Dude, I’m Getting a Dell!

Dell Renegade

I ordered a new Dell PC online today over at Dell. I’m still using my MacBook Pro as my primary every day computer, but I needed to upgrade my Media Center PC in my home which handles all of my digital photos and mp3 files.

I considered using this upgrade as an excuse to go 100% Apple, but there are several reasons that I didn’t do this.

First and foremost I think that Microsoft has a better strategy for home media than Apple both now and going forward. By using XBox 360s as extender units (I’ve got two installed now — one in the bedroom and one in the living room and a third for the kitchen on the way) I can effectively leverage my digital media collection throughout my entire home.

My mom actually gave me an AppleTV for Christmas, which I returned to Apple, as I’ve been more impressed by what I’ve seen from Microsoft in home media than Apple.

Why do I like the Vista Media Center / XBox 360 strategy better than AppleTV?

Well first off every XBox 360 has a DVD player in it. I know that may sound lame, but Netflix has become a fixture in my home media strategy going forward and I just didn’t want to buy an AppleTV for every room AND a separate ugly DVD player for every room. It’s totally lame to me that Apple does not include a DVD player with AppleTV. Personally I think they do this because they don’t want outside providers like Netflix to compete with stuff they want you to buy from iTunes. A DVD player takes almost no space (I have one on my MacBook Pro) and they are super cheap.

I’m especially surprised that Apple, who ought to understand design aesthetics, would not realize that for a home media strategy people would not want 2 boxes in every room, with one of the boxes being a big ugly black DVD player. Simplifying my home media strategy to one plasma and one box in every room makes better aesthetic design sense.

Another reason why I opted to go with Microsoft for the home has to do with my large media library. At present I have over 100,000 mp3s and close to that many digital photos. I’ve been testing out a loaner Dell PC over the past few weeks and found that Windows Media Player 11 combined with Vista Media Center on the Dell performed very well with my large digital media library. I was even able to seamlessly stream all of my media from my Drobos to my XBox 360 extender units with little trouble at all. iTunes on the other hand has been very difficult for me to use with my library.

I blogged about my problems with iTunes recently. My two big problems with iTunes are the incessant need to continuously analyze “gapless playback” and “album art.” These two “features” (sic) made iTunes pretty much unusable for me when accessing my media over my home network. Since I have over a TB of digital media, actually storing the digital media on my MacBook wasn’t really an option. Since AppleTV runs off iTunes, I had no confidence in AppleTV’s ability to effectively stream my digital media to AppleTV devices in my home. iTunes also does a crappy job at handling duplicate files in a large library.

The third reason why I went with Microsoft is that every XBox 360 extender unit is also a kick ass gaming machine. This is more for the kids than for me (although I do enjoy playing Lego Star Warswith the kids every now and again), but this is a nice added bonus that AppleTV does not offer.

As AppleTVs and a new Mac Mini go for about the same price as XBox 360s and a new Dell, I felt that the Microsoft strategy represented both better value as well as better performance for my home media goals.

The new Dell that I bought was the XPS 420 with the Intel Core2 Q6600 Quad-Core processor. This unit represented good value with a base price of $999. With the added memory and other enhancements, (with tax, shipping was free) my bottom line price was $1,358.31.

Special thanks go to bloggers Charlie Owen at Microsoft as well as Ed Bott for offering me guidance, advice and recommendations as I worked through my home media strategy. Both these guys are two of the top Windows Pros out there today and if you are using a Microsoft Media Center PC I’d recommend following their blogs. The Dell XPS 420 recommendation came from Ed who has been using this PC as his primary one and represents especially good value right now.

I’m going to write up a more substantive review (and maybe do a video tour) on Vista Media Center and my XBox 360 Extenders in the next few weeks once I get all the pieces set up and in place.

Also as part of my strategy going forward I will probably be abandoning TiVo and DirecTV. DirecTV has pretty much abandoned high def TiVo and Microsoft’s Media Center DVR (something else missing with AppleTV) can zap commercials as good as TiVo. Between Netflix, media that I can buy from Microsoft on Media Center, and free OTA network HDTV (I’ve also got a dual tuner Silicon Dust HDHomeRun Networked Digital HDTV Tunerfrom Amazon on its way to me in the mail as we speak) I think going forward I will be cutting the cable/satellite cartel out of my life (along with their $85 a month charge) for good.

