Three Ways to Make Microsoft’s Media Center Better

Earlier today I wrote about the superiority of Microsoft’s XBox 360 as a home media delivery device over Apple’s iDongle. Media Center does still need some work and following are three suggestions on how they can make their platform even more kick ass.

1. Fix the problems that MCE has with large audio mp3 collections (people’s music collections are getting larger and larger). This has been an ongoing problem for years.

2. Offer more robust long tail integration with online video offerings. What I mean by this is that I should be able to subscribe to various online video content (Scoble’s Podtech shows, Look Shiny, Chris Pirillo, etc.) and this content should (optionally) actually be aggregated in with my content recorded from my TV. Just like I get a season pass to the Sopranos on my Media Center PC, I should also be able to get a season pass to Scoble’s video content and see this programming on the same recently recorded video screen.

As part of this initiative Microsoft should offer a new publishing platform for free similar to TiVo’s Home Movies option that they announced yesterday.

3. Microsoft needs a “discover” section in Media Center. Discover would consist of three new areas. Discover Video, Discover Music, and Discover Photos.

Discover Video would be used in conjunction with Soapbox and possibly other video services (Digg Video, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.) and would use open APIs and your social data around your user experiences on these sites to suggest interesting video content that you might want to consume.

Discover Music would be used in conjunction with Pandora or LastFM (or a similar Microsoft built system if they could build one) where you could essentially tune into interesting new music on your Xbox 360. Microsoft should buy either Pandora or LastFM by the way.

Discover Photos. Ok, here I’m obviously biased because I run a photo sharing site, and in the interest of not coming across as sounding like I’m suggesting to Microsoft to buy Zooomr, lets just say that there are some very interesting things that Microsoft could do to serve up fantastic photos to viewers.

One of the problems with photos on the MCE platform at present is that they are just limited to *your* photos. There is a lame pay GalleryPlayer option to get great digital art for slide shows, but content as good could be aggregated through a photo sharing site for free. Microsoft should either build this or buy this.

A cool photo sharing site could run on it’s own through MSN but could also provide optionally highly personalized wall art for the high def plasmas that are filling up our home. The key is to aggregate this art in such a way that each user is uniquely served up photos and art through a slide show (to go with the great music recommendation service from Pandora or Last FM). This would go a long way towards automating a pretty cool audio visual discovery experience on the Media Center PC.

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10 comments on “Three Ways to Make Microsoft’s Media Center Better
  1. André Sala says:

    Well, you can get pretty close to #2 with TVTonic (found in the Online Spotlight section of MCE), but I agree it would be fantastic for this content to show up in the same “recently recorded” screen…

    [disclaimer, i help make tvtonic]

  2. Shahn Hogan says:

    Thomas,
    Have you used Vista Media Center yet? I believe they fixed #1.

  3. johncz says:

    I still think DRM is still a big issue with digital entertainment platforms like Media Center. What I’d really like the future to bring is for Microsoft to move to a Home Network DRM solution as opposed to a Machine Specific one that we have today. I was hoping that Windows Home Server would offer a solution.

  4. DWAnderson says:

    Most of these things can be accomplished by addins– something at isn’t really present on any other platform.

    See my post at http://thunor.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!71C238B5E0E3724D!222.entry

  5. JB says:

    Regarding the gallery player – if you are only into looking at family vacation pictures, then your probably right, the Gallery Player may not be for you. However, if you want high resolution, color corrected, lossless compression, or images of actual artwork, then I think you’d have a hard time doing any better than GP.

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Thomas,
    Have you used Vista Media Center yet? I believe they fixed #1.

    Shahn,

    I actually have only used unreleased beta versions of Vista. But if I understand things correctly, even in Vista MCE still runs My Music off of Windows Media Player 11.

    If at it’s core Windows Media Center 11 can’t handle my library, then I’m pretty sure that by extension Vista Media Center will have the same trouble.

    I may be wrong here and someone from Microsoft feel free to correct me if this is the case, but unless my library works in WMP11, I doubt that it is going to work in Vista. If I’m wrong I’d upgrade to Vista tomorrow because there is actually great value for me personally in being able to access my music library via MCE.

