Why Aren’t People More Excited About Media Center?

So as you’ve probably seen by now – Media Center has sold over 20 million copies. This is quite cool. When I started on the team about three years ago we’d only sold about 750 thousand. It has been quite an opportunity to grow with the team.

That being said I don’t see a lot of people using Media Center all the time. We don’t get a ton of press and sometimes I feel like Media Center is getting lost in the general Vista wave. I personally believe that a significant portion of those 20 million users don’t even know Media Center is there for them to use.

As I’ve said before, people on the Media Center team are huge enthusiasts for the product. Everyone on the team uses Media Center at home. Personally I use two XBOX 360s to stream content through my house (TV, music, videos, etc).

 I love using this and everyone who visits is pretty excited and impressed. I sometimes sit back and think about the fact that I live in the “home of tomorrow” today. Ten years ago this type of setup would have been outside of the realm of realistic and now we have it.

Without going into too many specific features that you might want, why do you think most people are not aware or don’t use Media Center? I honestly believe Media Center is pretty good value with no guide fees and easy upgrade routes, especially if people are already buying a new computer.

I have my opinions but I don’t want to taint the responses. I’d love to understand what the community thinks is missing to get the average user excited and interested.  I’ll be in the comments as usual.

Comments (69)
  1. Travis says:

    Media Center in itself is great, but the cost of owning it is still too high for the average living room.  Get hardware manufactures to supply a complete MCE installed system for < $300, and you might see things change.  

    You owning 2 XBox 360s makes this argument mute for someone like you, but for the rest of us…

    IMO of course… 🙂

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    Fair enough on the two 360s. I didn’t have to pay for them.

    I was thinking in terms of TIVO or cable boxes for monthly fees – and that you still can’t get the same content on multiple TVs.

    Expense is a great reason – but what about the folks who already bought the PC and don’t use Media Center. How do we tell them it is there and what it does?

  3. James says:

    I have often asked myself the same question, and a have a similar set-up at home (once Xbox, one 360 though). Everyone who visits (a) no only doesn’t know this is possible, (b) wants it for their own home immediately, and (c) thinks having multiple iPods scattered around the house is the same thing.

    MCE is a wonderful thing. Why isn’t MS pushing it harder? Why aren’t WMP and MCE the same thing? Why aren’t there cheap, abundant v2 extenders flooding the market? I could go on, but this seems to be the heart of the issue…

  4. Mike J says:

    When I was looking into MCE it wasn’t a stand-alone product. You had to get it as part of a new PC purchase. I build my own PC’s, so I have no way of getting a copy to use.

    I wanted to setup a nice system and connect it to my 360 and xbox, but couldn’t do it.

  5. Alex Dresko says:

    For me, as a developer, it doesn’t support all of the components I require (IIS and the ability to connect to a domain controller for example).

  6. Keith Hill says:

    Hmm good question.  Part of the problem is that it is a PC.  I recommended an MCE PC to my brother-in-law (accountant) and it worked fine for them for a while.  But then they started installing misc software on it and it started acting up.  I spent a lot of time on the phone and via remote assistance trying to help them out.  They eventually gave up on it, sent the PC back and got satellite with a DVR.  If someone sold a "closed", inexpensive AV style MCE box for the family room and it were bullet-proof (ie watch dog timers that would restart hung process like occassionally I get hangs during DVD playback when I rewind).  That might help it go big in the family AV space which is where I think it needs to.  Most people don’t keep there PCs where they watch TV or movies.  Now the XBOX 360 is a very good thing for MCE although I do with there where cheaper extender/DVD player combos, say around $149.  However, and maybe this gets better with Vista, but the MCE server has to be rock solid.  The family gets real annoyed when I have to reboot the MCE box in the middle of the movie because reverse/fast forward locked it up.

  7. RickG says:

    How many of those people that don’t use it have a tuner card and remote?  I know my brother falls under that category.

    The lack of HD support has me considering switching away from an MCE box.  I love the 360 extender functionality, but I really want HD.

  8. Keith Hill says:

    Doh! That should have read "I do *wish* there were cheaper extender/DVD player combos".

  9. kfarmer says:

    I think Keith Hill nailed it — the form factor people want, I think, is a self-contained box.

    Of course, having it domain-capable is a good idea.  Especially if it means you can specify that certain recordings get offloaded to a network share for archiving.  Of course, I’d love to have it be able to play DVDs off the network.  I have a wall full of discs that, really, want to live on a harddrive.

  10. MSDN Archive says:

    So what I’m hearing you guys say (mostly) is that you want a Media Center somewhere else in the house with a closed box hooked up to it, right?

    Do you think that folks will have trouble with the networking?

    Also HD is coming with Cablecard for the US, at least for now. It is very nice and work quite well. I think Vista will shift this a bit – as well as making Media Center available at retail.

  11. Tim says:

    Reliability.  Once you’ve got past explaining what MCE is and what it can do, reliability is probably the biggest issue.

    For instance, I use MCE.  My parents use a Tivo.  Would I set up an MCE for them unless their Tivo died?  Nope.  MCE is just too unreliable (and hence quirky) for a non-tech person.

    By way of explanation, I’m saying this from the point of view of someone living in the UK, who’s still waiting for various critical issues to be fixed (e.g. http://blogs.msdn.com/peterrosser/archive/2006/02/15/DvbGuideProblem.aspx – note the date; this issue is still not fixed).

    Accordingly, I’ve configured my MCE PC to reboot at 5am everyday.  Otherwise MCE doesn’t last more than a couple of days without the guide dying, which means MCE then fails to record any TV at all, nor will it let me schedule any more recordings.

    As for Vista MCE, as Chris Lanier has pointed out, what’s new?  If you’re outside the US, then CableCard means nothing to you, and everything else just seems to be a new coat of paint/UI, with some features dropped.  I see recorded TV has gone the way of thumbnail views, in the same asinine way that ‘My Videos’ always has.  I can tell you for free that e.g. my parents would much prefer to see the name of the program in nice big text rather than try to work out what the thumbnail is supposed to be showing/read smaller text.  Maybe you can change an option to to get rid of the thumbnails, but tbh Vista MCE offers me nothing compelling over MCE 2005, so I haven’t looked any closer yet.

