Why Consumers Are Now Ready for Windows Media Center

Way back in 1999, two tech startups introduced the first direct to consumer Digital Video Recorders. Both Tivo and ReplayTV introduced into the retail channels their first generation of DVRs. These two DVRs had plenty in common, but also had their own take on how to get their products and services into the mass market.

Tivo

Tivo supplied an inexpensive DVR into the retail channel. However, the DVR could not be operated without their Monthly, or later, Lifetime TV Guide services for $9.99/mo or $200 for lifetime.

ReplayTV

ReplayTV supplied a more premium product into the retail channel, however their products were priced 3-4x higher than Tivo, however it did include the necessary program guide for no added fee.

Both the Tivo and ReplayTV were both limited to recording only one standard definition program at a time. The program guide was updated and collected nightly via your home phone line. Both products could be configured to work with coax (free) cable television, or could be connected to a premium cable box or satellite box to access premium content such as HBO, Showtime and other pay channels.

During initial installation, the user would select which antenna, cable or satellite service they were using and that specific guide would be downloaded to their boxes.

Dish Network licensed technology from Microsoft to bring DVR capabilities to their customers. Built into the satellite box, users of Dish had the added convenience of having one less piece of hardware to place beside their television.

Being designed by Microsoft, the Dish DVR also brought basic web browsing features to the family television.

In Europe, the current satellite television providers provided “plus” (+) boxes which included the satellite tuner plus hard disk for time shifting content.

While these products were all available in 1999 or early 2000, these products were still very much a niche product and while people had had Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs) for years now, the mass public still did not know what a DVR was, nor did they even understand how a DVR could actually enhance their television viewing experience.

Usage

People who owned a DVR loved their DVR and most homes had more than one – in many cases people had 3, 4 or even 6 DVRs in their homes.

Since the first DVRs could only record one show at a time, people started stacking their DVRs up under their televisions and soon people went from having one cable box per television to having 3 DVRs and 3 cable boxes per television!

As you can imagine, the cable companies loved this scenario, because they were now making more in monthly box fees than ever before. Homes went from paying $30 per month for cable boxes to paying $100. In those days, you also subscribed for premium channels on a per box fee, not a per household fee.

Just 2 years later, in 2001, second generation products were hitting store shelves. These products allowed for watching one live show and recording one show at a time.

ReplayTV added a networking feature which allowed multiple Replay TVs in a home share previously recorded content on one ReplayTV and watch it on anther ReplayTV on the same network.

Soon TiVo would add similar features as well add more features unique to TiVo where they would recommend and record shows for you based on your existing recording habits. This didn’t always work very well and if you happened to record the Golden Girls one time, it would seem that your TiVo now thought you were a “chic” and record all shows that aired for “chics.”

Today that wouldn’t be big problem, but back then, if you could only record one show at a time and your DVR could only hold 10, 20 or later, 30 hours of television, this feature had its haters.

What else did these early DVRs do?

Well, ReplayTV was the first to allow “streaming” shows recorded on one ReplayTV device and play them on another ReplayTV device in the home, but ReplayTV was also the first (and only?) DVR company to allow users to SHARE recorded programs over the internet to other friends and family who also owned a ReplayTV! By linking two or more ReplayTV units with a secret code, all future recordings from one ReplayTV could be sent/received by another ReplayTV.

Sharing recordings was a two-step process. First the user had to share the program and secondly, the receiver would have to accept the show before it would begin transferring. While this was a little cumbersome, it was a unique and amazing way to share shows with family and friends – remember, only one show could be recorded at time. J

All of these program sharing features have since been removed from all modern DVRs because of costly litigation from the content owners (network television, mpaa, etc).

Enter Windows Media Center

Microsoft, who already had several DVR products and technologies in various states of release and or development brought a new and unique product to market with it’s OEM hardware partners – Enter Windows XP Media Center Edition – yes, XP!

In 2001, Microsoft brought the DVR to the home PC however there a couple differences between the Microsoft offering and the consumer products that were already in the market.

Whereas the products from TiVo, ReplayTV, Dish, etc all included one or more dedicated analog tv tuner(s) paired with dedicated MPEG-2 (some proprietary) encoders to quickly convert the analog television signal into a digital MPEG-2 file that could be stored and replayed, the solutions for Windows XP Media Center were a mixed bag of mostly cheap analog tuners without the hardware MPEG-2 encoders. Because these early “Media Center PCs” sold by Hewlett Packard, Dell, Gateway and others didn’t have the dedicated horsepower like the DVRs did these Media Center PCs weren’t able to consistently record programs in full quality. Many recordings had ships or blocky images, audio distortion or simply didn’t complete a single recording to the end of the airing show – but there was promise in this fledgling system….

Enter the Media Center Extender…

Another very notable difference was that Windows Media Center supported a mode called an “Extender” where a “dumb” set top box, could extend the Media Center interface to the living room, bedroom or other televisions throughout the home.

These Media Center Extenders as the name suggests, would extend your copy/installation of Windows Media Center on your PC to multiple televisions in your home. Every networked Extender when turned on, would connect to the Windows Media Center PC and actually be run on the PC as a separate user.

This distinction of the Extender running the software on your WMC PC and not on the extender itself, allowed Microsoft to circumvent future legal issue that plagued, hindered and eventually would put many DVR companies out of business.

Computers Get Faster

Over the years to follow, computers would get faster and better able to multitask. Hard disk drives would become faster and the link between the CPU and the HDD would become faster too, allowing for many-multiple shows to be recorded at once.

TV Tuners with dedicated MPEG-2 encoders would be released, although costly, many of these cards cost $200 and came with 2 standard definition tuners. Thus a home Media Center PC could record 2, 4 or even 6 shows at one time!

But just because it could be done, doesn’t mean that it was easy to build the computer, configure the software and once working, Windows Media Center required a lot of maintenance to keep it operating smoothly.

