Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Opinion; What the next generation extender really needs...

IS NOT CODECS.

Ok now I have got your attention time for what our friends stateside like to call an OpEd - an opinionated editorial.

I read a lot of Ian Dixon's post where he talks of the Media Centre as a server hidden away somewhere with extenders delivering content to the TV. It is a very well thought out argument for an effective model of operation.

That Model wouldn't work for me currently. Why not? Well I have a confession - about 70% of the time my Media Centre is not in the 10ft interface. Instead it is browsing the web, conversing in messenger or as I am doing now typing in a blog entry,

I am doing all this on a 37" screen from about 8ft and it is perfectly readable. I will admit I am blessed with good eyesight,  have also tweaked the font sizes up (changing DPI is the way to go)  and occasionally use Zoom in IE7 but it works and is very useful to me.

Others might argue they can do just as well with a laptop, of all places on their lap, and with less eyestrain. It is a fair argument and I do use a laptop for coding or when I want to do private work.

There is the rub the Media Centre is a very public interface people can see what you are doing. I think that is great! All too often we hear people complaining how technology is making us self-centred and anti-social. One of the truly great things about the Media Centre interface is that it is inclusive and social. The same holds true for my use of the web browser etc, People can see what I am doing and join in. It is fantastic for planning things like holidays etc.

Please don't get me wrong I love the 10ft interface for Music, TV and video and it is by far (especially with the enhancements in Windows 7) the nicest way to navigate my media.

I also accept that building a decent quality, quiet Media Centre that can live under a TV is challenging, I've done it  a few times but very challenging, and yes I do have an extender elsewhere in the house as a cheaper, quieter alternative.but it doesn't do everything I want.

It is unfortunate that over the years we have lost Messenger  from the 10ft interface. We have had an attempt at a web browser but it didn't work well for me. So here is my cry. Can someone please build an extender with:

an RF keyboard with a  touchpad (or at least a USB human interface device)

Remote Desktop Protocol built in. With remote desktop I could do all those wonderful things I do on my Media Centre PC now but hmmmm remotely.

That would make me happy and I could follow Ian's advice and put my media Centre away or even use something like a touchsmart. somewhere else in the house to feed my new super extender.

Now for all sorts of cost and licensing issues (not least you can't use Remote Desktop with Home Premium) this is unlikely to happen soon. So I guess I'm stuck with my little media centre under my telly which lets my watch TV, listen to music, show photos, Play blu-ray and HDDVD movies, record tv, watch catch-up and Internet tv and did I mention browse the web, do email and messenger. All in a box smaller than my last video recorder (oops showing my age

Of course WIndows 7 is coming  and that may have some interesting alternatives to using an extender.

P.S. I genuinely don't think that extenders need anymore codecs - transcoding should be done on the fly from any media that the PC can play and the PC should obtain the codecs.It is perfectly feasible to make this a transparent process to the user that they shouldn't need to think about it

16 comments:

Jon said...

I kind of fundamentally disagree with you. What sinks Microsoft's consumer technologies is not the lack of options -- it's the veritable bevy of options.

Too many options = too many points of failure = too many things to learn = too many things to fit neatly into a branded experience = too many support headaches = too diluted of a purpose.

Consumer increasingly demand purpose in their electronic devices. Sure, in the 80s when computer tech was new, consumers would take anything they were given. But now that high-power computing technology is commoditized, the new value proposition is in the design, the experience and the purpose.

Media Center = a "center for your media." Sorry, but browing the web and chatting is not media. That's interactive communications.

Media Center will only succeed if it becomes a fundamentally trouble-free, sealed-box solution that does not require subscription to TheGreenButton.com or a registry editor to work for 90% of the consumers who will buy it.

Microsoft's vision of the office PC "powering" extenders is an OK one, but it's only 1/2 baked. People have a problem with dual-purposing anything, including their home PCs. So, a home PC-has-media-center server is still too much of a stretch for the average consumer.

What MSFT needs is a two-pronged strategy:

1. A sealed box STB. AppleTV-like, but actually Media Center.

2. A Home Media Server/extender solution. Home Server feels like something you want on 24/7, and it feels like a device that is serving things up, not the device responsible for playing games, using Office, email, etc.

We need a clean, clear ecosystem -- an ecosystem designed to bring all the media in your life to you, seemlessly.

Jon Deutsch

Garry Whittaker said...

Hi Jon

I knew some people would. The funny thing is I actually agree with you as well. I think there is a market for something that just works like you are describing.

Where I do disagree is on web browsing. I wouldn't have done until I experienced how strongly social that can be when on a large screen. I also think the web is a part of a lot of peoples media now butas i said its an opinion and I have been know to be wrong before ;-)

Adam Thursby said...

I will say that I personally don't need web browsing and whatnot in my media center experience. And I also believe that a closed box solution might be good, but when this has been brought up before, it always seemed to include MS taking Media Center out of the OS.

I enjoy media center because I'm a geek and I can change and play with it. If it was just another DVR, I'd be using something else. While I agree that people don't want to dual purpose their machines, I also believe that a closed box couldn't provide the same things that Media Center on a PC can.

I agree with Jon that there needs to be a two pronged approach that will allow MS to penetrate the market and at the same time allow the enthusiast community a chance to make it their system.

That being said, if it's going to get that market penetration, it has to be able to play whatever people throw at it. It isn't MS's job to decide what codecs it should/should not be able to play because those files might be related to piracy.

Jon said...

Garry,

Social Browsing might indeed be a next generation family room activity, but there are two reasons why it does not believe in the Media Center brand identity:

1. Browsing the web is not yet considered to be a mainstream family room activity

2. When browsing the web socially becomes a mainstream family room activity, it will no longer be considered browsing the web. It will be a contained experience that will be exposed via Media Center. Like HULU, etc., should be. The most best social online experiences that are share-friendly need to first be finely tuned for remote-control friendliness (remote, voice, motions, whatevs), and then exposed via the Media Center experience.

Media Center should evolve to be the portal to all the media you can stand... and then some!

Jon Deutsch

Garry Whittaker said...

Jon

I think you have a very fair point there. I have been really hoping to see more web content exposed through the 10ft interface.

I guess if it had been I would be less dependent on web browsing..

I am also happy to admit I am not a typical famiy user. although I do know quite few people who use their media centers like me.

I knew when I worte this piece it would stimulate comment and I am pleased it has. It may prove I am in a minority but hopefully it will give an idea of what really is important for MS to focus on and I am all for that.

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