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April 15, 2014

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Has Windows Media Center been a hit or miss for Microsoft?

by Brad Linder, posted Jun 24th 2008 4:07PM
Vista Media CenterMicrosoft has been offering Windows Media Center since 2002. But six years later, many PC users don't even know the 10-foot interface for viewing media and recording TV shows exists -- even if it's already installed on their computers.

But does that make Windows Media Center a failure? MSNBC seems to think so. In an article on Microsoft's hits and misses during Bill Gates tenure, MSNBC calls Windows Media Center a miss.

It's true that other products like TiVo and generic set top boxes have been more successful at infiltrating the living room. Not only do these consumer devices let users record and pause television, but in many cases they're letting users access internet services without a TV.

Meanwhile, few people want to stick a computer next to their television set. But that might not be the point. Windows Media Center might not be as familiar a name as TiVo, but the software is powerful and well thought out. And high end home theater PC makers have been designing fancy computers to take advantage of the software for years. And a growing number of companies are releasing Windows Media Extenders that let users access media on a PC connected to a home network without sticking a PC next to the television.

What do you think? Is Windows Media Center a hit or a miss? Keep in mind, MSNBC considers Halo a hit and Clippy a miss. So what I'm really asking is whether MCE fits in the same category as Clippy.

[via Chris Lanier]

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Microsoft begins beta testing next gen Windows Media Center

by Brad Linder, posted May 21st 2008 11:04AM

Fiji

Microsoft has reportedly begun testing the next generation of Windows Media Center, which bears the codename Fiji. There's not a lot of information about the beta test. We can't say for sure how many users are involved, or if and when Microsoft will expand the beta.

It's likely that the update will add support for the upcoming DirecTV tuner. But other than that, it's not entirely clear whether Fiji will sport any new features, or whether it'll just be a refined version of Windows Vista Media Center.

Microsoft is on track to release Windows 7 sometime around 2010. Windows 7 is the codename for the operating system that will eventually replace Windows Vista. Fiji, on the other hand, will be an intermediate update that will basically bring a new version of Media Center to Vista users. There's no official word on when Fiji will be released, but it could be out by the end of this year.

Participants in the private beta are bound by a pretty strict non-disclosure agreement, which is why it's been difficult to get any real information about the beta. But if anyone feels like sharing some info feel free to hit the tips link at the top of this page.

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Microsoft adds TV shows to Zune Marketplace

by Brad Linder, posted May 6th 2008 1:35PM

Zune Marketplace

You know how Apple's iTunes store was once music only, and then the company added TV and movies? Yeah, replace the word Apple with Microsoft and you've pretty much got today's news. Well most of it, anyway. Microsoft has rolled out an updated version of its Zune Marketplace software. And while movies are nowhere to be seen, there are about 800 episodes from popular TV shows available for purchase at $1.99 a pop.

Titles include South Park, The Office, Heroes, 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Robot Chicken, and Rock of Love. All of the shows are from NBC Universal, MTV, or Turner. While the pricing in competitive with Apple's iTunes Store, it'd be nice to see a slightly larger content library. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that if the networks currently on board sell a decent number of TV episodes, we'll see other networks join soon enough.

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CBS adds TV classics to web line up

by Allison Waldman, posted Feb 21st 2008 6:01PM
Captain KirkRecently, TV Squad reported that NBC has added all kinds of classic TV shows to their online outlets. Now comes the announcement that CBS is also bringing a variety of well-loved TV dramas to the web. CBS Interactive is raiding the CBS Library, which is "one of the largest television programming libraries in the entertainment business," to present TV series online across the CBS Audience Network.

Like the NBC fodder, the CBS offering is gangbusters: full-length episodes of classic Star Trek, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, MacGyver, Hawaii Five-O and Melrose Place. CBS plans to add more programs and clips in the coming months, including sports and other kinds of entertainment.

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Disney-ABC will sell TV shows on Xbox Live

by Brad Trechak, posted Jan 7th 2008 10:23AM
LostFrom the CES, Disney-ABC has announced it will start selling shows on Microsoft's XBox gaming console via the XBox Live and XBox Live Marketplace. This includes material from two Disney Channels, three ABC Channels and material from the MGM video library.

This move is yet another step in putting a ubiquitous entertainment console in the living room. Not that this is a bad thing. Some of the content will be available in HD, despite the fact that Microsoft is not offering HD-DVD in the console. Maybe they're going Blu-ray?

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Microsoft combines IPTV, HD-DVD, and Media Center divisions

by Brad Linder, posted Dec 24th 2007 3:29PM
Vista media CenterMicrosoft is a big company. And while I'm not trying to imply that one arm might not have known what the other was doing, any company with a lot of arms is bound to flail them occasionally. So it's kind of nice to see that Microsoft is combining several related departments into a new Connected TV business group.

