6.5 million Windows XP Media Center Edition-based PCs and Other Thoughts I Had on Bill Gate’s Keynote CES Presentation Tonight

Bill Gates CES Keynote (Chris Pirillo) Chris Pirillo has a pretty good recap of Gates talk tonight. Engadget has an even better one. Scoble covered it as well. I watched a streaming version online as I won’t arrive at CES until 1pm tomorrow.

The big news out of the keynote in my opinion? 6.5 million Media Center PCs shipped to date. That’s a huge number. At CES last year Gates gave us a number of 1.4 million and this is obviously substantially higher. In an interview that I blogged last year with the BBC Gates had said, “as these devices come out, we will be able to double the sales every year for a number of years.” Well moving from 1.4 million Media Center PCs to 6.5 million is quite a bit better than doubling their sales.

Of course one major change that we did see this year was the fact that many of the major OEMs began shipping Media Center as the default choice which raises the question of how many of those 6.5 million Media Center PCs shipped to date are actually really being used primarily as Media Center PCs vs. home office PCs that happen to have Media Center installed. A good comparison number could be the number of Media Center PCs that have shipped with TV tuners but I did not hear that number come out of tonight’s keynote talk.

Vista was obviously the biggest story. Well that and the super hot and sexy HDTV talk and capabilities. Vista looked slick on stage as did the XBox 360. I was slightly disappointed in watching the Media Center presentation to see Microsoft hype the speed and performance improvements of the Media Center digital library by showing us how it performed with 10,000 songs and 1,000 albums. Quite frankly Media Center handles 10,000 songs just fine today. Where you run into problems are the truly large libraries. I would have like to have seen them demo it with 100,000 tunes. That would have been far more impressive to me.

I was also worried, as I’ve expressed in the past, by Microsoft’s continued involvement with things like Starz new Vongo service. They once again mentioned Vongo in the keynote and I worry that our ability to copy recorded programming from our Media Center PCs over to our laptops or portable devices is going to be crippled due to pressure from the Starz of the world as they try and collect an additional $9.99 per month from us for content that we are already paying for and recording with our Media Center PVRs. I’m not sure how all this will play out via Vista DRM but I am not optimistic.

They also hyped Urge their new music download service with MTV. Yawn. I’m not much interested in any service that is going to give me DRM laden tracks when I can rip my own crystal clear DRM free mp3s myself.

Live.com came up again and also having your friends recommend shows for you. There may be something here but I’d have to try it out first. Right now I don’t really feel like my TiVo gets me and I’ve never seen any recommendation technology that I’ve really been impressed with. Amazon probably comes the closest but even there I’m a hard nut to figure out.

The little Toshiba video player held by Joe (so that’s what he looks like) and his self proclaimed “little hands.” Sheesh, who would *ever* want to watch TV or movies on that? How can you possibly see the picture? And only four hours battery? I’ll take my laptop any day and I can get tons of content for that as it is just by copying recorded TV and movies on my network from my Media Center PC. Will the laptop be an “approved device” to copy content over to with Vista or will we be forced into using these tiny little Toshiba things in order to get the HDTV content off our boxes?

Comedy Central has joined Online Spotlight which now boasts over 110 Online Spotlight Partners. I’m still not 100% ready to fall all over myself with Online Spotlight yet. There is virtually no high definition content available via the service yet and much of the content is low res sucky video. Much of the long tail stuff available through things like Akimbo suffers from complex pricing models that require subscriptions AND pay per view charges.

ExtremeTech did a review earlier last month where they were less than impressed with the Online Spotlight service themselves, “The Windows Media Center team needs to take some hints from the Xbox Live experience, and enforce some user interface and system integration standards. While some applications and content delivery schemes worked just fine, others were tedious to install and more difficult to use than they needed to be. Some didn’t work at all.” Honestly I don’t find myself using it all that much either. It still feels clunky to me and many of the services require additional software to be installed (and in the case of Akimbo upfront credit card numbers to even try the free trial period).

I’ve still yet to see any Online Spotlight content to really get me excited yet. Where’s the high def content? Where’s stuff from Google Video, Our Media and the Internet Archive? Why not have MSN aggregate all the free video floating around the internet and put together a custom channel of hot micro content? Where’s my beloved Flickr? Even NewsGator, my RSS reader of choice, feels clunky to me in Online Spotlight. Why can’t I configure it to only show me the stuff I haven’t seen instead of *all* my feeds? For Pete’s sake, where is even Scoble’s own Channel 9?

Anywho. Less than impressed by the keynote I guess. Liked how slick Vista looked, all the super cool XBox 360 graphics and especially all the talk of HDTV everywhere. Still I worry that I’ll lose functionality and control with Vista, that Online Spotlight is missing the most compelling content and that Vista will still clunk along with my (much larger than 10,000 tunes) digital library. Hopefully as 2006 unfolds these concerns of mine quickly melt away.

Update: Cory Bergman from the Lost Remote adds his thoughts. Gartenberg also offers his thoughts.

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6 Comments

  1. Carl says:

    Thomas – your comments on the Toshiba Personal Media Player led me to wonder what you use for photo storage in the field and/or on vacation. If you’re shooting around town, it makes sense to just use flash memory. What do you do when you’re on vacation or on a long trip? Do you offload pictures on to your laptop? Do you use one of the other PMPs? Might make a good blog post if you haven’t already answered the question somewhere along the way.

    The reason I ask is that I’m (hopefully) going to take a long trip to Europe this year and I’m not sure I want to truck a laptop all over the continent. I’m thinking of buying one of the Archos AV400 series devices for photo storage while I’m there.

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    An excellent question Carl. The answer is exactly as you suggest, I bring my laptop with me. As I fill up my memory card with each shoot I then dump those photos on my laptop and free up the 4 gig card in my 5D and the one gig card in my 10D.

    I’m not sure how easy it would be to transfer your photos to the Archos AV400 as I’m unfamiliar with this product, but theoretically, if the connections worked with your camera and the drive was big enough this would seem suitable.

    You could also consider buying an external USB drive and stopping by internet cafes or other places and hooking your camera up to the remote PC along with your drive and downloading them that way. A drive would be smaller than a laptop if that is a concern and you should probably have one for back up anyways.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, like you, the idea or Urge makes me yawn. The part that caught my eye, however, was when they said that they were viewing a 2 million song library. Responsiveness at 10,000 songs may not be that impressive, but WMP 11 didn’t seem to slow down at all in the face of 2,000,000 songs. Any idea if there was any truth to that?

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    I don’t think you get to download all 2 million. More likely you stream with the service and download selected tracks. Very different from actually importing all 2 million tracks into your wmp locally.

    I am optimistic thought that wmp11 will handle better large digital libraries based on things Microsoft’s Matt Goyer has said about improving performance with Vista in the past. Still would have been nice to see them demo it and more impressive at 100,000 tracks. It leads me to believe that perhaps performance would not have been as fast or smooth as in the demo with 10,000.

    I will try of course and Matt’s offered to let me bring hard drives to CES and give it a spin there but I’m not keen about shleping my digital library to Vegas and especially when I’ve been having stability and back up problems with it lately.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What normal person has more that 10 000 songs on his PC anyway

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