When will this media center thing catch on?

Friday bonus video. Bill Gates from CES 2005 on YouTube.

Okay, so everybody and your grand mother still have no media center at home. Where are they? By now, all of us should own such a magic box. With music, images, movies, broadband and TV in a nice simple interface where everything is available at the touch of a button.

True media centers are still something for the people that are way above average when it comes to interests and knowledge about computers. I have already published my recipe for when gadgets break through. Let’s have a reality check on media centers:

Engineers – is it possible?
-Yes. There are nice boxes out there that offers fantastic capabilities of handling media.

Marketers – have you done your job?
– Partly yes. Microsoft have launched Media Center Edition and done quite a bit of marketing. However, I find most of the marketing pretty lousy. Too much focus on features. They should have focused on the story. What will happen in your home? And, the most important people of them all, the sales people in the shops have no clue. Absolutely no clue.

Economists – is it cheap enough?
– No. Not at all. We need a proper, noiseless, nice looking media center for under $500,- Right now a proper media center is at least $1000,-

Usability – is it easy to use?
Yes. And a huge NO! When it works it is easy to use. As long as it is running I can give the remote of our media center to whomever visiting our living room. No problem. They find music, videos, images, recorded shows, the electronic program guide, the broadband services and the TV channels. It is in fact much easier to use than a traditional setup with separate boxes for DVD, CD, TV and radio. When I have people visiting and they have a look at the media center in our living room just about everyone instantly asks for price and availability.

Trouble is that there are still two major problems with media centers (in addition to price):
1. Setting it up
2. Keeping it running

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference where we put up a digital living room to show people some of the possibilities. We had the most modern and state of the art components you could imagine. A new media center, an HD capable LCD screen and a multi channel amplifier with 6 speakers.

Getting image and sound from the media center was pretty easy. Setting up the TV channels and program guide was as usual a pain. But, getting the image completely right with 1:1 pixel mapping and the audio in six channels was nearly impossible. With my degree in engineering, huge amounts of experience with media centers and several very clever people around me we did not manage to get proper multichannel sound and a perfect HD image out of the media center.

No offense when it comes to your grand mother, but she’ll have to wait a second before this is possible to use for normal people.

I know that a media center is more complex than a regular DVD player, but the vendors need to work on this. Media centers will not be something for the masses before you can buy it (for under $500,-), take it home and connect audio to your amplifier and video to your screen, turn it on, do some simple setup stuff and then use it happily ever after.

And eventually that will happen. “I want one of these, where can I get it?” is the mantra at home when I show people our digital home. No doubt about it, people want the functionality. When you get used to it it is very difficult to imagine a living room full of several different boxes, different remotes and shelves full of plastic containing digital media. Digital media deserves to live a life on hard drives and in the network.

…and by the way, you find more about Bill Gates and stuff going wrong during presentations over at “Nobody’s perect (redux)” on Presentation Zen.

When will this media center thing catch on?

6 thoughts on “When will this media center thing catch on?

  1. Apple has done pretty good at all of the above. Maybe this will change when “iTV” is released this spring?

    It may have fewer capabilities than the windows media centers, at least in the beginning, but I am pretty sure that it will be reasonably priced, easy to set up, and easy to use..

  2. Before I start I must tell you that I don’t have any experience with HTPC in the livingroom. Some might just shake their heads – not because I don’t have HTPC in my livingroom – when the read this. – This guy don’t have a clue!

    Anyway! Here is my tips on how you should/could go forward in the “process” of getting yourself a HTPC.

    1) Get information on what it takes to get HTPC up en running?
    (http://www.eirikso.com/2006/03/14/recommended-htpc-hardware/)
    2) What is there to chose? Anyone having experience with it?
    (http://eirikso.com/2005/10/25/the-media-center-software-list/)

    In addition to point 1 & 2 above, get as much information from computer stores or read everything you possible can find about different solution.

    3) Describe your own needs. You “gotta” start somewhere!

    Some facts – based on my own experiences – that put HTPC in a perspective:

    You – obviously – need a pc. But does it need to be the designer product that matches your livingroom interior? See this nice solution:
    (http://www.eirikso.com/2005/02/06/how-to-build-a-cabinet-for-your-htpc/)

    Don’t get carried away with “smart” solutions, like d-link etc. Keep your feet on the livingroom floor and your credit card close to your chest!
    Get a staus of what you already have – Whats missing? Whats the system requirements of the components that is needed. Just look at the requirements for this tv-card from Hauppauge:

    -Processor requirements: Pentium® IV processor 1.2GHz or faster for TV pause with full screen playback.
    -Windows®XP Media Center Edition 2005, WindowsXP Home or WindowsXP Professional
    Note: when using the WinTV-PVR-500 MCE with WindowsXP, you need a third party TV application such as SageTV or BeyondTV
    -Free PCI slot
    -Sound card
    -VGA card (PCI or AGP) with Media Center 2005 certified driver
    -DVD decoder certified for use with Media Center 2005

    If your computer don’t handle this, you just might need to buy yourself a new pc anyway.

    “Creating” your own HTPC get you to think of your own needs, for example:
    – Do I need a larger harddisc?
    – Does it meet my demands for fantastic sound? Should a buy that soundcard instead?
    – Do I put my money in a more advanced graphic card?

    You need some skills in installing components – but belive me it’s not that hard! But you can use the components i other (new) pc’s as well. Or you can upgrade the one you have!

    Hopefully someone will take their time to add more comments or their own experiences to this article! By reading this and going through this sites informative articles you are on your way to beating your grand mother in the race for HTPC?

    Good luck to you all!!

  3. atle b says:

    I have to agree with the first comment above – I think Apple and the iTV with Frontrow interface will be the first step towards a “mass market” converged device. They get the mass-media attention for their releases, and they have expanded distribution into the traditional retailers (Elkjøp et.al) and they have a fan base more interested in sound and video than the average PC users.

    As for MS: the natural next step is creating a better bundle for Vista versions, like the one ATI is supposedly working on. It is still to much “make it” as opposed to “use it”.

    Biggest question is perhaps “do we need it” – or is it simply the lack of proper dvr (TivVo…) in many markets (Norway springs to mind ;D) that makes a full media center seem like a good idea?

  4. Unfortunately, download and streaming have to become better before I can say that I really don’t need my traditional TV channels at all. So, the Apple approach is not something that I can use before they include a proper DVR.

    However, Mr. Jobs thinks that we’ll eventually be able to cover all our content needs through his iTunes Store.

    And, sorry mac. I don’t buy content that is crippled with stupid DRM systems that control how I will be able to use it.

  5. I haven’t checked the full specs for “iTV” yet, and if it lacks TV support and DVR functionality, I agree that this is a serious drawback that will keep “iTV” from becoming a serious competitor for the full-blown alternatives for quite some time yet.

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