For as long as we can remember, the only real contender in the DVR game was TiVo. After all, if your parents were to get a machine, what would they pick besides TiVo? A linux solution? Yeah, right. Even Windows XP Media Center 2005 was a stretch for most people, since they had to ask for that version specifically.
With Microsoft now including Media Center in just just about all versions of Vista, the average person will become familiar with the Media Center software because it's just there. And with a cheap tuner card—which costs tens of dollars at this point—any old workstation can be a DVR.
But will this be enough to overthrow TiVo?
If Vista's adoption is anything like XP's, within two years most people will have upgraded—whether it's through manual installation or just buying a new computer with Vista built in. And for the people who are purchasing new machines, it's easy to tick that checkbox and grab one with a tuner card for a few extra bucks.
As we saw with the IE vs. Netscape wars, if you've already got a free browser (or in this case, DVR) that comes with your computer, why would you pay for something else (in this case, TiVo)? The Media Center interface is good enough to use even for normal folks, and there's nothing that sells a product better than being free.
But the problem comes from the fact that a lot of folks don't have PCs in their living rooms, hooked up to their TVs. They may be too loud, too ugly, or too clumsy to fit in with the rest of the entertainment setup. Plus, unless they want to make their main machine the DVR, people will have to buy a second PC just to fill that role, which kind of eliminates the cost benefits of using what you've already got.
So where does that leave us? Somewhere in no man's land, to be honest. It's hard to say whether people will want to place a PC in their living rooms or give up their TiVo systems, but if possible HD CableCARD media centers and the fact that there's no monthly fee have any affect, then Vista's Media Center could just be the TiVo killer Microsoft's looking for.