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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.

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