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Microsoft One-On-One

Windows Media Center

Image via Wikipedia

I had an appointment today and was able to get some one-on-one time with Microsoft.  Here is what was covered by topic along with my take.  Thanks to my friend Dana for asking some great questions as well.

Digital Cable: Digital cable is coming to everyone!  Everyone that can handle it that is.  Microsoft will be releasing a small application that will asses the ability of your PC to handle digital cable.  If your PC passes the test then it will be enable to use digital cable (aka cable card) tuners.  The application has not been shown publicly yet so we do not know what it will look like.  It could be an application that you download and run or it could just show up as a tile within Media Center and is run with a Media Center UI.  You will not be able to add the digital cable tuners to Windows 7 until that application is released.  The tuners also need to have the update firmware.

SDV Tuning Adapter support is coming and will require Windows 7 (sorry Vista users) and a firmware update to the ATI Digital Cable tuners.  Windows 7 is required because of the some of the under the hood work that had to be done to enable tuning adapter support.  The firmware update will hopefully be out in the next two weeks but we may have to wait longer for tuning adapter support.  I did not get 100% confirmation but it does not look like the Windows 7 bits that enable tuning adapter support are in the Release Candidate.

My Take: This is a great development.  This and the SDV support really turns Media Center into a true DVR alternative to your cable company DVR.  We have no official date as to when everything will be released but October 22nd would not be a bad speculative guess.

Extenders: I asked about the future of extenders and if there was a roadmap for extenders.  There was no official comment on a roadmap for extenders or about any new products. 

My Take: The Media Center booth was setup with Xbox 360 extenders all over the place.  The message being sent at CEDIA was that Media Center works best with a PC at the center and extenders in the different home zones.  I definitely came away with a feeling that extenders will still be a big part of the ecosystem but I have no idea what that will look like.  After the big update to Digital Cable I could see the extenders becoming one of the next big updates, but not for at least another year.  Get use to the Xbox 360.

TV on the PC: The “TV on PC” message was nowhere to be seen which makes sense since the primary audience at CEDIA are custom installers.  The message has not gone away and you will see it going forward.

My Take:  I never saw “TV on PC” as a doom and gloom for Media Center.  I have always seen this push as just another gateway to get people into Media Center.  Once people start using Media Center on their PC they will start asking how they can start watching that content on the big screen.  After talking with Microsoft about this it seems as if this was always the intention.  The question about streaming media services (Hulu, Netflix, etc) is part of a different conversation.

Integration:  I had a lot of you that wanted to know about integration with the Zune HD.  Microsoft did not announce anything, they did not show anything and they had nothing more to add.

My Take:  Even though Microsoft had nothing to say officially on this it was implied that the move of the Zune teams, Media Center teams and Xbox teams under one roof was not done without forethought.  I came away with the impression that Microsoft knows that we want deeper Zune integration and Zune Marketplace integration within Media Center.  I also believe that a lot of work has been put into Windows 7 to lay the ground work and foundation for this integration in the future.  When?  I really do not know, but I would be surprised if this did not happen in the next 12 months.

WebGuide: No word from Microsoft on the official existence of WebGuide or a future release.  I was told that some of the functionality of WebGuide, such as media streaming, had found their way into Windows 7 in different ways.  I was also alerted to the presence of Doug Berrett (the original author of WebGuide).

My Take:  It’s coming.  I am just tired of waiting.  At this point every other DVR can do it so Media Center needs this back ASAP.

Getting the Word Out:  It seems to me that Microsoft feels they have a version of Media Center that really can be pushed beyond the custom installers and enthusiasts to a more mass consumer market.  I naturally asked about an advertising push and Dana asked about the presence of Media Center in the upcoming Microsoft stores.  No comment from Microsoft.

My Take:  The CEDIA booth would be perfect in the Microsoft stores.  It really showcased how Media Center could be integrated into your home and how a single Media Center PC can push HD to multiple extenders.  I would be surprised to not see something similar in the upcoming stores.  I wouldn’t hold my breath for TV advertising.

Well that’s all for now.  Look for pictures and video tomorrow.

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