New versions of Windows Media Center

With Windows Vista, Microsoft was ready to unbundle Media Center from a dedicated product sold by OEMS and package this software and interface into the more premium versions of Widows Vista.

Windows Media Center would get enhanced and upgraded over the years with support for 16:9 widescreen televisions, support for recording premium cable content with the use of CableLabs certified CableCards provided by the local cable companies.

All was not rosy

While anyone could configure their Pro or Ultimate versions of Windows Vista or later Windows 7 to work with standard definition television tuners; premium (pay) channels still require that a user have a dedicated cable box for each tuner on their Media Center PC.

Another problem for Windows Media Center’s central hub was that people didn’t have computers in their living rooms where they had their Cable TV coming into their home. Home also didn’t have wired networks and wifi networks were too slow and too unreliable to transmit video.

Now, HDTV is transmitted through the cable service already in MPEG-2 format in 720p and 1080i standards. Windows Media Center computers no longer need to convert the video signal into MPEG-2 formats and allows for much more reliable recording and trouble free use.

For me personally, I switched from having a dedicated Media Center PC to combining my main PC and Media Center PC into one. That’s less overall cost for the system and one PC uses less electricity than 2 computers, and much less electricity than 2, 3 or 4 DVRs from the cable company.

Fast forward to today

Before all these latest advancements, even a geek like me couldn’t rely on using one computer to do it all and was much easier to have two machines.

Many households are getting their internet connection from the Cable company so they now have a cable going to their computer – in addition to their TVs. The same cable that feeds your internet, also can be your one cable to supply your home with all your television. Most homes top out at 12, others have more.

The “main” computer isn’t used every day or even ever week. People are using their mobile devices and phones on their sofa, bedroom, etc.

Fast wireless networks are the norm in many households and many homes now either have a wired Ethernet connection to various rooms in their home.

While not every television in the home has a DVD or Blu-ray player, every television is connected to a cable box and/or Cable Company provided DVR. Our need for having premium content on each of our televisions, or rather, the requirement set by the Cable companies to have a “box” on every television, keeps us tethered and paying premium prices for services we may or may not be using on a daily basis.

The Best features of your Leased DVR and none of the annoying or bad stuff

  • No advertisements: there are NO ADS in the program guide and there are no ads when switching channels
  • Remove annoying unused channels: Only have Media Center expose the channels you subscribe to and/or use in the program guide
  • Watch recorded shows on any television connected to an Xbox 360 – regardless of where you recorded it
  • Stream your home videos or play photo slideshows on your TV without having to transfer them to your tv
  • If you have a DVD or Blu-ray movie collection, you can add on 3rd party Media Center apps to allow you to stream those movies anywhere in your home – without leaving Media Center
  • 3rd party apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows 8 and Windows Phone that allows you to remotely record shows when you are away from home
  • More

Xbox 360 Media Center Extender

Over 25 million Xbox 360s sold in the USA – over 78 million worldwide.

With so many homes already owning an Xbox 360 and many of those homes already owning a Windows PC, there are a lot of people who could quickly and easily switch from their Cable TV monthly rentals to a single much less expensive CableCard rental. Each CableCard supports up to 6 simultaneous channels recording or playing back at once and combining 2 of these cards can give you a total of 12 shared simultaneous channels shared on ALL your televisions.

The Xbox 360 is also the first game console with support for the most popular HD streaming services from Netflix, Amazon, Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, ESPN, Hulu Plus, ESPN, Vudu, CinemaNow, HBO Go and many more. There is also the Microsoft Xbox Video service which allows you to rent or purchase 1080p movies – before many are available for sale on Blu-ray!

With all these services available on the Xbox 360 as well as it being able to play all your DVDs, the Xbox can become the one and only device next to or under your television.

The latest Xbox that supports Media Center Extender is the Xbox 360 E. An Xbox 360 E with 4GB storage (plenty of space for non-gamers) lists for $199 and can be found selling for $180 new at retailers. The older slightly larger Xbox 360 S 4GB can be found selling for around $120 used on Craigslist or game store. (Note: The Xbox One does not have support for Windows Media Center Extender).

Repurpose your desktop or tower Windows computer

Don’t throw away your “old computer”

Repurposing your lightly used Windows computer and adding the hardware to allow it to record HDTV and share it around your home is a no brainer.

Is your old Windows computer still running Windows Vista or Windows 7? Have you not felt the need to upgrade to Windows 8.x? Why not? Chances are you haven’t upgraded the OS because love it or hate it, it works just fine and allows you to do everything you need.

  • Store digital photos from your camera or phone – check!
  • Surf the World Wide Web – check!
  • Send and receive email – check!
  • Pay your bills – check!

Chances are, you purchased a good computer at the time thinking you would be using it for years to come. However, now we find ourselves ignoring the home office or computer desk and are using other devices around the home.

So you see, the computer that you purchased 3, 4 or even 6 years ago has all the horsepower it needs to be a Media Center PC and record cable HDTV. Note: the PC you already own may not be powerful enough to record over the air television from an antenna, or standard definition television using a “tv tuner,” but today’s CableCard tuners are nothing more than a fancy network card – and a slow one at that. ;)

What does it cost to get going and replace one of your Cable Company rented DVRs with a Media Center Extender?

Well, if you already own an Xbox 360 – and 78 million of you do, and you are one of the 68% of households that has a PC running Windows Vista, 7 or 8.x then you only have to pay a onetime fee for the HD Cable tuner that is certified by CableLabs and by Microsoft.

You may be able to still find 4 tuner cards or solutions, but the tuners have a total of 6 available tuners on one device.

You can get one that sits inside your PC, or you can buy one that sits outside your pc and connects to your home network’s router with a standard Ethernet cable.

These cards list for $300, but can be found for less – Newegg has sales on the cards every so often, but they usually sell new for $260.

A single DVR rental costs $120 a year before service fees and taxes. A Single CableCard rental which supports up to 6 tuners, will cost only cost you about $48 a year.