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30 Comments

  1. Spencer says:

    I absolutely agree with you on Apple’s standing in the home media side of things. I do like the way MCE seems to have this design down (and it even has a big industry behind it–if CES has something to say about it). I saw earlier today that you could pick up an HP small media center machine with Blu-Ray/HD DVD for about $750. Not too bad.

  2. Todd says:

    I’m jealous you get OTA hd cable. Though I live in a major city, Boston, I’m behind a hill in the void and can’t get OTA. Afterall, I’m sort of like you with watching anything important, including television shows, from Netflix. And TV is only really needed for live sporting events, which come on OTA cable (except for Monday Night Football).

    I’m still debating personally whether to get XBOX 360, or PS3 for my media extenders. Currenly, I’ve been running a hacked XBOX 1 with XBMC for about 4 years, and despite it being and ugly, noisy beast, the UI is excellent and it just works with simple SMB shares on a server.

    I think my ideal box would physically look small and sexy like Apple TV, but open content.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad it’s got an Intel Core2 Q6600 Quad-Core! It will be snappy. Your OR. friends.

  4. Eric in SF says:

    Thomas – Apple is again ahead of the curve here. They understand that the market for physical media is in permanent decline. It peaked about 5 years ago with DVDs and we will watch it slowly wither away.

    Apple was the first to switch to 3.5″ floppies, the first to them remove said floppy drive from the personal computer and they’re the first to remove the CD/DVD drive from the computer.

    We’ll all bitch and moan but in 5-6 years when we’re all downloading HD quality movies from the internet people will look back and acknowledge Apple’s lead in eliminating the DVD drive.

    Realize that I perfectly understand this doesn’t meet your needs TODAY but you have to admit that Apple is the driving force in moving technology forward – their small installed base allows them to push new technology without fear of a debilitating backlash.

  5. barrettmanor says:

    “This is more for the kids than for me…”

    Uh-huh. Yeah. Right. You sound just like my husband. 😉

    But seriously, we use our 360 as a Media Extender … when someone isn’t gaming. 😉

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Thomas – Apple is again ahead of the curve here. They understand that the market for physical media is in permanent decline. It peaked about 5 years ago with DVDs and we will watch it slowly wither away.

    Eric, I’m just not sure I’m willing to buy this. I think CDs and DVDs are going to be with us for *a lot* longer than this. The reason? They are simply *much* cheaper.

    Over the last month I’ve watched the following on Netflix (taken from my Netflix queue):

    Dexter: Season 1: Disc 1

    Entourage: Season 3: Part 2: Disc 1

    Entourage: Season 3: Part 2: Disc 2
    Entourage: Season 3: Part 1: Disc 3
    Garden State

    Entourage: Season 3: Part 1: Disc 2

    Entourage: Season 3: Part 1: Disc 1

    Entourage: Season 2: Disc 2 (

    Entourage: Season 2: Disc 3

    Entourage: Season 2: Disc 1

    Entourage: Season 1: Disc 2

    Entourage: Season 1: Disc 1

    Sin City

    Little Miss Sunshine

    No Direction Home: Bob Dylan: Disc 1

    No Direction Home: Bob Dylan: Disc 2

    Now, this is an extreme example, but… at $1.99 per TV episode and $3.99 per movie, I would have paid Apple $131.34 (roughly) for the same content that I got from Netflix for $17.99.

    Now granted, I’m a heavy Netflix user and you get especially screwed by Apple on half hour TV shows (like Entourage), but it’s just hard for me to see Apple dropping their prices enough to make it compelling for me to give up my Netflix plan in the future.

    If Apple is simply being ahead of the curve, then fine, why not spend the $15 to put a DVD player on AppleTV for the next 5 years rather than make me overpay iTunes for my Media Content?

    Especially given that Microsoft Media Center has a built in DVR in it (another thing Apple TV doesn’t do) and that additionally I can get all of my network TV for *free* over the air, it just seems that for content I’ll end up paying far less per month with this approach than with AppleTV.

    I’m not begrudging Apple for trying to make as big a buck as possible off of content that they can, but unless they provide a DVD player and a DVR I’m not really so sure I’m willing to pay the huge monthly premium to consume my content over the course of the next 5 years or so.

