Click to viewMicrosoft's Mediaroom is the company's IPTV solution that brings TV into to your house (much like cable and satellite) over IP. You might be familiar with it in its commercially released service forms such as AT&T U-Verse here in the US or BT Vision in the UK. The features out now—quick channel changing, multiple channel records simultaneously without a hardware tuner limit, multi-room viewing, multiple picture-in-picture—are pretty fantastic, but we had a visit with Microsoft earlier this week and learned that what's coming soon is even better.
First, let's go over the features that Mediaroom offers now. With a simple set-top-box, you can grab high quality HDTV that's better quality (seeing as Comcast has been compressing their HDTV shows like mad) than what you'd otherwise get on cable. If you've got two set-top-boxes, you can stream shows off of each other so you don't have to record a program twice to be able to watch it in your living room and bedroom. This feature is called DVR Anywhere, and will be available whenever operators roll it out.
You can even watch the same TV broadcast or recorded shows on your Windows PC or Xbox 360, a feature that's been announced since CES by Microsoft, but is up to the actual service provider (AT&T, BT) to roll out. In AT&T's case, it won't be available until the second-half of 2008. Update: Microsoft tells me that the details here were a bit off. The Xbox 360 support was announced at CES and will be rolled out on BT's Vision service in the future. AT&T hasn't announced Xbox 360 support. Viewing shows on a PC is something I saw demonstrated in Microsoft's labs, but I'm clarifying with Microsoft as to what it was.
This leads us to the new feature Microsoft showed off: Applications. Since IPTV is a two-way street, your Mediaroom set-top-boxes are able to pull down information from the net, leading to very interesting interactive programs that people can code up for shows. For example:
• During a boxing match, you can pull up different mics, view fighter stats, and even view/vote in polls.
• Nascar races will let you bring up the cockpit cams of your favorite driver (as long as the driver is being tracked by TNT), or listen to the pit crew shout directions.
• During a primary event, CNN allows you to bring up voting results, bios, and other information about each candidate.
And so on. These apps are coded by the shows' producers, then sold to the provider in order to enhance your viewing experience. You could even code up your own app, tack it onto Lost, and try and sell it.
No service provider currently has applications in place now, but they're lightweight and should be able to be run on set top boxes out there today. It's just a matter of your local provider getting these features from Microsoft and integrating it into their service plans. [MeidaRoom]