I.T. for 11 years or so now. I am in the UK and as yet have not even got in to the TV side of things in Media Center. However I have been looking at the other areas and my experience has been frustrating to say the least. The main bug bare for me is the incompatibility and extensibility issues between the various MS products that are meant to make up the entire ecosystem.

Microsoft do make good products separately but most MS products do not work well together.
VMC, XBOX 360, V2 Extenders, ZUNE, WHS all seem to not link in together easily to create this dream ecosystem. They are fragmented with big gaps in between.

Codec issues are one of the biggest problems for myself, For example:

I can stream MP4 movies to the XBOX 360 dashboard but not in the Media Center UI on the MCX. Why not?
I can stream MP4 movies to the XBOX 360 dashboard only if I use the Zune software for media sharing but not with WMP11 even with the registry hacks to enable WMP11 to see MP4 files.
I have to have two media libraries one in WMP11 and one in Zune.
I have to transcode most things in to WMV to play on the XBOX 360 or Zune.
I cannot stream DVD's natively to extenders but if I convert the VOB's to DVR-MS files I can play on them on the XBOX 360 extender but I cannot play these same DVR-MS files on the Zune because it won't transcode them to WMV as they contain Dolby Digital audio. WTF!

The list goes on and on. There is no way on earth normal average users can figure all this out nor would they want to spend the time doing so. Until all these products work together and all the incompatibility issues are resolve VMC will never go main stream sorry its just not going to happen! And the longer MS takes to get their act together the competition will have beaten you to it!

How people who have been using Media Center from the start have stuck with it all these years with all the promises and things that have not been developed or released I will never know, I have been using it for 6 months and already I am totally frustrated and tired of all the integration problems.

Some things I would like to see in the near future before I get bored of MCE:

1. Support all video formats and codecs on all products. We don't want to use WMV or WMA !!!
2. Soft Sled for Vista / XP clients
3. Windows Sideshow media center gadgets released and support for Windows Mobile so you can make your own sideshow remote controls and touch panels.
4. Distributed Whole home audio like Sonos
5. Lower priced V2 Extenders and to be able to buy them in the UK.
6. Zune to be available in the UK.
7. One marketplace for Zune and XBOX Live.
8. DIVX Support on XBOX and Zune the PS3 is getting DIVX!
9. Access from outside of LAN from mobile phone or PDA aka Web Guide built in.
10. Advertising and marketing of Media Center to the masses.

Stuart
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