    Also, I don’t have any Media Extenders myself, but I imagine if I did, I’d be pretty annoyed right now about them turning into boat anchors with Vista MCE.  That is the kind of decision that poisons a customer’s faith in a brand.

    More misanthropy when I think of it 🙂

  12. Matt says:

    I second the form factor need.  Also, do most people have a PC near their TV.  With TIVO, you place it by your TV, and then it’s really easy to set it up.  If you PC is not by your TV, you then have to split your cable connection, run it to your PC and back again..kind of a pain.  The same goes with a MCE extender, only you’re noe running a cat5 back to the extender.  I think a stand alone box that’s only a MCE and you can place by the TV is the best option.  Heck TIVO is giving away their series2 boxes with subscription..can’t beat that.

  13. Over the past week I have got a great amount of feedback (more feedback) from my question about switch…

  14. Over the past week I have got a great amount of feedback (more feedback) from my question about switch

  15. Chris Lanier says:

    We have got 60 or so reasons so far about what’s missing, what should there and isn’t etc at




  16. Keith Hill says:

    I wouldn’t say so much that folks want an MCE server somewhere else in their house (although the power users probably do).  The average, non-techie though would benefit IMO from a closed, AV style box that sits right next to their TV.  The key is that it has to be hardened i.e. bullet proof.  Think of the benefits: it’s a DVR (Tivo) which huge capacity, able to act as a music jukebox, a place to store digital photos, a DVD (potentially HD-DVD) player and burner.  That’s a lot of value and helps warrant the > $1K price tag.  Again, if you make this box less like a PC and more like an AV component that will help it take off with the much larger non-techie (early adopter) market.  BTW I’m not suggesting that all MCE PCs be created that way.  Some of us techies do want the basement media server with a 1 TB of storage with all of our music and most of our DVDs ripped onto it.  As for networking, this is sufficiently "problematic" enough that I wouldn’t steer average consumers in this direction.  If they want to try to hook up an XBOX 360 as an extender fine but I’d be careful about pushing it (unless they can go hard-wired) because wireless networks are just too flakey IMO.

  17. tm says:

    I am not using MCE because:

    1) It does not support HD. I don’t think ClableCard will solve my problem since I am using Dish. Or would it?

    2) I don’t want it in the living room. But the extender is too expensive. The whole DishDVR is cheaper than just the MCE extender. So there goes away the "you’re getting it free if you’re buying a new PC" argument.

    Also, I’m actually against having the MCE as a locked down box. If it were, I wouldn’t buy it.

  18. Keith Hill says:

    tm, I’m not suggesting that *all* MCE boxes be closed/locked down.  However a Tivo like box would work much better for a *lot* of non-technical buyers.

  19. Randy King says:

    One word: SoftSled.  This is a no brainer for MCE.  You want to live in the "home of tomorrow", then let all those Windows PCs out there participate in the media rich environment of MCE.  But no; Microsoft wants to sell XBox 360s; screw all those PC owners who have already bought our desktop OS.


  20. Shahn Hogan says:

    Here are a few of the problems.

    – When you go to Best Buy or equivelent there is no information given about an extender. None.

    – Retailers don’t showcase the power of the Media Center ecosystem. They are in the computer section. There should be one in the computer section, but also one in the TV section hidden with an extender hooked up.

    – Retailers don’t show that you can even watch TV. They don’t have it hooked up. Somebody go purchase a Terk TV5 and put in an ATI HD Card and show the thing off!

    – People still think you have to have the computer connected to the TV, they don’t want a computer hooked up to the TV. They think that sounds hard and requires an expert (It probably does)

    – First extenders weren’t that great for the price. They need to be $199 or less and include a DVD player. If they were out there I’d own two immediately.

    – In order to stream HD content to extenders you really need 802.11a or wierd (most people don’t have either)

    – They just don’t know. It’s a combination of advertisement and partners not getting the message across.

  21. Ross says:

    I agree with a lot of the comments here. And I think the networking issue is huge.

    A lot of people are commenting about the need for a closed, highly reliable box next to the TV and I totally agree.

    Extenders are a perfect fit, but to make that happen you need a fast, reliable home network. Wired is best, but rare. 802.11a is confusing and rare. 802.11n will hopefully solve the problem, but I am not convinced as it will still suffer from lots of interference in the average home (microwaves, cordless phones, other wireless LANs, etc).

    I would say there hasn’t been enough of a single, strong marketing message around Media Center. But then I don’t think all the pieces are in place to support such a message.

    For the extender model to work, it has to be transparent to the average user. They shouldn’t have to change how they use their PC – or worse, dedicate a whole PC just to Media Center just to keep things stable and reliable. I’ll be interested to see how realistic it is for Vista Media Center to record multiple HD channels, stream multiple HD channels and play an online game of Halo 2 all at the same time!

    One thing I have’t heard much talk of is Vista as a server; a server that doesn’t need to be powered up 24/7. Ideally, the PC in the office/den would go to sleep when you hit the power button, and wake up when needed. But how would an extender wake it up? I haven’t heard any talk about solving this piece of the puzzle. Leaving a computer on 24/7 is still not something the average user would be comfortable doing (security, electricity, etc). I think this is critical to making the extender model "just work".

    I love my Media Center setup – and so does the family – but I don’t see how Microsoft is going to be able to control enough of how people use their PCs to keep the end-to-end user experience for the Media Center application to a high enough standard. Set-top-boxes are much easier to control. They’re also much more limiting. And people understand them. It will take a strong end-to-end solution, and a strong marketing message to get people to take notice.

    I love the flexibility and potential of Media Center (home control is on my list for some day 🙂 ), but then I’m also willing to put aside a dedicated machine just for Media Center.

    Maybe some kind of 802.11n NAS device with a built-in TV tuner might be a better hub than a PC? Because I really don’t believe I’m going to be able to play Halo 2 and stream HD at the same time without being given dogs abuse for lagging! 🙂

  22. DWAnderson says:

    I use MCE as a server to four Xbox 360s, and just started using MCE after the Xbox360 was released. Previously I used Tivo or ReplayTV on only one of two TVs in the house. We moved to a larger house right before the 360 was released and so I moved to an MCE based system then.