That’s the savings just for replacing one DVR, if you have more than one DVR or televisions in your home without a DVR or cablebox, just buy a used Xbox 360 for $120 and instantly get access to both live and recorded television on that TV as well!

Depending on the Windows OS version you are running you may not have to purchase an upgrade as many shipping PCs with Vista and Windows 7 included Media Center. Windows 8 removed both DVD player and Media Center from the standard versions, but it can be added on as an upgrade – prices vary, so you will have to check your version and local retailer.

Windows Media Center isn’t for Everyone

While I am a huge advocate of Windows Media Center and Ceton’s InfiniTV CableCard digital tuners, there are some people who should switch or upgrade to Windows Media Center.

  • If you don’t have an existing Windows PC
  • If you only have a Mac (there are no CableCard and/or HD Compatible solutions for any platform other than Windows)
  • People who like remote controls with 30 buttons on them (Xbox Media Remote is easy to use and doesn’t require you to look at the remote in order to find the function/button you need)

Heck, I was talking about easy… My 82 year old mother installed Windows 8 Media Center herself with me directing her over the phone a couple of years ago. Since then, she’s had little to no issues. If she reboots her computer once a month or after major Windows Updates, everything works as it should.

I am happy to say, that uses her television much more than before and has mastered recording her favorite series on television – whether she gets around to watching them or not. ;)

As for me, I’m still a “power user” and in addition to recording everything, most shows I watch later after they have been automatically processed, commercials removed and placed in their series folders.

Target, Home Depot, Sony, etc: Why put all eggs in one basket!?

I can’t be the only one to see the pattern lately.

Large retailers are getting their customer data and credit information hacked/stolen at an alarming pace and if we have learned anything, its that future successful attacks are inevitable.

So why do these Fortune companies trust all their customers privacy and data to one system?

Doesn’t it make sense to diversify their customer data into smaller chunks so that the inevitable next hack will bot grow exponentially?

People do this with their stock portfolio, we do this with out email addresses; people have been using this technique for centuries – even the Romans and Egyptians did it.

So why don’t the top retailers, e-commerce, and financial institutions do it!?

It might be because they don’t know anything about technology and not if you will be hacked, but when.

If the “best and largest” financial and retail institutions don’t take these common sense precautions to limit the theft of our personal and financial data, then each user must take the matters in their own hands and limit the data we trust with these retailers.

Maybe we need to go back to an all cash system, maybe we need to conduct our financial transactions via the US Mail, use our local notaries, call our brokers on the phone.

Because I the end, it’s our money, our data and our peace of mind which we need to protect and value – not theirs.

Entertainment Wars – Cable and Network Programming

Living Room Entertainment Microsoft Apple Google
Watch and record Live HDTV OTA and Cable television Yes, available since 2001: Windows 8.1 Pro Media Center with TV Tuner Card or with cable service No No
Watch and record Live HDTV Cable TV & Premium Channels Yes, available since 2007: Windows 8,1 Pro Media Center with CableCard and network tuner No, negotiating directly with content providers for new TV product No
DVR “TiVo” Functionality Yes, available since 2001: Windows Media Center 3-6 simultaneous channels per cable card No No
Select and Stream videos, photos or music stored on storage device or PC Yes, Today: Xbox 360 via DLNA or Windows Media Center Extender
Limited, Xbox One can only control cable box and cable DVR via Ir blaster and HDMI pass-through
Yes, videos, photos and music stored on Mac No, push only
Remote schedule, Record Programming Yes, Today: 3rd party app Ceton Corp, My Media Center for Windows 8, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad and Android No No
Internet Movie Streaming Services Yes, Today: Xbox – 60+ video streaming services including, Xbox Video, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu+, VuDu…. Limited, iTunes and Netflix No, Chromecast cannot run apps; Yes, Google TV compatible appliance required
Watch On-Demand Cable Programming Yes, Today: Xbox 360, Xbox One via Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable apps + other International No No
Control programming via Remote Control Yes, Today: Xbox Media Remote, game controller, voice control with Kinect, Smartglass app (Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, Android) Yes, Apple TV remote, iOS app No, all content needs to be pushed to television via Chrome browser or Chrome compatible app.
Electronic Programming Guide (TV Guide) Yes, Today: Xbox 360 Media Center Extender w/Windows Media Center PC
Yes, Today: Xbox One via native service
No No
Open and Free API Yes, since 2001: Windows Media Center and Media Center Extender like other Windows platforms have an open API for 3rd parties to write apps and interfaces within Media Center  No, must be invited by Apple and agree to royalty shares Chromecast, No, shortly after introduction Google closed it’s open API for Chromecast and it became invite only
Google TV, Limited by vendor/OEM
Offers 100% of both Internet and cable television programming TODAY YES NO NO

Satya Nadella: The Answer is Xbox One Media Center

Image

Microsoft currently has two multimedia platforms, one is full featured and one if floundering.

  • Windows Media Center
  • Xbox 360 Media Center Extender
  • Xbox One

What is Windows Media Center:

Windows Media Center is a Microsoft add-on for Windows 8.x that brings advanced DVR and multimedia capabilities to your windows PC.  This is not the same as what your “geek” brother, friend, co-worker swore about in 1999 as being the greatest thing ever!  No this is real, it is well designed, simple to use, easy to navigate and like all great things from Microsoft, has a 3rd party API so that hardware and software vendors can build on top of it and make it better.

There are a few “requirements” your Windows PC needs to possess in order for it to record HDTV from your cable company on your Windows PC. 

  1. It must have a dual core CPU at 2.5GHz or faster
  2. It must have at least 4 Gigabytes of memory
  3. A hard disk big enough to store 1080/720 HDTV

So, assuming you purchased your computer with Windows Vista already installed on it, all you would need is to purchase add one device to your existing home network.

  1. Internal (PCIe) or External (Ethernet) CableLabs certified Tuner
  2. (rent) A CableCard supplied by your Cable Company

A quality no-fuss HDTV cable tuner that supports recording 6 simultaneous shows can be purchased from Ceton Corp for about $240 or you can opt for a 3 tuner model from SiliconDust for under $150.  Once you have one of these cable tuners, just run the Media Center setup, select your cable provider and turn on your Xbox 360.