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Ok, I just reviewed my math on my comment above and it might not add up perfectly. Whatever the case though, my media as consumed through Netflix still is much cheaper than buying it from iTunes.

    Of course this will not always be true for everyone and I know people who will sit on their Netflix DVDs for months (much to Netflix’s delight), but for me renting my content from Netflix is still far cheaper than getting it from iTunes.

    Of course Microsoft also has several download media options as well if someone wanted to use an iTunes like service and didn’t have Netflix. Plus you still get the DVD player for the occasional DVD as well as that kick as gaming machine for the…. ummm… kids.

  8. Hi Thomas,
    Just dropped by to read about your decision to go with a new Dell and your perspective on the “digital home”.

    Appreciate the feedback and thrilled you are a customer. I have the XPS 410, precursor to the one you have and love it for my photos and music.

    Ive been wondering about the xbox as extender to media center, so enjoyed getting your take on it.

    Thanks again.

  9. Peabody says:

    Glad to hear that you think the XPS 420 meets your home entertainment needs. I was curious what kind of TV tuner did you get? Did you consider CableCARD (ATI Wonder Digital Cable tuner)? If so you might want to give Chris Lanier’s (MSNVP) XPS 420 CableCARD Q&A; a quick read. Am looking forward to your follow up posts.

  10. TranceMist says:

    DELL == HELL

    Your logo is perfect.

  11. Being a hater of MS and a lover of Mac, I am bummed out for you. However, I understand some of your arguments.

    However, who cares about the DVD? Everything is going media-less, and with a few drobos with massive terabytes, you could easily rip your DVD’s into Xvid and then simply go looking for them when you want to watch.

    As far as the Apple TV not being the right thing, I agree. I had a year old Mac Mini just sitting there, as I messed around with Ubuntu for months. I eventually reinstalled OSX, then upgraded to Leopard last week. It’s hooked up to my HDTV and runs quite a bit.

    Anyway, going forward with a more accessible format, like Divx/Xvid and/or MPEG4, gives me more freedom to view my content in a variety of places. (ipod, PSP, Mac, Windows, or whatever)

    Just my widely strong opinion.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Todd,

    Saw your posting today and although I am a long time Apple user and former employee of Apple, I think your XBox strategy is the way to go. I do have one caveat though. We’ve gone the Xbox 360 route because of all of the items you mentioned. But there is a tool out there called Connect360 that does a great job of getting everything in my iTunes library streamed to my xbox. This way I get the best of both worlds and no need to switch to an MS environment.

    Thanks

  13. Thomas Hawk says:


    However, who cares about the DVD? Everything is going media-less, and with a few drobos with massive terabytes, you could easily rip your DVD’s into Xvid and then simply go looking for them when you want to watch.

    Yeah, but I’m the type of guy who watches a movie once and then am done with it and why go through all the extra work when I can just pop the DVD into the XBox and play it?

    Especially when it’s 8pm at night and the Netflix came in the mail that day, the *last* thing my wife wants to do is wait for me to rip a DVD before we can watch it.

    Why doesn’t Apple just put a $15 DVD player in the thing is the real question.

  14. gfurry says:

    Thomas,

    You can stream from your mac to your xbox360. Check out Connect 360 from Nullriver http://www.nullriver.com/products/connect360

  15. Thomas Hawk says:

    You can stream from your mac to your xbox360. Check out Connect 360 from Nullriver http://www.nullriver.com/products/connect360

    Greg, but since iTunes does such a crappy job for large digital media libraries what is the point really. WMP11 handles my digital media library much better than iTunes and Media Center is a first rate app on the XBox 360. While it might be possible, I’m not sure why I’d necessarily want to do this over streaming from the Dell.

  16. MediaMisfit says:

    I’m not a big consumer of physical media since I live out of a Dell E1705 lappy. I do however REALLY like the idea of using an xBox 360 as a media extender. I’ve been holding off buying one but that might be the idea that pushes me over the edge. If I can play videos from my computer on my TV through over a OTA networked xBox. I think that will be worth it.

    I think Apple is ahead of the curve so to speak but when the curve is soooo long it doesn’t really make sense to be sooo far ahead.