    The thing that makes MCE really attractive to me is the fact that it is a centralized system. Apps and updates only get installed to one machine; I can select programs to record from any extender and watch the resulting shows from any extender, etc.

    These advantages would not be nearly as great if I still only had one TV on which I needed to view media. Indeed, in that situation I would probably still go with a Tivo.

    The fact that MCE is PC based makes it more expensive and less reliable than Tivo. The fact that it is a PC doesn’t make it INHERENTLY less reliable, but in order to realize any of the advantages of a PC (i.e. expandability with hardware and software, use of other apps when not watching TV) you have to tinker with the PC and that introduces potential unreliability.

    I love the way I use MCE, with rock solid Xbox360s as extenders and an MCE machine in the basement that hardly gets touched except to add some significant functionality (i.e. not to try out every new app that is released). But my situation is not the norm, and I think my analysis above shows why MCE isn’t as attractive in other situations.

  23. tjf says:

    I would love to use MCE for TV viewing, but I simple cannot. I live in Prague, Czech Republic. I have access to DVB-T and DVB-S. I cannot have both TV lineups in the TV Guide and MCE does not support DVB-S natively anyway. Only 4 out of my 11 DVB-T channels have TV listings. The rest does not. So I am forced to use ProgDVB even though it does not have such pretty UI as MCE. I am very disappointed that none of my problems will be solved in Vista MCE.

  24. Garry Trinder says:

    In the UK and Ireland the main digital TV provider is Sky. Quite simply MCE doesn’t work with Sky so you’ve eliminated 2 markets straight away.

    I doubt this will change either as Sky peddle their own PVR and HD boxes.

  25. TravisP says:

    I love my two MCE boxes, yes I have one in the living room (under the stairs in another room actually) and one in my bedroom. I use them for my entire entertainment experience, all of my CDs are on them, all of my TV runs through them and all of my family’s photos are there too. In fact my TVs don’t even have direct antenna connection. It has been this way for at least the last 12-18 months.

    However I am now looking for another solution to replace my MCE boxes.

    I think that Microsoft practically ignores any other market than the hallowed US one. Yes we have an EPG in the UK which is better than other markets. But we don’t get much else (eg CableCard equivalent). Don’t get me wrong, I love the new MCE UI and think it is far better than any other solution out there, but my MCE 2005s are currently hardwork to keep going and based on my tests with Vista Betas I can expect some serious hardwork ensuring that it works if I was to upgrade (heaven forbid I should try and do something like take advantage of 64bit (both my machines are 64bit processors).

    Here in the UK, buying a set top box to access Free to Air Digital TV costs less than £50. Buying a DVD player that ‘does the job’ can be around the same amount of money. Why would any ‘sane’ person (read non-technical) pay upwards of £500 just to get a PC to do it with? The advertised ‘stick a PC in your living room and run applications like Office etc on it’ is just complete rubbish as I have found in my experience that pretty well anything you install on your MCE box causes some kind of disruption to MCE. On dual view, when you run MCE on one screen you need to Ctrl-Alt-Del to get access to the mouse on the other screen, then if somebody uses the remote on MCE whilst using the second screen it mucks up what you were doing. It all adds up to frustration for the end user.

    Having a small footprint box (MCE Device) solely dedicated to MCE, that is not also marketed as a do everything PC for the family at a competitive price, would go along way to getting more hits in the living room, but for now a Sky box which does HD TV, timeshifting, PVR and dual tuning for the little subscription fee (depends on your package of course) would be a lot more appealing to those ‘sane’ people.

  26. Peter Near says:

    The reason people aren’t more excited about MCE is that people don’t want a PC in the living room.  MCE is developed and marketed as an HTPC and it shouldn’t be.  To do so opens up all of the issues of form factor, cost, windows UI sneaking in and confusing things that come with an HTPC.

    Instead Microsoft needs to change tactics quickly on the marketing front to a "you already own it" strategy where the PC stays in the den as a sunk cost and the upsell is the extender in the living room.  *That* is a concept that the mass market can get behind and *that* is why Apple got more buzz in one press conference than Microsoft has gotten in several years of MCE.

    I wrote more about it a few weeks ago on my blog, I think MS needs to rethink their target market.  http://www.thenears.com/archives/156

  27. Still getting lots of great feedback from everyone, and even better thanks to everyone out there we have

  28. Shahn Hogan says:


    You are absolutely right! That is the key!

  29. Mark Elbow says:

    Agree with most of the comments.

    I owned UltimateTV, DirectTivo, DishNetwork DVR and MCE.

    In terms of Setup and maintenance, MCE will never be able to compete with a DVR integrated with the cable/satellite provider. To keep MCE running in the living room, you need a PC technician full time. Lucky me, I understand how to setup/reboot/install driviers/update patches/network connect a PC. MCE is a full PC and you need all these skills for basic operation of MCE. I *never* had to do any maintenance work on any of my other PVR.

    As well, connecting MCE to a set-top box, with IR Blaster is complicated, error prone and very fragile. Also, because MCE is not integrated with the set-top box, you dont get all your provider goodies — video on demand, pay per view… Last, sometimes the set-top box goes into a state that you can not change through MCE (screensaver, menus,…) and solving this is cumbersome (and most of the time you dont even know that your stb is in that state). The number of problems (and the difficuly of solving them) because MCE is separated from teh TV provider is causing great frustration.

    Last but not least — price. Why do you want to put a $1000 box next to your TV, when for comcast dvr for example you pay $5/month?

    All these are inherent deficiencies of MCE. Nothing you can change with software. As long as MCE is not integrated with a TV provider box, MCE does not stand a chance of being a mass product. It will stays, what it is today, a product for geeks (like me).

  30. KyleB says:

    1) Poor integration with existing providers.  IR Blasters and cable boxes are not a good solution.  I should be able to replace the cable box with the MCE machine.  Ditto for DirecTV and Dish.  I blame them, not MCE.  And CableLabs.

    2) No software extenders (Softsled)

    3) No support for cable cards in existing MCE machines.  No support for cable cards in future home built machines.

    4) No support for state of the art file types, such as h264. No XVid and DiVX support out of the box.  I’d think most consumers just want things "to work", no have to go on a search for some odd thing like how to get an mp4 file to play.