Add to that a CableCard from your Cable Company and you are ready to record!

Monthly Cable Bill

If you have 3 televisions at home, you likely have 3 cable boxes and or DVRs, you also have your monthly premium tv subscription.  Si many cable companies charge you the following monthly fees:

  • Cable Box rental (x3)
  • DVR upgrade fee (x3)
  • TV Basic and Premium Channels

With Windows Media Center on your Windows Computer recording between 3 or 6 channels with ONE cable card, you pay one fee for all your televisions.

  • Cable Card rental fee (1 card supports up to 6 simultaneous premium hdtv recordings)
  • TV Basic and Premium Channels

So if your premium television package costs $50 a month, and your Media Center CableCard costs you $6 a months you pay $56 a month, vs over $140 a months for your 3 DVRs plus subscriptions.

Heck, I can control my Media Center and it’s recordings from my Phone with the Ceton My Media Center App for anywhere in the world!

But what if you don’t want to watch television on your PC!?

That’s where the Media Center Extender comes in.  Media Center Extender comes on every Xbox 360 (no, it’s not available on the Xbox One) and allows your networked home PC running Windows Media Center to extend it’s screen/user interface to your television — how many televisions?  Well, as many as you can afford, because an Xbox 360 is required for each television.

This Media Center Extender (MCX) functionality comes one every Xbox 360 and isn’t quite what it at first appears to be.  You see, MCX is actually running on your home PC and not on the Xbox 360, the 360 is used to extend your Windows Media Center to external screens — in this case an HDTV.    Just use the $20 Multi Media Remote control from Microsoft, don’t worry, you don’t have to use your “joystick,” to navigate your recorded shows, television guide/listings, DVD movies, music, photo slideshows and videos stored on your computer — on any Xbox 360 on your network.

Since all the content is recorded and technically played securely behind Microsoft and CableLabs developed DRM on the PC it was recorded on, you can record as many shows as you like in once central location in your home and play those shows back anywhere in your home.

The Xbox 360 can even act as a DLNA receiver to play other content form your PC, tablets or smartphones too.

That brings us to the Xbox One:

The Xbox One does have the MCX interface built into it. In fact, you can only use the Microsoft “Play To” or “Share To” feature to push video or music from your computer to your television.  That means, if you want to share a video on your PC in your den with your family in the living room, you have to rush back and forth to start the playback of the video.

To be fare, the Xbox does have an HDMI pass-through port to pass through television recorded on your cable operator supplied DVR through your Xbox One — you know, so your Xbox One can be on your televisions “Input 1″ – ROTFL! However, that interface leaves much to be desired.  To watch television through your Xbox One you must not only navigate the Xbox One menus and guides, but you must also navigate the menus and guides from Xfinity, Time Warner, Cox etc.  There is no bypassing it and it gets messy really fast. (the team lead must have suffered a brain hemorrhage when he thought of using this tired and broken in/out video past hrough – HDMI doesn’t make it any better than 8 analog cables for video and audio, it still pass through!)

If you thought having a remote control for your DVD player, TV and cable box was messy, it aint nothing compared to this!  Oh, but I can “talk to my TV” instead, yea. right. do so and you’ll see your cable box put channel numbers on your screen seconds before the channel changes.

ITunes and Apple Store

So why did Microsoft not include Media Center Extender in the Xbox One?  Because the age of getting your content from whomever you choose is going away.  Ever since Apple tied the purchasing of music to their iTunes for the iPod, our choice to shop for content has been going away.

Microsoft see’s this trend and has watched as consumers quickly gave up the ability to buy products from an open market.  Why should Microsoft create a TV platform where they make no monthly revenue when they can charge you to rent or buy movies from Xbox services?

There is still time to turn things around.  There is nothing on the Xbox One preventing it from becoming a Media Center Extender.  It has DRM built in.  It has a more than fast enough processor, it supports HDTV 1080p output, supports explainable hard disk storage via USB 3.0, it has gigabyte Ethernet and Wifi — there is nothing stopping Microsoft from adding the existing MCX architecture to the Xbox One, and there isn’t anything preventing Microsoft from at least adding live TV streaming from a networked TV tuner directly to the Xbox One and thereby bypassing the cable supplied DVR and HDMI pass through, (just like the Xbox 360 to 360 Slim, or the PS3 to PS3 Slim, these non-used ports can be removed as needed).

How would Microsoft benefit from re-launching Windows Media Center?

Look no company is going to introduce something, anything if they are not going to benefit from it. Either directly or indirectly.

The simple math shows that Microsoft can not only make lots of money by selling the software, but they can once again, easily and quickly, have domain over the biggest screens in ones homes and apartments — the TV.  Microsoft makes money on Windows upgrades, not on new PC sales.  If people are doing more and more of their computing on their phones, tablets and laptops, they no longer feel the need to upgrade the operating system of their aging computer….  Give them a reason to upgrade, give them value they have already committed to — such as the high cost of cable.

With gazillions of users still on Windows 7 its obvious they are not in a rush to upgrade and Windows 8.2 or Windows 9/Threshold, isn’t going to encourage them to upgrade either — why upgrade the PC when it works well enough for web surfing or banging out a document in Word? 

Apple is rumored to be coming out with an Apple TV, Google has their Chromecast and Android TV. One of the three is vaporware and nothing more than a dream or an idea, and the others from Google play on the ignorance of consumers that they have been able to stream/push videos to their smart televisions and bluray players since Windows Vista and it’s only got better with Windows 7, Windows 8 and now 8.1!   

If Microsoft was able to give users a reason to re-purpose their aging computers and upgrade them with $300 worth of hardware and $xx for a Windows Media Center 8.1 “Upgrade” then Microsoft would again make money on current and future upgrades.  In addition to the simple math of upgrading the operating system, Microsoft could make money that is now going to cable pay-per-view, and streaming movie rentals and purchases — they just need to add it to the existing Extender interface and everyone wins.

