Musings of a PC

Thoughts about Windows, TV and technology in general

What about Media Center in Windows 8?

A week or two ago, details of Windows 8 leaked – some might say in a big way. The pages that have been posted on various sites are marked “Windows 8 discussion, this is not a plan of record”, so they must be taken as such and not necessarily as what might eventually appear in Windows 8.

That said, the pages do suggest some of the thinking going on in Redmond. Indeed, one page in particular caught my eye, titled “Consuming TV in Windows”. The page states “Our view is that broadcast TV for PCs via tuner cards will be replaced by Internet-sourced TV and broadcast TV via DLNA-connected tuners.”

I applaud the ability of Microsoft to see ahead and envision the future and in what direction they need to head. However, I cannot help but be somewhat concerned by the timeframe of this particular segment of thinking. I don’t know what it is like in the US, but in the UK, broadband speeds are not particularly high, data volume packages are (in general) not particularly generous and I simply cannot see broadcast TV being replaced by Internet-sourced TV in the short to medium timeframe. It would seem that BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) agrees with me. In figures quoted in a recent article written by Digital Spy about the BBC’s Canvas project, they state “online viewing still only represents 1% of total broadcast viewing, and that only increases to 2% among the more web-savvy 15 to 34-year-old age group. As linear TV still accounts for the vast majority of viewing, it seems that we are some way off viewers completely abandoning the programming schedule”.

DLNA-connected tuners make sense given the desire to have consumption of TV anywhere in a house. However, that doesn’t mean that these devices are going to magically appear. Somewhat bizarrely, if you go to the DLNA web site, tuners aren’t even listed as a category of certified product! That aside, I guess my primary concern about DLNA-connected tuners is the possibility of added complexity. It is one thing to have a PC running Windows with Windows Media Center and you stick a USB TV tuner into it … it is something completely different to have to start working with a network and discovering devices, configuring them, etc. If Microsoft really, truly want this to work, it will need to be as seamless as possible. I strongly suspect that one of the reasons why Windows Media Center isn’t more prevalent (putting aside the fact that most people don’t know it is on their PC!) is that there will be a perception of complexity. Non-IT engaged users will be afraid of trying to use it.

I’m pleased to see at least a hint that Microsoft still see a future for Windows Media Center in Windows, but personally I think I’d prefer to see them investing their engineering effort into other features like supporting more functionality for Freesat and Freeview or, even better, working with Sky to get WMC to be a complete replacement for Sky+. Now that would be something worth having!

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