    The last point is really that a ton of my friends have xBox’s and now I can join in the fun. It’s the optimal solution for today and today is what matters since a year or two from now it will be time again to upgrade. 🙂

    What’s the sense in being ahead of the curve when you there all alone. 🙁

  17. Lionel M. says:

    Thomas:

    Woo hoo! Glad to see your getting a Dell (and love the image you used with the post btw).

    I’ve been using a Dell + Media Center + Xbox 360 Extender for a long time now (first with a Dimension 8400 and now with an XPS 720 running Vista) and love the flexibility… I stream OTA local HD channels with no lag (and can easily increase storage space when I need to on the PC side, and share tons of pics and MP3 files. All work without a hitch.

    I’ve used the AppleTV quite a bit as well, and just don’t think it offers the same level of flexibility. Can’t watch HD channels on it. Looks like Steve Jobs believes folks will rent HD-quality movies over the Internet and that’s why it doesn’t support a player. In my opinion though, it’s going to be a long time before we can download true HD-quality movies that measure up to Blu-ray or HD-DVD. Beyond that, think MS does a better job with slideshows and music together.

    I think you’ll like the XPS 420, and even the entry-level quad core processor rocks. It will handle recording live HD, streaming recorded HD, and streaming pics with MP3s without blinking. Cool Stuff.

    Give me a shout if you need anything when you’re getting it up and running.

    Thanks,

    Lionel Menchaca
    Direct2Dell (www.direct2dell)

  18. tolamik says:

    Steve Jobs is always a bit too far “ahead of the curve”. I remember when the NeXT computer came out with an optical drive only, using media that cost about $100 per disc. Steve said then that wasn’t a problem because software would soon be delivered over the net anyway. He was of course correct but that didn’t make the NeXT any more useful.

    I am glad to hear you’ve made a similar decision to me… I just bought a hdhomerun to use as a HDTV tuner with media center, since Sutro tower is just a few miles away and visible from my window. Not paying for TV is a big motivation. Right now my old computer freezes whenever I use it, but I’m hopeing I can work through that issue.

  19. Jake says:

    My mom actually gave me an AppleTV for Christmas, which I returned to Apple

    Dude, you’re going to hell!

  20. Hubert says:

    Here’s what I don’t get: why are you so apologetic about buying something from somebody else but Apple? Is there an 11th Commandment “Thou shallst only buy overpriced Apple products”?

    Agree with your analysis, but not your tone, Thomas.

  21. Brian says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, as I currently find myself in a similar situation. It’s time to replace my Dell desktop running XP MCE 2004, and I was keen on getting a Mac. However, now that I’ve looked into the DVR options that are available for Macs, I’m feeling like I’ll regret making the jump. I’m entertaining the idea of getting a Mac Pro and using a USB TV tuner + Bootcamp/Parallels + Vista so that I’ll have the best of both worlds — Apple’s OS and Microsoft’s Media Center. Logic, however, tells me I’m wasting my money and should just get another Dell.

  22. Brian Hoyt says:

    Don’t rip down your DirecTV dish quite yet. I am also losing my much loved HR10-250 DirecTV TiVo and looking at MCE. I actually like DirecTV service as well. There is a new box coming out called HDPC-20. It is similar to cable card but appears to be a little less restrictive on install.

  23. Quikboy says:

    It’s so funny how some of the more extreme Apple loyalists are out to say that Apple still is better. Because it goes “beyond” what’s now.

    Using the DVD drive can be an “option”. For those who do have one, it’s there; for those who don’t need it, it can be ignored.

    Though there aren’t many good central stores (Microsoft is open and allows a wide variety of developers with their API), there are talks that MS will push a better online store to take advante of WMC, in Windows Fiji I presume.

    Some of the other stuff you guys say is just fluff.

    It’s hard to admit that Apple isn’t as good as Microsoft at something, huh?

  24. Anonymous says:

    Being on my third Xbox 360 (after the first two experienced the dreaded “Red Rings of Death”), I certainly would not put the 360 at the center of any kind of long-term media strategy.

    The only reason I still have one is because the games are so great.

  25. Sangeeth says:

    Thomas,

    What’s the current configuartion of your dell desktop?

    Thanks,
    Sangeeth

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