    5) No ability to customize how the interface looks. Not even the color.  Green happens to be my favorite color, not blue.

    6) Inexpensive, SMALL extenders.  Nothing giant like first gen ones.  There was no reason for them to be so large.  Did I mention inexpensive?

    7) Where can I buy MCE?  For Joe and Jane Consumer, the answer is "nowhere" without buying a new machine.  I don’t think most people that wouold be interested in MCE would know you can get it as an OEM version online.

    8) Couldn’t this just be an optional software install for XP Pro / Home?  This is moot in Vista Home Premium, but you KNOW the default is going to be to ship with Basic.

    That’s enough for now.

  31. Blake says:

    Why all the comments about MCE not supporting HD?  It has supported ATSC for a long time now.

  32. I think the nail has been hit on the head by a few of the other comments, but I’ll go ahead and throw my $.02 in.

    A small, silent extender that can play any format the host can play (transcoding done right) is key to me.  I’ve spent more time and money buying a second computer and trying to make it silent than I care to think about.  And I can’t recommend it as a solution to any of my friends or family.  The 360 is almost a solution for me (with Transcode360), but for people that are not interested in games, it is overkill.

    I think the second thing is marketing.  If some place like Best Buy had TV’s in the TV department running an extender from a host in the computer department, that would provide marketing to two different groups of people.  If my mom saw a $200 box that let her access all her pictures and music from her MCE running on a 42 inch LCD I bet she would be tempted to purchase it.

  33. MSDN Archive says:

    All of these comments are great to see – it really does show there is a ton of passion around Media Center.

    The product team really does listen to these concerns. Hopefully we’ve made some of this better with Vista.

    I’m trying to pull out a few key things from what everyone has written. I’ll go back to my earlier comment that it appears we need to spend more time explaining and pushing our extender strategy.

    I’ve thought for a while that extender was where it was at – but didn’t realize how much Softsled was really in need. I don’t work on the extender team within Media Center but you can be assured I will send this feedback to them.

    Keep the feedback coming.

  34. KyleB says:


    Because it’s such a small subset of the available content.

    You can get 3 or 4 channels (other places a few more) of HD content on an ATSC tuner.  Sure, it supports HD.

    Now if you could only get 3 or 4 cable channels, would you still say it "supports" cable?  I wouldn’t.

  35. Peter Near says:

    > didn’t realize how much Softsled was really in need

    Remember the audience here though David.  Geeks like me who read your blog via RSS really want softsled.  Relatively speaking, that’s a small market and it’s the market you already have mindshare in (but would be good to have some initiatives like this to keep that mindshare).

    If it’s mass-market excitement you’re looking to correct however, softsled isn’t the answer.

  36. My comments above about extenders and marketing were what it would take to get my friends and family excited about Media Center.  What will it take to get me excited about it again?  Recording HD.

    What are my options right now?  Ghetto DVR box from my cable company?  Bleh.  HD Tivo?  $800 + $13 per month.  Recording over-the-air with an HD tuner and MCE?  Not enough stations.  Recording over firewire with a hack someone created?  The word "hack" and the fact that I can’t watch and pause live TV.

    I don’t see any of those to be good options for me right now.  MCE with Cablecard sounds like it will be the best solution for me, but if I have to buy a new system it will be hard for it to compete with the price of the HD Tivo (even though I just called it expensive) or the HD DVR from the cable company…

  37. Jeppe Ravn says:

    There is one big problem…. Windows XP and now Vista. Why should it be part of an OS. If you look at the former Showshifter, it could run on a 800Mhz P3 processor doing the exact same thing as MCE2005. Please explain to all of us why it needs a 2Ghz P4 do to the same thing. There is no reason why it should run on an OS like XP exept that you can sell more licenses. But we are strugling with keeping the noise from the pc down while your adding more stuff to the OS needing more power. In Denmark we see sattelite tv companies offering almost the same but at a minimum price far from the price of a MCE. The same goes for the Xbox. It makes so much noise that you need to keep it in a noisetight cabinet so you wont get bothered when you listen to internet radio. Oh that is another thing. I want to listen to internet radio on my xbox. So I have to turn on my tv, the xbox and my MCE "server". Do you know how much power I need just doing that??

    I could go on and on and I still use the xbox and MCE but it is only because it has a high WAF effect.


  38. Ross says:

    It doesn’t seem like too much of a leap for an extender device to morph into more of a stand-alone set-top-box that can connect into some kind of online service (e.g. Online Spotlight, Xbox Live) for its content. But still have the ability to act as an extender to a Media Center PC if it detects one.

    Growing the extender strategy really does seem like the way forward.

  39. Paul says:

    Softsled is a must for enthusiasts AND MCE novists since it could encourage people with multiple PCs (including older XP systems) to start discovering the value of the MCE connected ecosystem — media sharing and home networking. Softsled should provide as-full-fidelity-as-possible remoting of the Vista MCE interface on XP systems. Then the extender becomes an easier upsell once people get addicted to the media-anywhere concept.

    The extender needs more retail support and MCE systems MUST have cable connected in-store for demoing DVR functions at retail kiosks.

    Also, Media Center and WMP need to become ONE product with three views: 2-foot, 10-foot, and mini/PIP (this could be exposed as a desktop gadget).

    Finally, there should be a Softled-mobile that provides an Orb-like experience on Windows Mobile and smartphones. Orb is a killer app but needs a dedicated interface (non-browser-based) that only MS (?) could pull off.

    Why is it that I don’t get a slick, tightly integrated media experience across my MCE PC, XP laptop, Windows Mobile device (6700), etc. — without resorting to an endless array of hacky third-party addons that become headache inducing for even a seasoned media-geek???

  40. Bryan Socha says:

    I am replying without reading other comments for similar don’t want my opinion tainted.

    So why aren’t people using Media Center?

    1: Cost, you can do everything media center does for less money on other devices.  EVERYTHING, streaming to other tvs, music, pictures, etc.  

    2: You can do more with other software.  Of the pvr software thats not shipped with the tuner, media center has the LEAST amount of features and is lacking a lot what I would call minimum features.  

