I guess you could say 'I'm back' with this post. Of course, I've probably chosen one of the most polarizing and passionate issues I've every seen in the community. Hopefully this helps put some context around the various discussions and helps you see we take great care to deliver the right features at the right time. Some caveats are in order to set your expectations accordingly...

  • I set out to independently look at this feature from a historical perspective only.
  • I did not consider personal content and focused solely on commercial content. I recognize the desire to account for personal content -- but also see numerous solutions to get that content into a form which can be consumed by our feature for personal content (the Video Library). Largely, I think personal content is worthy of a separate discussion.
  • I do not work on any of the following features: DVD playback, Movies Library, Media Center Extender. Nor am I involved with television / movie partnerships directly. As owner of platform for Windows Media Center I interact with just about every consumer and partner of the Media Center team in some form or fashion -- suffice it to say I don't drive any specific partnerships directly.
  • I can certainly advocate a particular direction on behalf of the community but have zero ownership of any areas which can actually cause this feature to be implemented. As always, I make it a point to direct feature owners to the community for feedback -- so be sure to leave a comment here or at thegreenbutton.com.
  • I made a conscious effort to NOT consult with the aforementioned teams while looking into the issues surrounding this feature request. I set out on this endeavour for a fresh, independent view and analysis of the issues to either (a) advocate strongly on behalf of the community we should implement this feature at some point and / or (b) give the community some deeper understanding of why we haven't.

This post should NOT be interpreted in any way, shape or form as insight or guidance on future features in Windows Media Center.

So, here is my take on a DVD streaming feature in no particular order...

1) The usage models for television and movie content is very different from music.

We are talking about 1+ hour audio and video content vs. 3 minutes aural only. It's common for end users to multitask with music but not with television or movies. For television and movies the end user is a captive audience. It's a stretch to say consumers are really clamoring for this capability since in reality they don't switch out discs often enough or consume nearly as much television / movie content in one stretch.

2) Sneakernet is good enough.

From a whole home audio / visual perspective it's a great feature to consider when bringing every scrap of content I have into a single user interface. The reality is we probably aren't solving even a small problem for the broad consumer market -- sneakernet is still awfully convenient for this class of content. There might be a tipping point for this content (as there was for ripped CDs) from the perspective of storage space + tools but I don't think it's happened yet (and you could argue it might not happen).

3) It's pretty rare we choose to build new features for a shrinking market.

"The home video market peaked in 2004 and has declined every year since." See http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/homeentertainment/la-fi-dvd16-2008jun16,0,1267133.story for more information. Note: There is probably an uptick in this market due to BluRay releases -- how much of an upswing is still to be determined. Think about this: The DVD format was released in March 1997 -- if we had wanted to hit the market BEFORE its apex with this feature it would have had to be in the very first version (2002) and certainly no later than the second version (2003).

4) It's a niche market.

It's interesting to note none of the big players (HP, Dell, Sony, Toshiba) offer any sort of DVD library software built for Media Center today (they have in the past) while the smaller OEMs (like Niveus) have done so -- this suggests the market for this feature is indeed niche. You can certainly argue the big guys are completely clueless. I'd reply it's hard to be a market leader and be completely clueless.

5) There are more important destinations on the roadmap.

There are more features than just television and movie playback. The idea of DVD streaming has been on the list of potential features for a very long time -- and the collective wisdom of the entire team has always prioritized it lower than any feature you currently see in the product. It's not as though we've completely ignored the feature or don't get the value proposition. Rather, we've collectively seen more value in other features.

6) Standard definition DVD is not the last removable media format for television / movie content.

HD-Audio and SACD crashed and burned fairly quickly because audio CDs were viewed as good enough for the regular consumer -- as was their lower fidelity MP3 cousins (and hence the rise of Napster, iTunes and others). BluRay could be the final removable media for television shows and movies -- only time will tell. The success of CD ripping and putting together a library of tracks was in part due to the fact there wasn't a significantly better product on the horizon. The market conditions do not yet exist for television and movie shiny discs -- most people can clearly see a benefit between SD and HD video content. Finally, the tipping point of storage + tools for BluRay is farther away than standard definition DVDs.

7) There are differences of opinion on what constitutes DVD streaming.

Is it the entire DVD (including interactivity) or just the long form show or movie? What about the short form content (Making Of)...? Interactive features can prove troublesome to implement in the 'streaming DVD' concept for standard definition DVDs -- and even more so for BluRay discs. There hasn't yet been a clear winner for this definition.

8) There are (significant) legal issues to overcome.

These have been discussed ad nauseum -- MPAA, DMCA, Copyright, Fair Use, etc. Suffice it to say this part of the problem is very complex and costly to resolve -- and an intertwining of stakeholders few consumers grasp.

9) There are (significant) business model issues to resolve.

In a nutshell, we must attempt to please both the content owners and the content consumers. Content owners don't want to give up their current business model until a better one is firmly established. Note the content owners specifically do NOT want a replacement business model, and would rather it be in addition to the current business model. Content consumers could care less about the content owners business model because the overwhelming majority do not realize any direct financial gain from that business model. Rock | Microsoft | Hard Place.

10) In time this is almost surely going to become a moot point.

The online subscription and purchase models (examples: Netflix, Zune Pass, iTunes) will continue to get richer over time -- note the Netflix via XBox Live announcement a few days ago as further proof. If the goal is to have access to every movie or television show made imagine if you will a time when you can pay $X per month with unlimited access to the content. Your guess is as good as mine when this will happen -- I'd say somewhere under 20 years -- and probably sooner, if the music space is any indication of how quickly the playing field can change.

11) The previous incarnation of a DVD library didn't sell.

I'm speaking of the DVD changer -- there were a precious few early adopters who gobbled these up but the reality is it hasn't been overly successful. The cause for DVD streaming could have been helped had there been overwhelming demand for these devices. I'll concede this was not what the community wanted which is why it didn't sell.

12) There is no pre-existing infrastructure on which to build.

The reality is there are many Media Center features built on top of work done by other teams here at Microsoft. For example: the music features leverage a ton of infrastructure built by the Windows Media Player team. It's much easier to deliver features when a good chunk of the work is already done before you start your investments.

13) This is an area where the OEMs can elect to differentiate.

I'm not sure anyone can prove a ripped DVD library is anywhere close to mainstream. (And yes, you can point out someone said the same thing about the whole iTunes + iPod model). Typically, Microsoft does not invest in a feature until it becomes mainstream. (Yes, there are pros and cons, and a few exceptions -- note I'm not making a value judgement on the wisdom of this approach here.) This is definitely an area where OEMs (both big and small) can provide differentiation between each other given the niche market. Generally speaking, it's a healthy thing to allow OEMs to innovate.

In summary... well, that's really up to you. I've tried mostly to present facts and want to leave the conclusion up to you. I do have some questions which might stimulate your thinking in this area:

• What do you think is the largest factor? What about the smallest factor?
• What reasons would you give in support of a DVD streaming feature?
• What do you think about the lack of technical hurdles?
• Is there anything you think I've missed as a blocker?

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [25] | # | Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 11:57:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   
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