Why do I think this is possible?

Because everything I have stated above already exists.  The licenses with the cable companies are already in place, the cable television guides are already procured by Microsoft around the world, “everyone” has a PC already, everyone already commits a large portion of their monthly cable tv bill to rental fees and dvr fees.  Customers want “new features” brought to them by fancy new DVRs such as the Xfinity X1 and X2 — these “new devices” barely scratch the surface of what I can do with Windows Media Center Today.

Go Retro!

First there was Windows XP Media Center 2005, it was complex and could only be sold on new specially designed personal computers. They were big, ugly and nobody wanted to put a tower PC under or next to their television — no one.

Now even the thinnest and lightest tablet computers running Windows 8.1 can record and stream live cable HDTV to a tablet — I can get my Dell Venue 8 Pro to stream recorded HDTV flawlessly, and live HDTV nearly as flawlessly on my home network.  You don’t need a huge powerful box or a geek to install a TV tuner card and set up the system.  My 80 year old mother has set her Windows 7/8 Media Center with Ceton tuner herself!!! 

The first Windows Tablet PC was big and clunky and wasn’t well received. Then Apple enlarges their iPhone and turn it into an iPad and the world falls quickly in love. 

Don’t allow this to happen again and allow Google and Apple to come out with their television based products.  They are no doubt working very hard behind the scenes to get favorable licensing deals with the television and cable networks.  Who know when they will launch, but they will launch and they already have the momentum needed.

If Microsoft were to play the Media Center hand now they would win the game

  1. Launch the Windows 8.1 Media Center w/Bing operating system as a free or cheap upgrade
  2. Add Media Center Extender support to the Xbox One
  3. Simultaneously add support for live HDTV via networked cable tuners for the Xbox One (no HDMI cable box needed)
  4. Work with OEM partners, VARs and Geek Squad, etc to create bundled packages of hardware and software

This is all very possible and within Microsoft’s grasp.  It is a shame that Microsoft owns every piece of the puzzle to enter the living room, they have it TODAY and yet, they are handing over any lead currently held to Apple, Google and likely Sony.

Rumor: Microsoft Surface and Microsoft Lumia

microsoft_surface_phone_8_by_yronimus-d54trfa

The current rumor going around is that Microsoft is going to rename their Surface tablets as Lumia’s.

I don’t know if this is indeed going to happen and if so, when and for what reasons, but this is what I could see happening going forward.

First, it is very difficult to trademark a name or brand in one country, let alone trademark one on a worldwide basis.  Look no further way than last year when Microsoft was forced to rename their cloud storage service, SkyDrive to OneDrive because Sky TV fought in court that the name SkyDrive belonged to them, and or it would confuse their customer base.

We can also go back to Microsoft naming their new tablet PC products as “Surface.”  Surface is a trademark held by Microsoft and used for their tabletop computers with 4 foot touch screens.  But that all changed when Microsoft surprised the world with their Surface and Surface Pro tablet PCs.

It was easier for Microsoft to use an existing trademark they already owned and enforced worldwide than create a new name for their first personal computers.   While the Surface computer was well known by news executives and weather-persons at top market news stations and a handful of geeks, the name or word Surface wasn’t used by the every day person on the street.

So, this brings me to 2014 and Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia.  With Nokia, came the Lumia brand/trademark.  Other than people, it is the one thing we understand that Microsoft got with the purchase of the mobile division. 

As stated above, it is much easier to take an existing brand name you already have trademarked around the globe and reuse it, rather than start again from scratch — that takes time, and Microsoft is nearly out of time.

So loosely, Lumia is already used by Nokia to represent their Windows Phones and ARM based tablet running Windows RT — both platforms use the ARM architecture to power the Lumia devices.

Microsoft’s Surface however, is used for both Windows 8.x tablet PCs running on the Intel x86-64 architecture, such as the initial Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2 and the new Surface Pro 3.  However, Microsoft’s ARM based Surface and Surface 2 run the Windows on ARM variation of Windows 8.x and can run the new Windows 8 apps, but not the Windows “desktop” programs so many expect a Windows PC to run.

To cut out some of the confusion, Microsoft would be smart to leverage the Lumia brand they just acquired from Nokia and apply that brand to all ARM based Windows phones, tablets and personal computers (should the future bring such a PC).

So, could the future of Windows Phone and ARM based Windows be branded as Lumia, while the Surface brand is reserved for x86?  That certainly makes more sense then continuing a loosing battle to market both or Microsoft’s tablet as Pro and “non-Pro.”

ed: look at Samsung, they have “Galaxy” for Android and “ATIV”, a word I still don’t know how to pronounce, still haven’t heard anyone speak in a television commercial and I can’t remember; and they use it as their “brand” all of their Windows Phones, tablets and laptops – no wonder thieir PC sales are down and Lenovo’s PC sales are up (hint: ThinkPad and Yoga)

Microsoft Xbox One & Sony Playstation 4 vs the Ninentdo Wii-3

Xbox_One_Guide

Well, the competition between Microsoft’s next generation Xbox One, vs the Sony PlayStation 4 is already underway and it looks like, at least for now, that Sony is taking the lead — and is only looking in their rearview mirror.

That said, the real next generation console war might just be between Microsoft’s current Xbox One and the next version of the Nintendo Wii.

It is common knowledge that Nintendo is already working on a successor to the Wii-U, and it is only logical that Nintendo takes the best intellectual properties used in the Xbox One and PS4 and designs their next Wii console on the backs of Microsoft and Sony.

I don’t know anything about what the next generation Wii console will feature or what new and exciting “gimmick” they may introduce — but I’m betting that Nintendo will need NO gimmick because it will be designed for breathtaking high definition game play.

