The Media Center Tax

The Media Center Tax — InsideMicrosoft – part of the Blog News Channel Inside Microsoft has an excellent follow up post to my post asking the other day why anyone would pay $9.99 for Vongo when you can basically do the same thing with your Media Center PC for free.

They put it much more clearly than I do in terms of those not using Media Center to get their remote content as being victims of a Media Center Tax.

“In my mind, every time you purchase a show from iTunes, every time you purchase a subscription to a movie channel you already get on your cable, you are paying the “Lack of Media Center Tax”. You are paying, in a way that is painfully obvious, for not having bought a Windows Media Center PC.

Sure, if you buy one or two episodes of Lost from iTunes, that’s no big deal, but if you are one of those people that use the service religiously, you are just plain losing out. Lets see:

* Imaginary PC: $600
* iPod with video: $300
* One 22-episode season of TV: $44

Or:

* The same PC bought with Media Center (free) and a TV tuner and remote control and IR receiver (add $100 @ Dell): $700
* Creative Zen Portable Media Center: $258 (and can be had for $180-190, depending on rebates)
* One TV episode, recorded off TV and synced to your device: $0″

I’d never really thought about having to use a pay download service as a Media Center tax but they illustrate this point very very well.

Inside Microsoft also doubts that we will see copying restrictions for programming set into Vista. “if Microsoft did that, we’d all stick with Windows XP Media Center Edition, and never upgrade to Vista on our Media Centers, or alternatively, we’d use an alternative program that didn’t have such awful restrictions.” Here I’m not so sure that I agree though. The big trade off gambit is HDTV. You will not be able to get CableCARD supported HDTV without Vista. Vista has the DRM protection schemes in place which allowed Microsoft to get CableLabs to approve the Media Center PC as a device.

The trade off will be that without Vista you will be restricted to OTA HDTV. I sure hope that Inside Microsoft is right though and that we can continue to copy files from our Media Center PCs to our laptops unabatted with Vista but I do get worried when I hear that Microsoft is the very one working with Vongo to create their service. I worry that Microsoft won’t want to upset their important and lucrative partner Starz and thus could be pressured into putting technology in place to prohibit us from copying Starz content over to our laptops — and even with MCE XP.

Of course time will tell on this and I do hope that my concerns are overblown.

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    In my opinion what you’ll see happen is that there will be two forms of MCE boxes, one that supports cable card. This one will be for the enthusiasts that want to have the ultimate home theater setup.
    The second one will be a traditional PC supporting a Firewire connection. Firewire compatibility is federally mandated for all cable companies STB and the cable companies/networks aren’t allowed to downgrade or encrypted the signal of any broadcasts that also go out OTA. The biggest problem with Firewire is that the premium cable networks HBO, Stars, etc.. can legal encrypt their signal and their is no way to get them (short of using cable card). Firewire provides a simple and effective solution to getting signal to a PC. Since it doesn’t require a tuner or IR blaster it’s also extremely economical for a PC vendor to make an instant DVR. The cable companies aren’t gonna complain either because they’re still getting their STB rental fee.

    The real question is– will Microsoft be the leader in introducing a firewire solution, or will Apple implement it first? Both companies are reluctant to upset their partners, but I’d Bet on Apple to take the lead. Front row could be a category killer if it had a DVR feature combined with Ipod compatibility.

    Getting back to your original point— Maybe Microsoft is trying to partner up with the premium networks (Stars) to offer their programing since it won’t be made available via Firewire. Of course I could be totally wrong and Microsoft might entirely forsake thier customers and continue thier courtship with the media companies. I think even the boys in Seattle realize if they do that they will lose the battle for the living room in very short order.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like a Firewire connection will only allow the five or six major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, UPN/WB) because those are th only ones that go out over the air. So that means that everything else…ESPN, MSG, SHO, MTV, CNN, TMC, InHD, SCI, HBO, DIS, A&E;, MAX, VH1 would be encrypted and unavailable? Why would Microsoft bother to go this route to only make five or six channels available for recording?
    Besides, anyone who already has a cable box with a Firewire port can just exchange it for a CableCard, and then have every channel available in Media Center. Why bother to keep the old box?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Now, here’s the skinny on the restriction error – I finally found out how to get rid of it – after trying EVERY DAMN patch and update on the internet I tried this …(and it works) first I unplugged the cable/sat from the VCR and straight into the PC (for me with S-Video) and I have not gotten that Damn restriction error since. Now, just a guess – either not being connected DIRECTLY into the PC or the ANT(regular screw on) hookup causes the restriction error – Try the direct hookup from the cable/sat box & S-Video(if you have this choice) and you will be SMILING SMILING SMILING…