Why Media Center May Be the Only Box That Can Do It All
We now live in a technology world with many different DVR boxes from several different service providers that must be integrated into the systems we install. The Windows Media Center, however, is positioned to become the ultimate DVR for the networked home.
Andrés Echevarria (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner of Jive Digital Media Solutions in Belmont, North Carolina.
With the release of Windows 7, Media Center now has native support for a number of broadcast television sources, including digital cable, satellite, and overthe- air ATSC television. It can distribute live TV from any of these sources over the network to an extender device (currently the Xbox 360) and allow for true centralized content aggregation and simple distribution of that live or recorded content over the home network via IP.
First, let’s look at how Media Center interacts with each of the TV sources, and then we will look at the applications enabled by this functionality.
Source: Over-the-Air. Media Center has native support for Over the Air digital television. Tuners can be internal cards or a USB tuner connected to an antenna. Media Center will scan for signal strength and allow for channels with poor reception to be removed.
Source: Digital Cable. CableCARD tuner support is the shining star for Media Center. Microsoft and Cable Labs removed the cumbersome restrictions imposed on digital cable, which has opened up the market. Ceton Corp. recently release a CableCARD tuner capable of four simultaneous HD streams off of one card. Silicon Dust also will be releasing a CableCARD version of its HD HomeRun network tuner. Media Center has native support for Clear QAM digital cable channels, as well.
With the release of Windows 7, Media Center now has native support for a number of broadcast television sources, including digital cable, satellite, and overthe- air ATSC television.
Source: Satellite. Windows 7 allows Media Center to natively support satellite tuners. DIRECTV and DISH Network have developed tuners (DISH Network showed its tuner at CEDIA 2009), but neither company has released a tuner for Media Center. DIRECTV partnered with Microsoft to develop an external DIRECTV USB tuner but canceled the product as it was approaching launch.
Application: IPTV. The most exciting broadcast source supported in Media Center is IPTV, which is coming later in 2010. Microsoft announced at CES in January that once an IPTV provider such as AT&T Uverse upgrades its head-end system to Mediaroom 2.0 technology, Media Center would be able to consume their content services without the need for a hardware tuner. IPTV providers will also be able to provide Media Center customers with full access to their Video-On-Demand services.
Application: Internet TV. Internet TV is a new television source that Media Center is only starting to integrate. Microsoft has an Internet TV application natively built into Media Center with content provided primarily from CBS. It also provides a native Netflix streaming application. Other sources such as Hulu, YouTube, and Boxee can be launched from within Media Center but are not part of the Media Center experience. Microsoft has its internet-based content integrated into the Media Center electronic programming guide (EPG), making it easy for the customer to access and blurring the content source line even more. Unfortunately, the current extender model does not work with streaming internet content, so this feature would only be available for customers on the dedicated Media Center HTPC.
Media Center can be configured with a mix and match of any of the broadcast television sources listed above while maintaining one single unified guide. While broadcast television sources can be conglomerated into a unified guide, internet sources that are not provided directly from Microsoft are only as integrated as installers make them for the customer. Fortunately, a savvy ESC can integrate these sources into the Media Center experience that still maintains Media Center as the focal point of the customer experience.