The general pitch was that computers and consumer electronics are coming together around a specially designed version of Windows XP, and you now can do amazingly cool things with digital media that people yesterday could only dream about.
But before heading out to the malls this weekend, it's worth asking whether the industry is again over-reaching.
The idea that the personal computer is destined to find its rightful way into the living room by merging with a consumer electronics device--be it a television console, a stereo system or some other appliance-- is not new. In fact, the pursuit of integrated, simple and convenient digital entertainment has been one of the technology industry's more enduring grails.
Companies still insisted on rushing out kludgy products that had interfaces that ranged from the barely adequate to the spectacularly lousy.
There's nothing revolutionary about using a computer to pause and rewind radio broadcasts, edit and print photos, or rip CDs onto a hard drive. Same goes for using a remote control to play a game on a computer. To be fair, the Media Center software marks the first time Microsoft has recast a version of its Windows operating system with digital media entertainment specifically in mind.
Microsoft also has had to rethink its assumptions about who would buy this stuff. A year ago, the company thought the idea would take root with the college set and twenty-somethings. Instead, Microsoft found the typical owner to be in his 40s. Lining up partners like Dell will help force down prices to within easier reach. But this is part of the natural evolution of things--and hardly the revolution some of the more breathless claims would have you believe.
The bigger question is why it's taken so long for somebody to come up with a first-rate solution. Apple's had some success with Steve Jobs' digital hub strategy. But PC companies generally have been slow to get serious about convergence.
Same goes for the consumer electronics industry--though I'm sure that one day, a company like Sony will come out with an easy-to-use CD device that's equipped with a huge internal hard drive to allow music ripping and the easy transfer and storage of your collection. Sonicblue andoffered something of the sort in years past. But their entries never went far, because they were pricey and relatively difficult to use.
Good luck to them, but the buying public's not as dumb as some folks assume.
The hard part is figuring out just how all this is going to come together. After two-plus blah years, the computer industry is starved for a big hit and desperate for something that will contribute to a bang-up fourth quarter. Now, the gong has been rung. More than 40 PC manufacturers plan to ship Media Center PCs (based on a special version of Microsoft's Windows XP), and you'll see and hear a lot of advertising between now and Dec. 31.
Good luck to them, but I think they'll find that the buying public's not as dumb as some folks assume. Stuffing a bunch of existing technologies into a computer box hardly classifies as the last word in convergence. Even wall-to-wall advertising can't change that reality.