    3: Every area of media center is missing some bare minimum features.  Theres about 10 minor ui changes that would make mce much easier to use for everything it can do.  Theres about 4-5 core functionality features that everyone wants.  they may not be telling you this from your focus groups but everyone wants them.  things like provider to tuner mapping, no tuner limits that make no sence for the speed of hardware these days.  a working epg for their type of tv.  minimum features.

    4: Nothing changes.  While your adding 1 little feature a year, everyone else is making huge advances forward.  Lets look back.  mce2004, 1 tuner some pics and music.  mce2005, radio, more tuners, extenders.  rollup1, atsc for us but not fully functional.  still not I might add.  rollup1a, dvd changers.  Vista, Ocur.

    Sorry 1-2 features a year is not worth the cost of hardware replacement everytime you make a major update.  mce2004 to 5 needed a new video card and tuners.   5 to vista needs more memory, possibly new video card, new extenders, in some cases new computers.  

    5: Even microsoft doesn’t get behind their own product.  Messanger has advanced greatly without those changes in media center.  theres even a telephone for voip and landline that can talk with the computer.  Why this isn’t in media center baffles me.  MSN Video has about 2% of their videos in media center.  Theres even been exclusive microsoft partnerships like the rockstar tv series.  I couldn’t get to the website with my remote.  And I can’t even take my microsoft driven laptop and watch live tv from another room.  My childrens bedrooms could be a computer.  but I need a computer, an extender, a tv, a dvd player.  Other products can do this.  just not media center which is suppose to have practically unlimited resources to be the leaders.

    So, what is new in vista?  I don’t see anything but pretty new screens.  

    I really don’t care too much about the technology behind media center. When I pick up the remote and go to use media center.  I have less options and nothing new and just as many annoyances in vista as I did in mce2005.  Actually mce2005 has less annoyances because it does more different things.

    So when you ask why we aren’t excited.  It does less and costs a hell of a lot for anyone who really got behind media center.  Theres no reason to upgrade.

    I’ll sum it up really easy:

    The new directv dvr with intel will be my next home media upgrade.  If that is not using media center, then I will no longer be a media center home.  

  41. Andrew says:

    Dave, say it’s not true.  We are all excited about Media Center – even my mum is excited about media centre.  

    Some coutries don’t have access to an EPG, so those countries are a writeoff UK, AUST, etc, etc.

    Also, give us a sinfully easy way to copy up our DVDs to HDD (like we do with our CDs).  DRM them if you choose.  I dont care.  Just make it so I don’t have to get up off the couch.

    Lastly, the hardware to run it on is just too ugly to be put in the family room (which is essentially the tv room).  Work with your hardware vendors and partners.  Give us some nice thin, sexy, hardware, that just works, and even my grandma will be excited with media center.

  42. Albert says:

    @ KyleB

    >Because it’s such a small subset of the available content.

    The ATSC broadcasts arent really a subset of HD content, they are the main sources of HD content, and are supplemented by a few choice cable/satellite channels.

    >You can get 3 or 4 channels (other places a few more) of HD content on an ATSC tuner.  Sure, it supports HD.

    You can tune in all of the major broadcast networks, plus some indep. stations. So you’ll have at least ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, and the WB/CW networks, maybe more.

    >Now if you could only get 3 or 4 cable channels, would you still say it "supports" cable?  I wouldn’t.

    Except for premium cable sports, you are only looking at a handful of HD channels that are unavailable. Take a look at your local cable company’s HD offerings. Without counting premium cost movie and sports channels, are you missing more than four or five? Unlikely. Possibly InHD1/InHD2, TNT-HD, DSC-HD, and UHD. Any others are premium movies or sports networks.

    If you want/need premium HD movies & sports, then you’ll obviously have to go with the pricier cable STB solution.

  43. Steven Clark says:

    Bryan Socha — your comments are right on!

    I could not put it better.

  44. 1) I agree the consumers don’t know that MCE exists-they are like the Flatlanders, who live in two dimensions and are oblivious to a third.

    In effect, consumers cannot even choose Media Center-it is way, way, way outside their mindspace. The ratio of Cable/Satellite service ads on TV to MCE ads is probably infinite, and is just one indicator of the problem.

    2) The sytem should be locked down and bulletproof. A PC in the living room is a hard sell.

    3) Cable/Satellite boxes are going to be in vast majority of living rooms for a long time, maybe forever. Assume that TV comes from outside the MCE, but all other content is served by the MCE. How do you get an integrated UI that allows the user to experience full control (many cable box remotes have their own dedicated use buttons-i.e., TiVo’s Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down) and access to all MCE’s great features?


  45. Tim says:

    1.  Confusion – Media Center is an app.  I’ve talked to more people who were confused over an application being marketed as an OS.  And why it isn’t free with every version of Windows is beyond me.

    2.  Better extender functionality – I have an enclosed AV cabinet and will not put a hot noisy PC in there.  The Xbox 360 is basically a hot, noisy PC.  Where are the other extenders?

    3.  Piss-poor HDTV support.  You *really* have to want to use Media Center if you have an HDTV – there are so many alternatives that are so much easier.  The problmes are twofold:

     a.  HDMI support.  Make this simple for us, guys.  Power, ethernet, HDMI.

     b.  CableCard – this has been WAY too long in coming – should have been part of Rollup2

     c.  Blu-Ray and HD-DVD support are WEAK.  Support through the 10′ interface?  Uh, no.

    6.  Apple.  It wont be long that FrontRow will be the frontend for iTunes, throw in the ability to record live TV, seamless HD-DVD and Blu-Ray support and ding-dong Media Center is dead.  

  46. Rich says:

    HD setup and reliability

    MCE has shown how to do it.  Now Apple will package it up, make it breathtaking (HD), simple and bulletproof, and the press will declare it genius.

  47. MattP says:


    at leastATSCHDTimeWarnerHDATSCI donSoftsledwhere you live but I livMCEn Kansas City Kansas and with the ATSC tuner I have I can’t get a single HD channel. Maybe if I put in the time and money to get a nice outdoor antenna I could perhaps get the biSoftsled as it is my cable provider (TimeWarner) provides roughly MCEHD channels (including the locals and excluding Pay channels). So ATSC doesn’t do it for me. And I know atMCEst 3 other people that have trouble pickin frontmore than 1 or 2 of the local channels.

