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Here's a little personality test for you. Do you like A) big, main highways and streets that get you where you have to go quickly and efficiently or B) are you the type that likes to meander down a country road, taking in the scenery? Do you A) tend to pay serious attention when a "very important person" makes an announcement, or do you B) seek out imperfections in said VIP's persona, delivery, diction or appearance with the aim of showing that s/he isn't all that important after all? Most important, do you prefer to A) spend money on an "all in one" solution that will (probably) get the job done or do you B) prefer to save time and money by doing things yourself?
If you answered "A" to the above questions, you trust authority and believe in what "those in the know" say about very important issues - and you are probably going to love Big Computing's (i.e. Microsoft's) Media Center offerings, which will provide a complete digital entertainment solution, with movies, TV, music, all delivered in style to your living room.
If you answered "B," you'll probably be happier providing all these digital media solutions for yourself, fashioning a system that you're happy with, with as little assistance/interference from Big Computing as possible.
But if the vision presented last week by Microsoft Israel comes to pass, your future may include an MS digital media solution, whether you like it or not.
The presenters at the Windows Vista Media Center roll-out were certainly hyped up about their new offerings. On the surface, though, it would seem that the services and capabilities offered by the Media Center solution have been available to savvy users for years - including the ability to download audio and video or import digital photos, all managed by software organizers/players (iTunes, Picasa, etc. all come to mind) - or, with a little more effort, setting up a personal video recorder solution (http://www.byopvr.com, http://www.mythtv.org).
But it's the forest, not the trees, that makes the Vista Media Center solution a contender. The folks at MS aren't blind, and know exactly who's downloading what from legal or illegal audio/video sites, and how many people have already integrated audio/video into their living room using a variety of solutions (like the one at http://tinyurl.com/39mhto, for example). It's clear that as users move to digital solutions for all their entertainment needs, including TV, movies, music and, of course, Internet, that there's big money to be made in outfitting living rooms around the world with its brand of digital entertainment solution. And this time, MS doesn't intend to be left behind, like it was in the portable audio/video wars (http://tinyurl.com/ounjv), where iPod and iTunes have long dominated.
It's a total solution Microsoft seeks to provide, and it's willing to share the wealth with big name partners in order to make sure that the Vista Media Center system is the one everyone flocks to.
To that end, MS Israel has established partnerships with YES digital satellite entertainment to provide TV programs and movies for Media Center system subscribers to watch on their systems. A number of major Web sites, like Ynet, MSN and Flix, will set up "special edition" sites for subscribers to interact with via the high-definition TVs, which the Media Center services are best viewed on. Intel, as the source of the Cored Dup processors the Media Center compatible hardware requires is, of course, a partner, and is developing sleek, low-temperature and low-profile components that will look good in the living room and integrate with the Media Center's digital delivery system. And, a number of companies, including Acer and Samsung, and marketed officially by Neopan, will provide the Media Center computers that fulfill the multiple roles of Internet radio, digital TV recorder, Internet interface, wireless networking solution and, of course, home base for the Vista Media Center Edition software that makes all this possible.
In order to expand Vista Media Center's appeal, Microsoft has undertaken partnerships with a number of organizations you might not have expected to see in a computer deal. Among the partners MS is working with is the Clalit Health Fund, which will provide a number of "health entertainment" type programs to system subscribers (think Dr. Phil meets Dr. Ruth). The most interesting and innovative partner in this mix is none other than furniture giant Ikea, which is designing a full line of furniture it says will enhance the digital experience provided by Vista Media Center. This could include acoustically designed furniture (that bounces audio signals to the center of a room), bookcases and tables sized for Media Center hardware, and other features. Ikea has actually set up a sample Media Center equipped home outside its Netanya outlet - and the public is invited to see the system at work.
So how does it work? Simply, says Microsoft, which knows the (large) crowd it's appealing to inside out. A couple of wires going into your HDTV, an Internet connection (via Bezeq Benleumi, in the "official" package), a Media Center PC (like one from the Acer Aspire series), and the Media Center compatible remote control - pre-programmed with the basic channels/Web sites/services you get with the Media Center system packages, and you're good to go. Couldn't be simpler!
The mainstay of the Media Center is, of course, a Vista-equipped computer, like the Acer Aspire iDea series (200/500, http://tinyurl.com/ounjv), which has a built-in PVR, TV tuners, all the TV/video connections you could want (SCART, DVI, HDMI), a 250-GB hard drive to hold all your recorded video, and connections for Viiv compliant peripherals, like home theater system speakers. YES will provide an Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) that you will be able to use to schedule recordings of TV shows (similar to the current YesMax solution). Recorded video will be stored on the hard drive, and you'll be able to fast forward through programs to catch up to real-time broadcasts or skip commercials. The Vista system itself, which has as its entertainment centerpiece Windows Media Player 11 and other integrated applications, interacts with the remote control and lets you choose, with a click, any audio, video, or picture selection from your library - and even lets you "mix and match" music, video and photos to create slideshows, individualized presentations, and much more.
Israel, of course, is not the first place where the integrated media center has been deployed - that honor, of course, belongs to the US, and review sites of the system have been for the most part positive, with many users praising the ease of use and functionality. What works well in America ought to work well in Israel, too. So, all's well that ends well, right?
I dunno; why don't we read the "Windows Media Center for Windows Privacy Statement?" This most interesting document lays out your rights and responsibility in terms of that most thorny problem - Digital Rights Management - that Microsoft, with the Media Center solution, hopes to solve for Big Computing - and Big Media - for once and for all.