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are great game consoles, but it is clear to everyone that neither of the two has lived up to the users expectations.  The game play is better, but it’s not drastically better than when users went from the PS2 to PS3 or the Xbox to the Xbox 360 — no, the gameplay is subtly better at best.

Sure both platforms have added socializing capabilities, share video gameplay with your friends and online, you can even receive a Skype call during game play or watch the World Cup in the corner of your screen while playing Halo.

These things are all good, but both companies made some compromises on the hardware this time around.  Gone are the PowerPC and Cell cores on the previous generation consoles and gone is the independent graphics chips supplied by AMD/ATI and NVidia.  Now both the Microsoft and Sony consoles use an x86-64 bit APU which includes “8 Jaguar cores” and graphics unit.

Sony’s implementation is slightly more complex than what is found in the Xbox One, but they are architecturally “twins” – fraternal twins, but still twins in my opinion.

Both the One and PS4 are held back not just on graphics as everyone in the industry keep pointing to, but ultimately they are both held back equally or more so by the AMD designed Jaguar x86-64 cores.  Don’t get me wrong, I love AMD’s APUs and I use them in ever PC build I do, but they are not the best for gameplay and today’s games are more than just pushing fancy images to the screen.  They need great compute units to support the graphics and push gameplay further than currently possible.

So while I secretly wish that Microsoft is quickly prepping the “Xbox One.5″ that includes AMDs next, Excavator architecture Carrizo APU with updated cores and graphics, I’m not holding out much hope for that product just yet. 

Sony is in the number one spot and while they could come out with a PlayStation 5 based on the next gen Excavator Carrizo APUs from AMD, it isn’t likely either since they are “winning” this generation of console wars.

But what is more likely, is that Nintendo comes out with a new 3rd generation Wii console that leapfrogs both the Xbox One and PS4.  This “Wii-3″ could take one of two approaches the way I see it.

  • 8 core Puma based core
    Discrete AMD Graphics Next GPU

or they could build

  • 6 core Intel x86-64
    Discrete AMD Graphics Next GPU

If released today, either of these two “Wii-3″ platforms could easily best both the Xbox One and PS4, in both graphics and compute units.  At the same time, both of these designs share the same core architecture with none of their weaknesses.  Game developers could easily and quickly port their games over to the new Wii-3 platform because it performs much quicker in every respect.

New games could be written to take advantage of the faster hardware and showcase true next generation gaming — the gaming that doesn’t need a side-by-side demonstration to show how improved the graphics and gameplay is.

Fast forward a year and Nintendo could release the all AMD Puma system, currently with discrete graphics with a new and improved APU which would save them manufacturing costs, but would also bring the cost of the system back down to the same pricing as Sony’s and Microsoft’s.

This isn’t far fetched.  The home console gaming market doesn’t need another gimmick, it needs quality games, quality next generation games that both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are having trouble delivering.

Gamers don’t need gimmicks like snap-screens, HDMI pass-through, numb chucks, or glowing remotes, they want a gaming experience equal to or better than what they see in movie theaters.  That is NEXT GEN.

Laptop to a Tablet Fight

It was June 18th when Microsoft surprised the world with what it deemed, their new Surface tablets; the problem is, tablet sales are skyrocketing and no one was looking for a tablet that did more.

What Microsoft introduced was not a tablet, but a new device soon to be called a “2 in 1″ or in other words, Microsoft released two laptops with removable keyboards.

It’s clear that Microsoft spent a lot of time working on these two new computing devices and even when announced, still required another 6 months of backing before they would be ready to ship.

Do Microsoft’s Surface “tablets” do more than tablets from Apple, Samsung and others? Yes, they do, they have keyboards and operate in a more “PC like” horizontal, widescreen fashion. Tablets from other vendors are held in a portrait fashion and are squarer than widescreen.

Holding any Microsoft Surface in this portrait fashion is not only gives pages a “too tall feeling” but the all of the Surface devices are too heavy to hold in this upright fashion.

Again, the Surface is a laptop and not suitable as a dedicated tablet.

So while other vendors were working with Google to design tablets that users were craving, Microsoft was working internally as well as with their OEM partners to develop the “non-tablet” or what we now call a “2 in 1″ device. A laptop with a removable keyboard.

Anyone who has ever tried holding a Surface in front of them for more than a few minutes knows that the designers never intended the Surface, either of the Surfaces to ever be used as a mobile tablet. It was clearly designed as a laptop where it’s weight would anchor it to a table and provide a firm location for their flexible keyboards.

Windows 8 was designed for Tablets (and works great with the Surface too)

So it’s surprising to see all the things Microsoft’s Operating Systems design team got right, when their top secret hardware group got so much wrong.

Microsoft Windows 8 and 8.1 are great touch oriented operating systems as well as solid platforms for developers and has all the 21st century features a developer could want. Windows 8.x has open APIs for 3rd party devices, solid programing languages, solid user interface cues and design metaphors that are clean, efficient and a pleasure to use.

Google’s Android OS which is found on most all smartphones and tablets in the world doesn’t share these strengths and has developers, OEMs and users all clamoring for some consistent rules to follow, design ques that don’t change and require developers to re-wright their apps every six months.

OEMs can’t upgrade their current and previous device models at a fast enough pace, nor can they or do they upgrade their devices because the cost to update their designs is too costly.

By the same token, Google doesn’t have the maturity required to develop standards which continue from current generation devices to the next and the next after that.

Windows Phone 7 led to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 and now today we have Windows 8.1. With very few exceptions, all apps written for Windows Phone as far back as 4 years ago all could still exist or co-exist with today’s more matured operating systems.

Another strength Microsoft has is again in its software. I can turn on my Surface RT or Surface 2 and out of the box, can print to my Epson or HP all in one devices that were released and end of life long before Microsoft announced Windows 8. In Windows 8 RT I could scan from my scanner too via the Windows Control Panel and today with Windows 8.1 I can use a Modern App to Scan photos or documents directly to my SkyDrive, Email or Fresh Paint.

