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Why Microsoft Needs to Make a DVR…NOW

Posted by Alan at 3:44 PM on June 21, 2010

All of the recent buzz around Google TV has overshadowed a major Microsoft announcement regarding Windows 7 Embedded.  And that’s a shame for several reasons.  First, Google TV, while useful, is little more than a glorified search.  Yes, it’s useful to be able to search for a show, not only through TV channels and on-demand, but also throughout the web.  Second, Windows 7 Media Center is much more powerful and flexible than any DVR on the market, including TiVo.

Yes, Microsoft went down this road before, but they were a different company back then.  They were under investigation by the Justice Department for monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior.  And, by all accounts, when Bill Gates approached the cable companies about putting Media Center on their DVR’s he scared them off by trying to strong-arm them.  This was in the days of XP also, and that took a lot of processor power and would have made the DVR’s cost-prohibitive.

But, now we have Windows 7, which is light enough to run on today’s low end netbooks.  The new embedded is also completely componetized, meaning manufacturers can use only the parts of it they want.  It has Netflix built in, as well as internet TV, pictures, music and a wealth of plug-ins available, including Hulu.  It supports multiple tuners – not just the 2 that cable and satellite providers seem to think is acceptable.  And those tuners work every bit as well at recoding your TV shows as any DVR on the market.

Yes, you can plug a computer into your home theater, as I do, but let’s face it – this is not something the average user is going to be able to handle.  It may not be especially difficult, but it’s not easy enough for my mom and dad either.  There’s tuners to install and setups to do.

So now; with Roku coming on strong (although it’s not a DVR), TiVo’s latest release receiving rather bad reviews, Google TV not yet out, rumors of a new Apple TV, and cable DVR’s being severely underpowered; is the time for Microsoft to build, or hire a third party to build, a DVR.  They need to approach those cable and satellite companies again and have less of an attitude this time around.  Most of all they need to advertise the heck out of it.  They need to show their interface everywhere and let people see just how much their current DVR doesn’t do.

They waited too long to release the Zune and they lost out.  If they want to win the battle for our living rooms, and they’ve made overtures about this for years, they need to act quickly and decisively.

2 Comments

  1. From tomwiles at 8:20 pm on June 21, 2010

    Windows Media Center has a nice interface, although when I navigate through the various menu structures I do find it a bit frustrating.

    I recently bought an inexpensive WinTV USB tuner and plugged it in to a decent rooftop antenna. One of the things I don’t understand is that the WinTV software finds and displays many more channels than the Windows Media Center software using the same digital USB tuner stick. Perhaps that’s a design decision Microsoft made in order to not display channels in Media Center that have potentially marginal digital TV signals that might freeze from time to time. Regardless, it causes me not to want to use Media Center but simply use the WinTV software instead.

    Perhaps there’s an analogy to be made here between the relationship of 12-foot TV experience and the computer, versus the smart phone and the computer. With smart phone style devices, people prefer to use apps on those devices to boil down what they want into a single glance or two. Those same people search differently and have different expectations of a full-blown computer, either desktop or laptop.

    Hooking a computer to a TV and trying to operate the computer from 12 feet or more away is a bit of a frustrating experience unless you are setting at a desk instead of on the edge of a bed or in a recliner. A full-blown computer experience cries out for a desk in order for it to work properly.

    The ultimate connection between a big-screen TV operated from across the room and the content available on the Internet is going to revolve around apps either running in the TV or in a set-top box that do for IP TV what apps do for smart phones and portable hand-held devices. Otherwise we might as well replace our easy chair’s with full-blown desks. Those apps and/or set-top boxes must concentrate on and excel with giving us precisely the media we are seeking at the time we are seeking it.

    I wonder if anyone has thought of making an “Easy Desk?”

    Additionally, the established corporate culture at Microsoft makes it virtually impossible for them to offer any real innovative products. Innovation in the TV space will likely emerge from elsewhere as the marketplace is able to support it.

    TOM

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