On the other hand, you would have thought that a company that is focusing as heavily on digital technology for the living room would have already had a strategy for coordinating its various entertainment divisions. But until a few months ago, separate teams were responsible for IPTV, HD-DVD, and Windows Media Center developments.

I think that's the sort of discoordination that leads a company to launch a new software feature called "Internet TV" that is essentially just a 10-foot interface for MSN Video while Microsoft had a team of people working on providing actual TV through Internet protocols. I'm not saying that Microsoft should deliver IPTV solutions for free to Windows Vista Media Center users, but if you're going to call something "TV", perhaps you should provide more than just 3 seasons of the brilliant but canceled Arrested Development. Otherwise, just call that ta what it is: Internet Video.

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Is Microsoft planning a new Xbox 360 with an HDTV tuner?

by Brad Linder, posted Oct 21st 2007 3:00PM
Xbox 360It's no secret that Sony and Microsoft have big plans for their Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles. As video game systems, both consoles are already in millions of homes. But they each contain plenty of advanced features that make them good building blocks for complete home entertainment systems.

Sony has already announced plant to launch a TV-tuner add-on for the PS3 that will turn the system into a PVR complete with a hard drive, electronic program guide, and the ability to watch and record live TV. Now it looks like there's talk that Microsoft may issue an updated version of the Xbox 360 with an HDTV tuner as well.

The new unit would reportedly have an HD-DVD drive built in. Right now you need to buy an external device if you want to use your Xbox 360 to watch HD-DVD movies. Sony's PS3 has an internal Blu-Ray drive, which is one of the reasons the video game system launched at a significantly higher price than the Xbox 360 (or any other video game console in history). But with the cost of next generation DVD players coming down, it's getting cheaper to build HD video support directly into a gaming console.

Maybe one day we'll stop calling them game consoles and begin referring to them as entertainment systems. Even though I don't play games very often, for the right price, I'd be willing to buy a single box that can watch and record TV, play music, movies, internet video, and video games.

[via Slashdot]

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Microsoft releases software update for new media extenders

by Brad Linder, posted Oct 1st 2007 6:00PM
Windows Vista updateAlthough none of the new media center extenders announced last week have actually been released yet, Microsoft has issued a software update that will enable their use with Windows Vista machines.

The update is available for Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate users. There's no word on what the update actually entails, but Microsoft describes it as enabling support for "new types of Windows Media Center Extenders, such as digital televisions and networked DVD players."

That certainly makes it sound like there's no reason to download the update if you're using an Xbox 360 right now. But if you have a chance to try it out, let us know if you notice any changes in the Xbox 360 extender interface or performance.

[via Jason Tsang]

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Xface skin for Media Portal combines best of Apple and Microsoft UI

by Brad Linder, posted Sep 30th 2007 8:00AM
Xface skin for Media Portal
One of the nice things about open source media center applications like Media Portal is that you can create custom skins that rival, and might even surpass anything you can find in Windows Media Center, or even TiVo. A Media Portal has released a new skin that might just be cooler looking than any of the videos you'll use it to open.

The Xface skin borrows heavily from Apple's coverflow style. And the play/pause, fast forward/rewind buttons look an awful lot like the buttons in Windows Media Center 11. But copyright issues aside, the interface is sleek and offers a visually interesting and useful way to organize your movies, music, and photos.

On the other hand, this isn't the first time we've seen Media Portal developers rip off graphics from other products. But we're betting Apple and Microsoft lawyers might be too busy to take notice of Media Portal with its relatively small number of users. Still, we'd recommend redoing the media control buttons.

[via Missing Remote]

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More info on Microsoft Internet TV

by Brad Linder, posted Sep 27th 2007 1:00PM
Internet TV
Microsoft is showing off its new Internet TV platform at Digital Life, a whole one day before the service is rolled out to every Windows Vista machine.

Here's the good news: It looks pretty cool and dramatically increases the amount of internet video you can access from within the Windows Vista Media Center interface. Here's the bad news: The content is only kind of interesting.

While we were hoping to see Microsoft take on Joost and VeohTV here by offering full length streaming episodes of TV, so far the only content you can access is the same material available via MSN Video. That means the only TV series you can watch is Arrested Development and while there's a movies section, it currently includes nothing but trailers.

There are full length music concerts, and links to content from various TV networks. But again, most of what you get are clips, not full length episodes.

Internet TV launches tomorrow as a public beta, so there's a chance that Microsoft will sign up new partners before the official launch. But when your public beta is not just available to all users, but actually pushed out to their machines, the line between beta and full release is kind of blurry.