    Now, Softsled would be a boon to the MCE market if it were made available in the retail pipeline. Many (most?) house holds have multiple PCs now, and many of those have a home network setup. It seem obvious to me that Softsled would be a great product to leverage the capabilities of MCE to the other rooms of the house. Once people get use to watching/scheduling Television (as well as other MCE content) around the house and not just infront of the TV, it could really drive further Extender sales as people want to have that same experience everywhere in the home.

  48. Jade Wayne says:

    It is amazing to read the comments in this post.

    People reading and commenting on this blog, are for the most part MCE fans and well informed.

    Still, almost unanimously, people predict that MCE chances of success at becoming a mass market product are small. Not only because of implementation flaws and lack of features, but because of its very own essence, that is being an addition to Windows (PC in the living room, price, not integrated with TV, noise, security,…)

    I agree with it, but it is quite depressing, isn’t it?

  49. Stuart Anderton says:

    I do the full MCE thing – dedicated MCE server in cupboard under stairs, network of 360s.

    Three key reasons why I don’t expect it to break through in the UK:

    1) Price. You can get a dual tuner hard disk recorder for under £100. MCE is way better, but that’s a pretty hard case to make!

    2) Maintenance. My family love the way MCE works, but all too often it just doesn’t. I haven’t kept a tab on how much system maintenance I do a week, but it’s certainly more than none! My TiVos just work. I enjoy the tinkering – I guess it’s a hobby for me – but for normal folks, I don’t think so.

    3) There are (simplifying a little) three TV systems in the UK, free digital, paid cable and paid satellite. People who want the sophisticated 21st century TV experience – high definition, dual tuner hard disk recording, EPGs with series recording etc – will typically have cable or satellite; over 50% of households have them. MCE does not work in a useful way with cable or satellite. It works pretty well with digital terrestrial, but that’s the group of users who have opted out of paying for TV – and MCE is expensive! So you’re targeting the group of people least likely to buy the product…

  50. Tim says:

    DRM – not a problem specific to Media Center per se, but…

    1) 1.5 billion songs have been purchased from the iTunes Music Store (legally) and none of them will play via Media Center…unless you have a circa 2004 HP Media Center with hpTunes (which is no longer supported or updated)

    2) Zune & Plays for Sure – Why has the Zune dumped Plays for Sure support?  Will Media Center integrate with Zune?  Having not seen a Zune or used one, the little I know about leads me to beleive that the Zune team thinks PlaysForSure is a dead-end.  

    It’s just too hard to enjoy the content I already *LEGALLY* own!!

  51. MSDN Archive says:

    I’ve just been amazed with the comments here over the past few days. Your opinions and insights are great.

    My gut is that right now Media Center is in an evolutionary phase. We have gotten to a point where networking is catching up to us, consumers are starting to get the concepts and our initial designs are coming up short.

    That being said I work on the Media Center team because I believe in the product. There are some cool things coming with Vista and planned for the releases afterward. I think that you will see a shift in our strategy a bit, but even I don’t know what that will be – and I’m not sure the rest of the team does yet either.

    The one thing I will say about the Media Center team is that we move fast and we truly do listen to the users and the market. Though I wish we could do everything at once, that’s just on the way of things here (or anywhere else realistically) so we’ll continue to evolve and get better.

  52. UK User says:

    Not excited because:

    OEMS bundle loads of rubbish onto a new MCE PC, leaving no clean vanilla build as option, lots of trudge slowing everything down. You buy an Apple you get only the OS not the trudge add-ons. Solution is make OEMS supply extra trudge on CD/DVD only as ADDON if customer wants the rubbish installed.

    No DVB MHEG support for interactive services

    NO DAB support

    No RDS support for analogue Radio

    No Record whats in buffer if you press RECORD and program already started

    Media ONLY option in Vista doesnt ask for password when you unlock this mode = useless. Yodu want a restrictive mechanism for exiting to explorer if in Living room.

    Bugs with Media Player 11 replacing Cover Art (even if you have put Folder.jpg in the folder yourself!)

    Bugs with media Player – Meta Data, blank out track numbers and they get "0" as their track number. In MP10, was left as having no track number.

    No simple controls in mce like Crossfade ON/OFF. Nope, you have to go back to Media Player for that !!!!!

    Loading Games in MCE Vista or visualizations, you get a nice view of a desktop while the component loads !!! rubbish or what !

    XBOX 360 – No ability to stream different codecs. No upscaling of DVD playback 720p/1080i. No HDMI connector available.

    Not enough categories in the EPG Guide !

    EPG data in UK is very poor. Bad programming at Microsoft meant that over the air data does not populate the Guide. Often have to wait months for new TV/Radio channel data to be added to DVB-T

    Bug with MPEG2 playback introduced by RollUp2 on MCE 2005 (offender = QUARTZ.DLL). Ropey playback if a live TV picture in bright lit studio  at 1280×720 resolution. Interlacing isue manifests as flickery hands. Happens on Nvidia and ATI graphics cards PCI or PCIe and with ANY mpeg2 decoder such as Nvidia decoder, Cyberlink (latest versions too). STILL not fixed. UK PAL broadcasts.

  53. Matthew says:

    I think it’s both a geography and functionality issue.  

    I don’t think the technology has been refined to a plug-and-play level – in the sense that TiVo, or a DVD player is.  Can a person with no computer background "follow the arrows" and install their Media Center PC and within 10 minutes receive programming?

    The reason why the Apple stores are such a huge success, is that a person can walk into the store and buy devices which are guaranteed to work with one another, and are extremely simple to connect and use.

    If I am an uninformed consumer (which, I’ll admit I sometimes am) – and I walk into a computer store or a Best Buy – what device do I use to stream video from my Media Center PC to my TV?  How do I use my Media Center PC as a DVR and record wirelessly?  Where IS that device?  What’s it called?  How is it branded?  Does the salesperson even know what it is?

    People know that they can buy a "box" and connect it to their TV, and get results.  Whether it’s a DVD player, a TiVo, a Cablebox, whatever.  If their computer is in the living room, and their TV is in the family room…what are the odds they will ever figure out how to make the 2 devices talk to one another?  Pretty low, unfortunately.

    All this talk of codecs, and function-specific issues are interesting, but honesly 90% of the consumers don’t even know these issues exist!