Google’s Android and Chrome can print, but must to the “cloud first” which means you must have a) a network connection and b) an internet connection, but Google does let you use your devices camera to “scan” in documents and photos.

Apple invites vendors into its walled garden with licensing its AirPrint API, but only for customers who are big enough to afford the steep prices for these APIs. I for one, don’t like that I am paying money to Apple for their AirPrint license when I buy a new printer.

Will the Real Tablet Please Stand Up?

So, while Microsoft is still busy confusing the market with their “2 in 1″ Surface devices, which I love, I am still waiting for Microsoft to release their first true tablet.

They don’t have to look too far for examples of great Windows 8/8.1 tablets, there are a multitude of new 8 inch tablets with quad-core Intel parts, and crisp IPS LED displays. They even come in 10 and 11 inch models too.

So when will Microsoft release their first tablet? I’m guessing they will release their new tablet(s) in the first half of 2014 and it will be thin, light and have a 16×10 more squarer display like the tablets running Android and iOS.

These tablets will run a version of Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8, but it won’t really matter which, because neither of them has enough market penetration for it to matter.

But what will matter is that now Microsoft will have brought a tablet to a tablet fight and with the support of Windows Modern Design language these new tablets will now have both the hardware and the software to take over the consumer market – a market that wants stability.

One last prediction: When these new lighter tablets are released, they will be compatible with Microsoft’s Surface keyboards, but the difference will be that the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 will now include the keyboard in its base price.

Tablet Distraction

So the question is, was Microsoft’s Surface enough of a “tablet distraction” for consumers and analysts while Microsoft developed their first tablet?

The Future for Windows RT is Bright

While analysts and original equipment manufactures are cheering the death of Windows RT and the Surface RT, I think it’s a blessing that these vendors are leaving Windows RT.

This allows Microsoft to develop new and improved products unhindered and free to create.

Microsoft will not have to worry about their (fair-weather) partners complaining that Microsoft has an unfair advantage over them.

Microsoft is now free to create a new generation of products as distinct as the iPad and as advanced as the 41 megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020.

Like they did with the simple addition of an integrated kick stand and revolutionary Touchcover keyboard.

Windows Phone Start Screen

What is the Start Screen?

The Start Screen in Windows Phone 8 is just like the Start Screen in Windows 8, it is a “home screen” where you place “tiles” of your most commonly used and accessed apps and phone functions.

What are Live Tiles?

Put simply, Live Tiles can be thought of as ADVANCED widgets or gadgets similar to the ones you find on Android or like the ones you can place on your Windows Vista desktop.

These Tiles are square or rectangular in shape. Most but not all Tiles on the Start Screen can be made “Live” and show you status updates, notifications, appointments, etc, but many of them can also be turned off so they just have a static Tile which does not update in the background.

How many Tiles/Apps can you place on your Start Screen?

While I don’t know of any “limit” set by Microsoft for how many apps you can have on your Start Screen at any one time, there is a limited number of Tiles which can be displayed on your Start Screen without scrolling downward. The most frequently checked and less personal Apps get Tiles placed at the top of my Start Screen, and the Apps which are more private or less frequently checked are placed at the bottom where they are out of view from casual onlookers, but easy to see with the scroll of the screen.

What apps can I place on the Start Screen?

ALL APPS! Unlike other platforms, all apps can be “pinned” to the start screen and moved around freely without disturbing other apps and Tiles.

Simply long-press on the app name in your list of apps, and select Pin to Start.

Many apps also support pinning content to your Start Screen from inside the app. For example, you can pin your hotel location on your Start Screen so your phone can always get you back to your hotel the fastest and quickest way. Pin your favorite web page, a recipe or review on your Start Screen and have access to what you need, when you need it.

Windows Phone 8 Features

Here are the apps I have pinned to my Start Screen

From top to bottom:

Phone (Microsoft): History of calls, voicemail, visual voicemail (not Verizon), dial-pad, contact search, history search Phone Tile Description from MS Windows website

Messaging (Microsoft): Text/sms messages, mms messages, Facebook messages (chatting), set “online status” for Facebook, set Messaging Settings such as Group Chat, Facebook Chat on/off, text message backup to cloud, chat backup to cloud, etc.

Mail (Microsoft): View, create, edit and reply to emails. Swipe function allows quick access to your Inbox/Folder, unread messages and flagged messages. These features are very helpful for people with large inboxes and/or folders.

Searching emails stored on your phone as well as on your email service are also supported, as well as many other advanced email features. (varies by email hosting service) Email Description from MS Windows Phone website

HERE Transit (Nokia): HERE Transit makes it easier for you to get anywhere by bus, train and subway. Quickly compare routes, departure and arrival times and even how far you need to walk for each route option. Available in over 740 cities globally, this is the only transit app you’ll ever need. Store Description

Key Features

  • The new start experience lets you plan a trip in advance, access your favorite places, your history and nearby transit stations with a swipe
  • Now you can easily create, access, and manage all your favorite destinations from the new dedicated favorites screen
  • See door-to-door walking directions that take you all the way there
  • Compare route options, arrival and departure times, transfers and even walking distances
  • See a detailed view of each segment on the map, and station by station details
  • View nearby stations and stops both on a map and in a list
  • Access favorites from other HERE apps and here.com
  • Pin frequent destinations to your Start screen
  • Stay current with over-the-air updates of transit information
  • Switch from HERE Maps to HERE Transit with one tap

Calendar (Microsoft) Windows Phone Calendar Description

The Forecast (RIPETUNGI) THE FORECAST is a beautiful colour driven weather app. Store Description

Using colour to display weather type, THE FORECAST is a uniquely simple weather app. Providing daily along with 5 day forecast for locations worldwide across 3 stunning screens, the weather never looked this gorgeous.

People Hub (Microsoft) The People Hub is more than just an address book on your phone. It’s a one-stop shop that keeps you up to date with your social networks and helps you stay in touch with the people you care about most. People Hub

Here’s a quick rundown of the different sections of your People Hub.

