PC vs. CE?
Last month, Microsoft made its largest push yet to gain a foothold in the living rooms and entertainment centers of America with its announcement of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, along with complimentary products and services from third parties such as Dell, HP, Gateway, Toshiba's Digital Products Division, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear.
The press, the analysts and the hardcore geeks went into their predictable tizzies—and granted, the sight of Bill Gates lounging with Queen Latifah at the press conference was truly mind-bending. But mainstream America, distracted by presidential politics, baseball playoffs, everyday life and its iPods, barely shrugged.
However, the products that emerge from this announcement might well serve an important purpose—that of expanding consumer awareness of whole-house, networked entertainment. The traditional CE powerhouses aren't thrilled, not with well-heeled PC competition coming out with competing displays and A/V components. C-tailers are nervous too, and many fear that Microsoft—not to mention Apple and Red Hat—will provide consumers with easy-to-use services and applications that heretofore only the pros could set up. The fabled 1990s "war for eyeballs" has now turned into a war for the remote control.
Most consumers today, either for the sake of simplicity or simply due to a lack of awareness, keep TVs and A/V components on their own home entertainment island, away from the PC, and in most cases, the twain never meet. Slowly but surely, things are changing. The mainstream successes of MP3 players and digital cameras have proven that Americans are more comfortable with and excited about convergence than ever before, even if they're not really aware of the concept itself. But when presented with the bigger whole-house convergence picture, consumers seem to be saying, "Sounds cool, but it also sounds like a lot of hassle. Wake me up when it's easy."
Those with the means and the interest to live in connected homes usually enlist the aid of skilled systems integrators, but Microsoft and its partners believe they finally have the goods to wake up mainstream users. Media Center 2005 is Microsoft's most significant attempt yet to break the PC free of its traditional role and allow it to infiltrate the living room with home entertainment capabilities. Microsoft and its partners claim to offer the ability to control music, TV, movies, photos and games from one place, using not a mouse but a remote control.