    Their issues are far more simplistic, and their needs need to be met in a straightforward manner, otherwise they’ll lose interest in the product.

    They want something called a "Media Center TV Box" that will handle streaming to/from the PC.  And/or a "Media Center Cable Box" that handles the cable signal.  They want a "Media Center Universal Remote" that controls all their entertainment devices.  They want a "Media Center Storage Unit" which plugs into their computer and turns it into a DVR with "lots of space for movies, music and more."

    Don’t laugh!  We’ve got to get down to basics here, and that means reducing the devices to a very simplistic level.  Brand them, make them easily connected.  But give them very powerful functionality under the hood, at the same time.  Or create an "Media Center Advanced" brand for all the nuts (myself included) who want custom APIs and things like that.

    But if you don’t address that core "common" consumer, then you’re doomed to only 10% usage which I’ll bet is where we’re at right now.

  54. Ross says:

    @ Matthew:

    Here, Here. Great post!

  55. Jim Perry says:

    I don’t think its ready for the masses.  Is it easy to use.  Yes for someone computer savvy.  I setup and built my own system.  I did lots and lots of research.  I stream to my 360 over ethernet an HD signal, and use my MCE as an HD recorder.  Very cool.  Most of the general public don’t have HD.  Those that want DVR options are optioning for a more straight forward TIVO option.

    To a somewhat seasoned user… I’m baffled why I can’t record TV shows (HD recorded)and master them to a DVD to watch somewhere or some other time, with MCE right out of the box.  Sure I can try to do work arounds or chance trying it with 3rd party software.  Why is it I just simply can’t record my TV shows to a DVD?  And why can’t I get a dish network Satellite card to install into my PCIe slots?  If Microsoft was serious, it would allow me to do the two formentioned things.  Otherwise my custom MCE setup works for me…

    I still think MCE and Windows in general have to cut throught the technical hurdles that trip the average consumer up.  Once they get a piece of hardware/software solution that is easy as Ipod or Tivo to use they will start selling like hotcakes.  They are a long way from that happening.

  56. Jim Perry says:

    This would be a great feature to have…

    No Record whats in buffer if you press RECORD and program already started

    That UK user mentioned in his post.  I would think it would be technically possible

  57. Clay says:

            >>>>>Record whats in buffer if you press RECORD and program already started <<<<<

    This feature is available on all DVRs (for more than 5 years) but MCE. I am still amazed that even in Vista they haven’t fixed this! This is really a shame. This is another reason why MCE does not succeed — Microsoft does not fit and finish their scenarios. MCE covers a broad set of scenarios, but none of them is complete. You always miss something and you are never satisfy. In the end, everybody disappointed…

    It would have been better for MCE to concentrate on a few scenarios, and make sure they are 100% complete.

  58. Dean says:

    I love my media center. But I can tell you that I will not be going out of my way to upgrade / buy another. It cost me a lot of money, 4 years ago, and I still use the same PC. The problem is that I am not able to justify the £1000 for a new computer when I can buy a new HDD PVR for under £100.

    As a developer of MCE games, I have seen no market for mce applications. I would like to know if anyone, anywhere in the world, has even broken even on any third party effort for the MCE. I doubt it. The media center is a lost cause and in my opinion, should NEVER have been an OS centric solution. It should have been sold as a seperate product that can be installed on XP Home or Pro. This would have allowed the MCE dev teams the freedom to create the MCE any way they like without falling into line with the next OS release, AKA, Vista.

    I doubt the MCE in XP or Vista will ever become very popular. Most people cannot afford a dedicated computer connected to their television and ultimately, I see Microsoft not paying much attention to this market in the future. I have many computers at home and the lack of a softsled if a major problem for me. Good luck MS. I believe that your efforts with Vista MCE will be overtaken in about 6 – 8 months after release by others. If not sooner.

  59. Kevin says:

    I think people are afraid of computers.  My parents are always afariad of breaking a computer.  

    Let’s face it, a computer is not reliable for an average user.  My wife has a hard time with our audio "server." I cannot imagine her with an MCE box.  Hopefully vista will change this.

  60. danny says:

    I can’t believe the comments by david.fleischman….

    the team moves fast?  what about all the features you’ve missed or things that are still buggy?

    that your team doesn’t know where it’s going or what it’s plans are?  that right there is reason #1 why you fail.  

    I am putting in a whole house automation system and MCE is not even on the radar screen.  too un-reliable, can’t do half of what’s needed and absolutely zero outside control (rs-232 or network based).  

    I’m sure everyone who posts here is on the cutting edge for thier business and family.  I’ll bet everyone gets asked questions when someon needs advice on electronic doodads…. and a huge majority of these people simply cannot recommend your product.  that right there is why you fail.

  61. Tim says:

    More thoughts/misanthropy…

    First, an aside – re: Stuart’s comment: "[MCE] works pretty well with digital terrestrial, but that’s the group of users who have opted out of paying for TV"

    Speaking for myself, it’s not that I’ve opted out of paying for TV – it’s that I never opted in to paying for it 🙂

    And David’s comment: "There are some cool things coming with Vista" – care to say what you think these are?  

    The overwhelming reaction (in the comments) here seems to be "The UI has changed but not much else", and the reaction to the UI is "Meh", in that it’s just different rather than appreciably better.  So I’d like to know what these cool things are – with Vista approaching RTM, I can’t imagine anything is still under NDA style restrictions?

    So, discounting these:

    * HD reception (cos it only works in US on some services)

    * WMP no longer shipping with a frankly laughable ‘database’ system (about time!).

    …what are the killer new features?  Why should I upgrade my MCE 2005 system to Vista?  (This is a serious question, as opposed to vindictive rhetoric :-))

    Another aside re: quality of data for the EPG – in the UK two new major channels launched last Monday.  Nearly a week *after* launch, and there’s still no sign of data for these channels in the EPG.  This appears to be SOP for new channels appearing in the EPG.

    It does rather give the impression that inside the MCE Orbiting HQ things go like this:

    "Hey, 2 new channels launched last week in the UK."

    "Did they? Well, they could have *told* us!"

    "Well, I guess we should do something."

    "Yeah.  Pass the beer nuts."

    Scarcely impressive.