• What’s new – Here’s where you can check out all your contacts’ latest updates, pulled together from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Bracing for an avalanche of posts, tweets, and pics? No worries—you can filter the info you see in the People settings.

• Recent – Here you’ll see—and get quick access to—the contacts you’ve viewed or communicated with most recently.

• Together – Get to your Rooms and Groups and create new ones from here. Tap into a room to start a chat or see what’s new in the calendar, notes, and photo album. Or open up a group to see the members’ latest posts and pics.

• All – This is your contact list. Just tap a name to call, text, chat, email, write on the person’s Facebook Wall, or see their latest social updates and photos. The History view shows your recent calls and conversations with a contact—handy!

Tip: If you pin a contact, room, or group to Start, its Live Tile will show new updates and messages.

 

Nokia Smart Camera (Nokia) here is an exclusive app only for Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices: Shoots a sequence of photos, making it easier to capture great moments. Choose your Best Shot or combine the photos into one picture, make a strobe effect to emphasize motion, remove unwanted objects or choose the best faces for great group shots. Nokia Camera

Internet Explorer 10 (Microsoft) Open multiple tabs, get search suggestions as you type, and share a web link in just a couple of taps. Plus SmartScreen Filter helps protect you from dicey websites.

Me Tile (Microsoft) Your one-stop shop for posting to social networks and taking a quick peek at who’s writing on your Facebook Wall, tweeting about you, and liking your posts.

Settings Tile (Microsoft) This isn’t an actual app, but it is a central location for ALL of the settings for your Windows Phone. Separated into two separate swipeable menus for System Settings and Application Settings.

Here is where you can give or deny access to accessing the internet, changing system colors, backups, location detection, and much, much more.

Some unique features of the deep settings integration on Windows Phone 8 and are not found on other phone platforms or are not as deep rooted are, Kid’s Corner, Cloud based Child Settings and rules, Do Not Track, as well as the usual.

Music + Videos (Microsoft) essentially this is Xbox Music and is only one of the many music and video players available for Windows Phone 8. The Music + Videos Hub is where you can play and manage your media. It’s also home to Xbox Music, where you’ll find millions of songs to stream or download.

It’s even where you can tune into your favorite FM radio stations – provided you have corded headphones connected to you phone which acts as the FM antenna.

Microsoft Office Hub (Microsoft): The Office Hub on your phone is the place to go to work on your Microsoft Office documents. Go there to find documents, open them, and make last-minute changes to them, or even start new documents. In the App list, tap Office icon to get started. In there, you’ll see a couple of different ways to find and open your documents.

Windows Phone Central app: The official app of wpcentral.com, your guide to everything your Windows Phone can offer. Read news, tips, comments, app & game reviews wherever you go.

With live tile support, you can be up to date on the latest Windows Phone news when pinned to your start screen.

Wikipedia app (Rudy Huyn): All Wikipedia on your windows phone.

 

 

 

OneNote (Microsoft): Keep on top of things at home, work, or school using text, pictures, or audio in Microsoft OneNote Mobile. Whether you need to pick up a few things from the grocery store on the way home, review notes from a meeting or class, or plan something, you can stay organized and get things done from your phone using OneNote.

ABC News (ABC) See The Whole Picture with the new ABC NEWS App for Windows Phone

 

 

Engadget
(AOL) news reader

 

 

 

My Media Center (Ceton Corp): If you love Windows Media Center you’ll REALLY love My Media Center (formerly Ceton Companion). Manage and control your Media Center experience from your Windows Phone, whether you’re inside or outside the house. Works with ANY tuner!

 

WordPress (Automattic): WordPress for Windows Phone is an Open Source app that empowers you to write new posts, edit content, view stats, and manage comments for your WordPress site.

 

 


Facebook
(Microsoft): Facebook for Windows Phone makes it easy to stay connected and share information with friends. You can post status updates, receive Live Tile updates, check your news feed, review upcoming events, check in to places, manage your inbox, upload photos, publish notes, accept friend requests, pin Places and Messages as Tiles, and look at your friends’ photos, walls and info.

***And don’t forget about Facebook Chat – it’s built into the Messaging app on your Windows Phone.

Photos Hub (Microsoft) The Photos Hub houses your collection, including online albums, and even shows a feed of your friends’ latest pics.

 

Wallet (Microsoft) Keep your reward cards, coupons, credit cards, local deals, and memberships in one convenient place on your phone. I have my MS Wallet linked to my Walgreens Rewards and Rx app, AMC Stubs rewards and app as well as others including PayPal.

SBUX Card (Denham Software Solutions): Starbux Card (unofficial Starbucks App) allows you to make payments at Starbucks and check your rewards status, find the closest Starbucks location, enter multiple cards with custom names, check card balances, check Starbucks reward information including how many free drinks are available, pay for purchases

 

HERE City Lens (Nokia): Nokia City Lens is now HERE City Lens giving you an entirely new way to reveal what’s around you. Simply hold up your phone as though taking a photo, and HERE City Lens overlays the best shops, restaurants and points of interest right on your display. Tap a place icon to call ahead or get more information such as hours, reviews and directions. You can even save a place for later or share it with friends. Tilt your phone and HERE City Lens brings up additional view options like list and map views. No more wandering around for a café. No more looking for street signs. With HERE City Lens, you see what’s around you from your point of view, so finding something great has never felt more natural.

Windows Phone Store: name says it all

Hipstamatic Oggl Pro
(Hipstamatic): A Community For Creative People To Capture & Curate Their Lives Through Photography. ** the Pro version adds support for the Lumia 1020 41 megapixel sensor as well as Nokia Lumia exclusive features such as their award winning 3-way optical image stabilization.

Oggle Pro also allows me to post to

 

Flashlight (Tony Sakariya): NO ADVERTISEMENTS (no network data used, no tracking) FREE

 

 

 

So while these are the apps I have pinned to my Start Screen, they are only a small sample of the apps I have installed on my Lumia 1020. J