HTPC, MCE, Microsoft, Windows MCE

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.