January 22, 2008
| by Rebecca Day
The long-promised convergence of computers and home entertainment is finally becoming reality, and it’s no a surprise that Microsoft is playing a major role. Although Microsoft’s Media Center PC platform and associated extenders have been around for years, the high-definition cable piece was missing from the picture. Without the ability to send HD cable programs to the family TV, Media Center didn’t have credibility as a viable digital video recorder (DVR).
Microsoft’s Vista operating system has changed all that. Now consumers can record HD cable programs onto PCs equipped with tuners using CableCards. And they can send those programs to up to five extenders in the house.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game console comes with software that turns it into a Media Center Extender when the game player is on a network. All the digital media on your Media Center PC—photos, music, videos, live and recorded TV—can be accessed on home theater systems elsewhere in the house, using either wired or wireless networking. Media Center Extenders bring the same user interface we see on Media Center PCs to the living room, making the TV a true extension of the PC experience.
When Media Center PCs first arrived, the idea was to bring conventional TV programming to the PC environment by taking advantage of the storage space on the PC hard drive. Today, the PC environment is bringing its own content to market, and consumers want to be able to view the videos they stream or download from YouTube, Amazon Unbox, CinemaNow and other web sites on their TVs.
Home-generated videos are part of the mix, too. As people dump the video from their hard-disk camcorders to their PCs, they want to be able to view that footage on the big screen, and Media Center Extenders enable the distribution. Even webcams figure into the picture. Add a networked home-monitoring camera from D-Link or Linksys, install a Windows Media Center plug-in, and those feeds become viewable on any TV that’s part of the Media Center network. You can see who’s at the front door when you’re watching TV.