    To be fair, my mp3 library is especially large with over 100,000 tracks in it.

    Most of these things can be accomplished by addins– something at isn’t really present on any other platform.

    dwanderson,

    add ins are nice and I’ve long been a fan of the SDK that MSFT ships for MCE. Open APIs and open development platforms are the future for all of software.

    But I’m not sure that the type of integration that I’m talking about could technically be done through the SDK, Online Spotlight, etc. What I’m talking about is two new areas in MCE.

    1. Merge broadcast TV with subscriptions to niche content both under the My TV menu item. What I’m suggesting is that subscribed video content be treated exactly like subscribed TV content. I should even have some powerful search options for my niche content, like I should be able to get a subscription to any video that mentions the terms Zooomr or Flickr.

    2. MCE Discover should be a place where MSFT can highlight new and interesting content for free. This may be difficult for MSFT to overcome as they are somewhat addicted to trying to sell you content, but the concept behind free internet video, free user created photography and music services like Pandora and last FM should rule this area of the service.

    Since blogging this I’ve also been made aware of MSN Radio. http://radio.msn.com/

    MSN Radio seems awfully close to what Pandora or Last FM are doing. The interesting thing is that I’d never heard of it. Which just goes to show you that even when Microsoft builds things sometimes they lack the ability to effectively get users. This could be the answer for “Discover” music though.

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Regarding the gallery player – if you are only into looking at family vacation pictures, then your probably right, the Gallery Player may not be for you. However, if you want high resolution, color corrected, lossless compression, or images of actual artwork, then I think you’d have a hard time doing any better than GP.

    JB, you are definitely wrong about this. Check out sites like Flickr and Zooomr today and you will see that the photography being produced by the amateurs is every bit as good as what is being sold on GalleryPlayer. In fact, in some cases it’s better.

    By creating a vehicle where users can choose to share their photos not just through a website but through MCE as well just makes all the sense in the world.

    I’ve hobbled this together myself by using Slickr (an external app using the Flickr API) to download to my PC all of my favorite photos on Flickr. This is not an easy workaround though and for this type of an effort and initiative to have maximum success it should be more built into the MCE platform under a “Discover” section.

    There is not sense in paying GalleryPlayer for very good content that you can get for free.

  8. Bushi says:

    1. Allow tagging of content easily so that I can see all my stuff (and if I like all movies/vids etc not in the TV section) at one time. so click all kids stuff to pick from, click, all wifes garbage, click all the stuff we watch together. No centralized content view or multi user aspect blows.
    2. Folders that work.
    3. unembrace DRM but yeah duh. I’d settle for don’t fuck up the mod community working on the commercial skip and mdvd etc.
    4. Make the 360 playback anything I can play on MCE. mpeg4 xvid, divx whatever.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Re; Gallery player.

    I know what you mean, however, whats wrong with paying photogs for their excellent HD images. Surely your not against proper renumeration for work done.

    We get gallery player through comcast and I thouroghly enjoy the h res images and am considering buying a dvd of their stuff. The Art photos are real nice on my HD screen.

  10. jonathan says:

    What would be really nice is to turn Xbox on and have it go direct to a destination of your choice.

    My vista media center is in the basement, 1 Xbox in my theater, and 1 in my living room, both are usually powered down due to fan noise and power consumption.

    If I decide to watch TV in the living room, I turn the screen on, then turn the xbox on and it goes to the dashboard (after telling me it is an Xbox 360 in a big LOUD unneccesary brainwashing splash screen – duh, my toaster doesn’t announce itself this way, why does my TV?).

    Then I need to hit the green button on the remote, wait (a long time) for the media center to be “located” and the media center menu eventually comes up. THEN I need to hit “live TV” and then select a channel.

    Talk about a convoluted way to watch TV – this usually takes at least 2 minutes, why not a setting in the Xbox that allows you to boot it directly to live TV or the menu, or to music etc?