If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
In classic Microsoft-fashion, the company is taking yet another stab at solving the PC-to-TV problem (the “last100 feet”), with the introduction of its Extenders for Windows Media platform. This time round, Microsoft’s partners include Cisco Systems’ Linksys division, D-Link and Niveus Media, each of which will bring to market devices “in a variety of innovative form factors and price points”, capable of streaming photos, music, video and live television from a PC running Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate to a wide-screen TV.
Microsoft is re-entering a crowded market for “media extenders” which is already littered with its own previous failures along with those of its partners, and competing products such as the fledgling AppleTV, DivX’s newly announced “connected” platform, and Sony’s PlayStation 3. In addition, Microsoft already makes one of the more successful “extenders”, in the company’s XBox 360.
Perhaps re-energized by the latter’s success, the Extenders for Windows Media platform is a major improvement over the company’s previous efforts, adding Wireless N support and the ability to stream video codecs such as DivX and Xvid (by far the most popular video formats for pirated content), along with continued support for Windows Media Video HD files.
The extenders will also lead the industry in supporting the ability to send protected HD content to additional rooms, including recorded TV from over-the-air Advanced Television Systems Committee or Cable Card tuners and movies and music available from providers such as CinemaNow, MovieLink LLC and Napster LLC. Extenders also support Media Center features such as Reuters news feeds, National Public Radio broadcasts, up-to-date sports reports from the FOX Sports Lounge, and subscription music from XM Radio. (Microsoft press release)
Without seeing the various devices upfront and actually trying out Microsoft’s latest attempt first hand, its hard to say if the company will be successful this time round. However, on paper the specs look good, and with faster wireless speeds and better video codecs (capable of streaming HD) the technology looks to have finally come of age. What’s also clear is that the market for people wanting to put a fully fledged PC into their living rooms — in the shape of Microsoft’s Media Center — is fairly small. So until we get broadband speeds fast enough to bypass the local PC/network altogether, the first company to produce an elegant and easy-to-use device that bridges the gap between the PC and TV, in a way which resonates with ordinary consumers, could still be onto a winner.