Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is Microsoft's attempt to effect a coup detat on the home entertainment industry, working in conjunction with global Intel PC hardware industry. Time will tell whether the software giant and its hardware cohorts, which include both the name brand and white box PC manufacturers, can succeed in surplanting the manufacturers of TV sets, stereos and DVD players as the king of home entertainment.
Microsoft says that its digital entertainment centre is designed to live in the lounge room and will change the way people think about and use computers. What it really hopes, however, that its product will change the way people think about home entertainment.
The new Windows, which can only bought shipped with a digital media centre box, can be connected to either a monitor or television and the internet and purports to offer a seamless way to experience photos, music, video, recorded and live TV.
The system enables users, from a single remote control to:
Play, record and pause live television
Watch and control DVDs
Listen and store music
Share digital photos and movies
Access computer games and music on demand
Despite providing this orgy of home entertainment, however, Microsoft Australia's director of PC software, Jane Huxley, insists that the new Windows is not competitor of or replacement for TV. Huxley says, "We don't see it as a replacement for TV because you need a TV tuner card. You can either choose to use a TV or a monitor (as your viewing device)."
Huxley says that, while first Windows home entertainment centers from manufacturers in Australia such as HP, Toshiba, Acer and Optima, will have a PC form factor, the look will change over time to be esthetically more living room friendly. She says, "As the market matures, the units will take on elegant living room features."
Huxley adds that Microsoft's initial market in the home entertainment space will come from users who already listen to music and watch videos on PCs, digital enthusiasts (gadget guys) and home theatre lovers.
According to a salesman at retail chain Harvey Norman, a new base level HP version of the Windows home entertainment centre is likely to retail for about $2500. Microsoft is keeping the price component of its new operating system a closely guarded secret, as you can't buy it separately. However, if Microsoft's pricing runs true to form, we can safely assume that it is probably getting a whopping 15-20 per cent of the retail price for its software. Huxley says, "We can't comment on the price of the software over the hardware. The hardware manufacturers will set the price."
Given that's the case, it's nice to know that at least there will be a plethora of small white box manufacturers out in the market who will be able to undercut the big name brands, as they do in the desktop PC market. Huxley says, "We held an event (about the home entertainment center) for our system builder channel the other day and about 1500 attended."
Microsoft Australia also announced that its new Windows version is enabled to support on-demand media services. These on-demand services, called Online Spotlight, offer consumers access to content, such as music and games, from the Internet. Microsoft will offer Online Spotlight content through ninemsn, its joint venture with Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (ASX:PBL) and through a partnership, which it is finalising, with Telstra Bigpond.
As far as availability is concerned, although Microsoft says in its release that home entertainment PCs are available as of today from places like Harvey Norman, someone obviously forgot to tell the HN salesman we spoke to because he said there were none in the store and he couldn't give us an estimated time of arrival.