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Microsoft launches Internet TV for Windows Media Center

by Brad Linder, posted Sep 27th 2007 8:59AM
Microsoft Internet TV
Microsoft is rolling out the public beta of Internet TV for Windows Vista Media Center tomorrow. If you've got a machine running Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate, a new option should pop up inside of your media center interface, cleverly titled "Internet TV."

Windows Media Center already includes an online showcase section with access from content providers like Comedy Central, VH1, and MTV. But for the most part, those sites already have video content on their websites, and have simply designed a Media Center interface for accessing that video with your remote. Internet TV beta is a whole new platform for watching online video.

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Microsoft adding internet TV to Windows Media Center

by Brad Linder, posted Sep 8th 2007 2:00PM
Microsoft Internet TV
It's been a while since Microsoft added any content to the Online Media showcase for Windows Media Center. But it looks like the company is getting ready to make up for that with the launch of an internet TV platform for Windows Media Center.

Engadget managed to get a few details about the upcoming service, but it looks like we'll have more to tell you on September 27th when Microsoft launches the service at Digital Life.

Here's what we know so far. The platform will feature on-demand advertising supported content in categories including Sports, Entertainment, News, Top Picks, Music, and Movies. The video will not be HD quality, but it should be better than standard definition, which means it should look great on an old fashioned TV and hopefully passable on your HDTV.

With Microsoft building Media Center capabilities into Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate, ad-supported online video seems like a great way for the software company to make a few extra bucks. Depending on the content available, it might also be a way for consumers to save a few bucks on their cable bills.

But while we can hardly wait to see this feature for ourselves, we remain a bit skeptical. For example, just because one of the categories is titled "Movies" doesn't mean you'll be able to watch ad-supported new releases, or even hits from yesteryear. It could just be a library of movie trailers.

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Niveus media center extender makes an appearance

by Brad Linder, posted Sep 7th 2007 1:00PM
Niveus media extender
Microsoft has finally announced that v2 media center extenders are on the way from D-Link, Linksys, and Niveus. But while Linksys and D-Link are keeping their product details secret for now (likely because they don't have finished products ready to show off yet), Engadget got a good look at the Niveus media extender at CEDIA.

We have to say, it looks a bit on the large side for a device that's primarily meant to connect the TV in your living room to the media center PC in your office. Up until now, the only media center extender that worked with Windows Vista was the Xbox 360. And although it's hard to gauge from the pictures, Niveus's new offering looks to be about the same size as an Xbox. In fact, if you squint just the right way, it appears there's even an X pattern on top of the box.

As Ian Dixon points out, if you take a look at Engadget's photos, you'll also notice that the interface does not look like a Windows Media Center interface. It's not clear if that means Niveus has designed custom software for the box, or if Microsoft might have a few other details about the v2 extender platform that they forgot to mention.

Update: And as Chris Lanier points out, it looks like Engadget got confused and showed screenshots of the Niveus Companion software.

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Microsoft announces Media Center support for 4 CableCards

by Brad Linder, posted Sep 5th 2007 6:01PM
4 CableCard system
Microsoft has announced that Windows Media Center machines will now be able to support up to 4 CableCards, allowing users to record 4 HDTV cable shows simultaneously. This from the company that for years wouldn't include support for more than 2 standard definition TV tuners.

As you would expect, a machine capable of recording 4 HDTV shows is not going to come cheap. Niveus and Exceptional Innovation are the first two companies to offer support for quadrupling your pleasure. Neither company is known for making entry level devices.

Niveus will make systems that can work with multiple external tuners, while Exceptional Innovation will make a monster machine like the one shown above with four internal slots. EI is showing off a sample at the CEDIA expo.

Microsoft also plans to announce new partners for its media center extenders at CEDIA tomorrow. Up until now, the Xbox 360 has been the only media extender device that works with Windows Vista. CEPro reports that Microsoft will show off two devices from new partners tomorrow. No word on who those partners are.

[via Brent Evans]

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Microsoft seeks patent that lets your TV watch you

by Brad Linder, posted Jul 31st 2007 6:21PM
Microsoft Targeted AdvertisingMost television programs are supported by advertisers. But advertisers these days aren't sure how much money it's worth spending on your eyeballs. After all, you might have a PVR that you use to fast forward past commercials. Well, TiVo has tried to placate advertisers by presenting second-by-second ratings data.

But what if you leave your TiVo or TV playing and get up to leave the room altogether? Microsoft thinks they may have the answer.

The company has applied for a patent that would use cameras, biometric sensors, and other tools to determine if you're sitting in front of the TV. Or if your wife, or kid, or other identifiable person is.

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