Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Media Boys Toy

As a rule I’m technologically agnostic. I don’t give in to the religious wars that wage through the IT Industry. Java vs PHP vs dot Net, Oracle vs SQL Server vs MySQL, Unix vs Linux, vs Apple, its all the same to me. I look for the best tool, or the one already owned by the company I work for, and leverage it to hell and back. I don’t even hate Microsoft, which seems to be a pre-requisite to earn an Internet Scouts Badge.

But neither do I favour it (I spent a lot of time consulting over in Seattle with dear MS, and its hard to hate a company that’s so earnestly incompetent), so I find myself in the odd position of recommending some of its products. I first looked at a Beta release of Microsoft Media PC OS prior to its first release. It really just wasn’t there, I couldn’t see the value to it as a consumer (though the value to Microsoft in extending its monopoly is crystal clear). Recently I saw the most updated release, then an Alpha version of Media based on the new Vista operating system.

Microsoft has done it again. They always come out with almost barely usable software, then they pour more money into its further development, actually listening to the murmurs of the internetigencia. Though I may wait for the new Vista drop early next year, I will be getting one for our home. Don’t know which one yet, what’s really exciting is the way the hardware manufacturers are coming out with wildly different versions.

So, what have they done? Basically put a digital TV tuner (or satellite in some hardware I’ve seen) in the same box as a network port (preferably two tuners), then layered a user interface that can operate easily with (what Microsoft cutely calls) the 10 foot UI. Underneath you have all the normal Windows capability, but its hidden and reconfigured. Throw in a DVD burner and it’s a mouth watering package.

For those who know Tivo or Sky+ it has all those capabilities. Using an internet connection it pulls down the TV listings from the web (depending on the hardware digital TV tuner, it can also pull this from the airwaves). You can then browse the listings and choose what you want to watch or record with a few remote clicks. The limitations of the Sky+ box are that you can’t upgrade the hard disk for more space. Remember, this is a standard PC, you can push in as much memory as you want. Plus, with a DVD burner, you can strip off as much as you want onto a nice hard portable media.

Then, mix in a web browser that works with the 10’UI (remember, the cute name for a standard remote control). It means companies such as mine have to provide a modified version of websites with easier navigation, but we will, as will all the big providers. So you can now browse the net and watch TV simultaneously.

Oh… but it’s a PC remember? That means its also a full media device. So, you can store all your MP3s or ripped CDs. Now you can watch TV, surf the web and listen to your favs (so long as you hook the PC to your stereo, make sure you buy one with a quality sound card).

Then, and here’s the really fun bit, do you have an Xbox in the house? Make sure its on the same wired or wireless network as the media PC, and guess what? It can use all the Media PC functions remotely (without taking over, the media PC can still operate independently). So the kids in the other room with the Xbox can watch any recorded shows, or play any MP3s.

Impressed yet? Well, for the final time, remember it’s a PC still. Hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse, click a switch and it turns back to a regular PC, so you can do email, do work, whatever you want all on the normal TV screen (though I’d recommend a high def flat screen monitor), and still listen to your music and have a small window with the TV on. Serious work damaging stuff, and the price point is not much more than a good PVR for the basic versions.

In another post I’ll go into the advantages of the new Vista operating system, but trust me that again Microsoft has done a lot right (I’ll also trash the new Microsoft Office version, oh how they’ve got that wrong). Of course, any Media PC bought now will be upgradeable to the new version, its just a PC remember. So, convergence is finally upon us, and dear old Microsoft has got a market buster again.


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