I’ve recently helped a few friends get setup with "media centers" as their home entertainment systems. They’ve all been centered around using a small form-factor computer to ‘power’ things, and central to that is Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Windows Media Center.
I was lucky enough to be a software tester at Microsoft around 2001 testing the first version of Window Media Center Edition (MCE) and it was exciting back then. It’s now been 10 years – and it still hasn’t caught on. But, I’m confident that’s about to change.
TiVo can be credited with getting the ‘digital revolution’ started by recording the standard TV signals onto a hard drive, then letting people play it back whenever, and with the ability to skip commercials. It took a few years for consumers to "get the idea", but now almost everyone has a DVR (digital video recorder). I often explained the TiVo as being on par with the invention of the telephone. At first, no one really needed it, but it quickly became something that no one could live without. And now look where we are with phones…
After TiVo and DVRs became common-place, the price came down and availability went up for large flat-panel TVs. At first, only a few people had them, but here again, almost everyone has a flat-panel TV now. And once those HD televisions were everywhere, the TV stations started broadcasting in HD. Then by 2006 Sony had started shipping their Blu-ray format DVDs and players, with higher-definition pictures to go with those big TVs.
So, what’s next? Well, over the past couple of years, Hulu and Netflix and even YouTube have seen incredible growth in the number of users who stream video. Devices like the XBox, Roku and next-gen TiVo allow people to play movies instantly through their internet connections. It’s obvious that media streaming is the next big thing. Right now, not everyone is ready for it, but within a year or two, it will be just like DVRs – people won’t be able to live without instant, on-demand, streaming media to their home entertainment systems.
This is where Microsoft has yet another chance to do something great – or flop (as has been their way lately.) Windows Media Center is now built-in to Windows 7. And it’s got some great features. Aside from recording TV to the hard drive, there are lots of applications available and great integration with XBox and other devices to become "media extenders", which will allow the whole house to use the content on the machine. That, combined with Netflix, web-browsing, music and photo playback, MCE could be the killer app as the next big thing comes around. The question is – can Microsoft deliver? Or will they fall into old habits and just sit back and expect people to fit into Microsoft’s mold? I’m sure Google TV is hoping that’s what they do…
Now, I do love what Google has been doing in recent years, but I love what Microsoft use to be as well. So for now, I have to root for Microsoft and hope that they do the right thing and do some SERIOUS work on Windows Media Center. They’ve got MAYBE a year to get it updated, start having contests or paying people to build apps for it (which also means building a GOOD app store for it), and then get it into people’s living rooms. If they don’t do it now, they’ll never get the chance again – and it will be yet another great product that they’ve developed, then let die on the vine.
Now, with that out of the way, what’s the next, NEXT big thing after streaming media? I say it’s all about information. Contextual information that goes along with people’s favorite media is the thing to watch.
VidTaggr.com has that platform working now, but it’s a tiny bit ahead of it’s time (hopefully just a TINY bit!) Once everyone is streaming all of their movies, TV shows and other media, they’re going to want something more. Just like how we weren’t satisfied with only being able to make phone calls from the beach, now we want to call from the beach, but we want GPS built-in and 5mp cameras and internet access – ON OUR PHONE! So as streaming becomes ‘the next big thing’, VidTaggr will be right behind that to be the next, NEXT big thing.