By Brian L. Clark
Last Tuesday, Steve Jobs announced Apple had taken another baby step toward to introducing its own media-centric Mac. The new Mini features Rendezvous, a program designed to allow users to share media in the home, and comes with Front Row, Apple s own Media Center creation. What it doesn t have is a TV tuner or hard drive big enough to make it anything close to an all-inclusive media hub. To tech enthusiasts waiting for Apple to spin its iPod success into the digital living room, it was like kissing your sister—nice, but not very fulfilling.
The day after Jobs announcement, a box from Intel arrived at my house. Inside were five clear boxes, each neatly placed within the other (like a Russian nesting doll), that described various steps in the development of home entertainment, from 8mm to DVD to Viiv, Intel s next big thing. Now I love clear plastic boxes as much as the next guy, but I m still not convinced America is ready to have a Windows PC running its collective house, even if it does have the power to change your living room and your life. People deal with Windows all day. Do they really want the same headaches in the on/off world of home entertainment?
Intel claims Viiv is a platform designed for digital entertainment. Essentially, it s supposed to allow users to distribute digital media throughout the house. For example, you can download movies on a PC and watch them on a TV via a home network. Intel swears Viiv will Simplify your digital life. But the Viiv page carries a disclaimer that would do a drug company proud.
Functionality of Intel Viiv technology verified devices will vary . System and component performance and functionality will vary depending on your specific hardware and software configurations.
Now I ask you, when you open a new TV or other electronics device, do the materials say anything remotely like that?
So what does this mean for Windows Media Center? Well, it s no secret WMC been something of a bust, with a mere 4 million computers and entertainment devices sold since its introduction nearly four years ago. And while some of those folks may be using it to store and catalog their digital media, they re probably not using it to watch and record TV or download movies. In fact, I recently spoke to a fairly tech-savvy gentleman at MTV who told me he has a Windows Media Center PC, but he s not sure what it s supposed to do. Like most of us, he watches TV in the room where the TV is and uses the computer where he works. And he prefers to keep it that way.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention I ve done some work for a PR agency that promoted Windows Media Center PCs and digital entertainment devices. But honestly, I never bought the BS, particularly after I tried to connect one to the TV in my bedroom. After 10 hours of configuring and cursing, and cursing and re-configuring, I finally got it to work with an LCD monitor I had sitting around the house. Alas, after a month of sitting on the TV cabinet, I took it downstairs, where it s currently being used as a very expensive doorstop.
Bill Gates disagrees with me of course. At this year s CES, the Lord of Redmond proclaimed that in 2006, the realization of Windows Media Center as a volume mainstream product will really be clear to everyone in the marketplace. Uh, maybe. A more likely scenario, according to analysts and online rumormongers, is that Media Center functionality will just be folded into Vista, Microsoft s latest OS, scheduled to hit the market later this year. Then people can choose to use or ignore it.
Personally, I m still banking on the King of Cupertino to release his own, full-fledged media center. Given that so many people are comfortable with the iPod and its intuitive, easy-to-learn interface, it s a smart bet Apple will be able to sachet right into the digital living room. And who knows, now that Intel s inside, maybe Viiv will come along for the ride.
Brian L. Clark is a reporter and consultant on all things digital, runs the The Tech Enthusiast s Network, and writes for Money, Men s Health, and Laptop.