Media Center Doesn't Meet Our Standards
By Joe Calise
To Media Center, or not to Media Center?
That's this year's big question. Do we jump on the bandwagon or not? I personally have mixed feelings about it.
We wonder, like many C-tailers do, if Windows Media Center is something that our customers will be looking to us to deliver or carry.
When I was offered the opportunity to become a dealer for one of the manufacturers that is making its own hardware for the Media Center platform, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore my options and see what Media Center was all about. Let's face it: If we don't familiarize ourselves with the products our customers want (or might want), those customers will probably look elsewhere.
I won't name the manufacturer and, I must say, they're a great bunch of guys. And I really do wish them success. However, my ultimate decision was to take advantage of my money-back guarantee.
When I opened the box, I figured, "Okay, I can set this up." I'm sure many of you have experienced the same first impression.
Well, as we all know, first impressions can be deceiving. I could not get the unit to work on my display. So I decided to open up the installation manual (yes, once in a while, it is necessary). Even so, I spent over two hours with this unit and still did not have a consistent display on my monitor. I was using HDMI, so I assumed it would connect very easily—which it did, but I just could not get a picture that would stay on without cutting out.
After a call to tech support, we finally got it up and running, so I played around a little bit. "Not too bad," I thought, and there are some really cool interactive features too. All was not well, however. The unit came with an ISF-certified video card, but I was not impressed with the picture at all. I found it very soft, even after trying to adjust the video settings. Evaluating the unit as a potential product in my store, I was not impressed with the audio/video portion of the platform.
Despite my reservations, I decided to hold onto the unit and show it off to my customers during the grand opening of our Seaford, N.Y., store. It got some "oohs" and "ahhs" when the pictures of my kids softly rolled onto the screen accompanied by the music of Norah Jones playing in the background. Nobody had any interest in actually purchasing one of the units, however.
My most embarrassing Media Center experience occurred during my friends-and-family night. In front of 50 of the most important people in my life, I had trouble getting the machine to work. I really wasn't interested in such a challenge with this unit. I imagined how one of my (or your) customers would feel if this happened to him while showing off the new system I sold him to his friends!
In my view, Media Center provides an interactive way to manage your photos and some cool "showing off" to your friends and family. And to be fair, it does everything else it claims to do—audio, video, DVR and so on. Regardless, I have yet to be impressed enough to say that Media Center meets the standards we all try to maintain as custom retailers.
MY NETWORKING GUY AGREES
I wanted to be sure I wasn't jumping to conclusions, so I decided to speak with Chris Suozzi. He's the man who maintains my network, and we work with him on some of our larger networked homes and offices.
When we first spoke of Media Center, he was very high on the product. He later told me, however, that once he installed Media Center for a family member, he realized the limitations of the platform. "I was not happy when he [the family member] called me and told me he could not watch TV because the computer was locked up," said Suozzi.
As a custom retailer, the last thing I want to deal with is a Windows-based computer that leads my customer to give me an "emergency" phone call because he can't watch the next episode of Lost. I want to sell products that help me avoid such scenarios.
Suozzi and I also discussed the hardware end of Media Center. The fact is, he could build me a similar machine for a fraction of what it cost me to acquire the unit from the manufacturer. That wasn't the only time I heard such a thing, either. Since I opened my new showroom in September, I've had three computer guys—they seemed like IT guys getting off the train from Manhattan—come in and ask me if we had any interest in working with them on future products using their Windows Media Center machines. The best part is that they just figured they would get to build, sell and install the machines themselves, while they kicked me back a whopping five percent! Are these guys nuts or what?
Anyway, to sum up: My overall opinion of the Media Center product was not very high. I don't see many of my customers looking to use a computer to watch TV after a long day at the office. From a business point of view, I also don't see the profitability in the product.
Media Center points to the big convergence we are all experiencing, and I am all for convergence. I think we are living in a very exciting time for our industry. However, I believe that if (and probably when) Microsoft is ready to take a piece of our pie, it's going to have to do a much better job.
Even then, we all know how profitable selling computer products can be, right? Yes, that's sarcasm. Microsoft needs to realize the margins we need to sustain in order for it to be profitable enough for us to sell these machines.
Joe Calise is president of Sights-N-Sounds, a C-tailer with locations in Seaford, N.Y., and Huntington, N.Y. He can be reached at email@example.com.