    Oh, and my current favourite ‘feature’ of MCE 2005 (which I found just by exploring the other day):

    – Go to ‘My Music’

    – Find a song somehow (yeah, takes forever, doesn’t it? Sigh.)

    – Choose the ‘Buy Music’ option

    – Marvel at Microsoft’s impressive QA and follow-through (on my system, this takes me to a non-existent web-page and a big "NOT DESIGNED FOR MEDIA CENTER" dialog; I’m guessing this feature wasn’t as popular as MS hoped it would be?)

    While I’m venting, have a word with your visual design team about the use of ALL CAPITALS.

    Hint: don’t do it.  Digital typography is a wonderful thing.  Ask Bill Hill.

  62. Albert says:

    Have to agree about the feature of being able to record a show in the buffer is long overdue.

    Dave, is there a hugely complex reason the team hasn’t implemented this feature?

  63. sportsunit says:

    IMO, until Microsoft gets Media Center integrated into Directv, Dish, and Cable  set-top boxes, it’s probably never going to be embraced by the masses.  People just don’t want PC’s in their living rooms…  If their High Definition DVR also functioned as a media center PC on the other hand, I think most people would embrace it.

    The second biggest problem is that media center extenders are only known to exist by the most techy guys in the world.  No one knows what a media center extender is.  If they were integrated into televisions and cheap dvd players and such, then this may change.  A little advertising would also help.

    Also, Media Center is almost never advertised.  Why no Media Center commercials.  Why so few media center kiosks in stores.  If Microsoft doesn’t advertise it, how are the masses supposed to know about it anyway?

    I have a gateway media center pc, a 360 functioning as an extender, and two XBOX 1’s functioning as extenders.  Visitors are ALWAYS impressed with my setup when they come to my home.  I’ve had several friends attempt to emulate my setup.  I have non-gaming friends buying XBOX’s to extend their media center experience.  Trust me, more demo kiosks and advertising would be a big step to help the masses understand what’s so great about media center.

  64. Andrew Moore says:

    I’m a great fan of MCE, and not going into all the features missing for people in the UK (which other people have mentioned)

    For me it’s:

    1. Reliability – I have a dedicated MCE machine, but over the last two years the number of problems I’ve enountered, it’s just not yet reliable enough. There’s always something hanging or not working. I’ve been really careful picking hardware that is supposed to be reliable and yet there’s no chance I could go for a month without a reboot. (Mostly I struggle for a week). I pity people who use MCE on their main machine where they install/uninstall software all the time.

    2. Cost – I’ve invested substantial money in getting a good setup. Most PC’s look like PC’s and don’t look nice next to the TV, so even good buying a case was expensive! (I could get a xbox 360 and hide the pc away, but that’s even more cost).

    3. Connectivity – Not everybody has an LCD tv. In Europe, the standard is scart for most CRT tv’s. I ended up having to use powerstrip and an expensive cable just to connect my VGA->scart to get a good picture. s-video is not acceptable.

    4. Windows – I don’t think most people want their tv watching to boot up into windows even though powered by windows.

    5. Noise – lots of pc’s are noisy, something you don’t want on all the time in your living room.

    I think the acceptance would be a lot higher if the above issues were sorted out. By the time you’ve spent the initial costs, and kept paying for upgrades (like to vista), that monthly subscription doesn’t seem that much!

    Maybe a more controlled environment would be better. Something like with the xbox 360 where you know all the components will work together.

    Maybe even have the xbox 360 run MCE itself. I’m sure it would be powerful enough, it has the cost and connectivity options covered, and with add on tuners (in a similar way to other 360 add-ons like the hd-dvd drive) compatability problems would be removed.

  65. Couple of things kill the whole groundswell thing. 1- lack of any real advertising. MCE and Microsofts eHome efforts in general need a whole Apple like cool marketing campaign on TV/Print/etc. that highlights and makes cool the integrated eHome life on Microsoft eHome products. Cant depend on partner advertising for this. 2- Because of the cost and complexities Microsoft needs to invest in field resources the way it does in the Enterprise that are dedicated to training resellers like the Best Buys of the world as well as hosting/driving local eHome communities and running regional home user focused workshops at the Best Buys of the world (similar to what they do at the Home Depot "how to" weekly workshops. This would help drive interest, adoption, and groundswell, not to mention create an ecosystem of enthusiasts a who evangalize and support one another. This would be the retail equivalent of the enterprise Technology Specialist. Lots of other thoughts on this but as a TS have to hit the road to work with a client on MOSS 2007 to …… drive interest, groundswell, etc. which will lead to what Media Center wants, widespread adoption/usage.

  66. Scott Atkinson says:

    Small comment about the MCE eco-system, though I’m using the phrase in a different way.

    There are very few books on MCE, and few magazine articles.

    One of the dirty little secrets 🙂 of the tech crowd is that we’re great readers. Yet there’s no Missing Manual, no Hacks, no nothing – excepting the Green Button book, which I haven’t seen yet, and PC Magazine’s two + year old guide to MCE 2005.

    I would absolutely buy a magazine devoted to MCE, and while it’s a chicken and egg sorta thing, sometimes the community needs something it can hold in its hand in order to believe a product is real and is going to be around for awhile.

    That said, 20 million units ain’t bad. And clearly, MCE is Microsoft’s greatest effort ever in the area of interface.

    Anyway, I’m an optimist. I won’t buy Vista until I need it, but I adore my 2005 box and look forward to many years (well, two years and  three months) of pleasure from it.

    Scott Atkinson

    Watertown NY

  67. Grahams says:

    Why I’m not more excited…

    1) MCE should allow consumers to replace(remove) boxes from their living room, not add another one.  I bought an MCE so that I could get rid of my VCR, DVD player, Sat receiver.  My wife now wants me to put them back becuase..

    2) The old setup whilst not as technologically advanced, worked for years.  How often did you need to install a rollup on your DVD player, Television or Video machine?

    2) Poor EPG support, channel data not correct and usually missing

    3) Lack of native support for DVB-S

    With MCE being integrated into Vista as a component and not OEM, I look forward to the pain that PSS will experience.  When PSS start complaining about things not working correctly and it starts to cost you guys money (due to support costs) hopefully that will act as an incentive to fix the issues and add the required functionality before other vendors exceed your own solution.

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