Joe Wilcox on the TV Tunerless Media Center

Microsoft Monitor: The Media Center TV/DVR Question Joe Wilcox over at JupiterResearch asks the question, how many of Microsoft’s two million Media Center PCs that have been sold thus far have been sold without a TV tuner?

As you may be aware, Microsoft dropped this initial requirement and now allows you to buy PCs (and Dell would be the primary place this is happening according to Wilcox) without TV Tuners.

Why would someone want a Media Center PC without a TV Tuner? That’s an easy one. Even without TV, Media Center is still fantastic for digital photos, video and the big one, digital music. In fact, as my primary TV chores are now handled by my HDTV TiVo, my own Media Center PC has been turned largely into a remote driven device for living room slide shows and a digital jukebox.

Media Center without a TV tuner is a great way to go for the cost conscious or budget strapped consumer. Additionally, if you buy the right PC with an expansion slot, this is always something that you can add in later.

According to Wilcox, Dell charges an extra $38 for a TV tunerless Media Center. It only costs you $38 more to have Media Center than not. This is a bargain and hopefully a bargain that people will take advantage of.

At present, in my opinion, in a lot of ways Media Center is a less than desirable DVR. The biggest limitation is that for those of us who have found the religion of HDTV, well, Media Center just doesn’t do HDTV via cable or satellite at present. I’m sure this will be changing shortly and when it does it will probably be time for me to upgrade my Media Center. In the meantime though, my current tired old worn and torn HP873N will continue it’s job as my digital slide show / digital jukebox machine.

Wilcox also says that for the last couple of months he’s compared his dual-tuner Comcast DVR vs. his Windows Media Center Machine and that the MCE wins for reliability, but that for convenience the Comcast box is tough to beat. I’ve heard horrible things about the Comcast box. I’d assume that Wilcox is not using Foundation, Comcast’s Microsoft box, but rather that he’s using one of Comcast’s other boxes.

I would also add a couple of other categories to Wilcox’s brief analysis however. I would add though that Comcast wins for high def (you can’t watch the Sopranos on high def on your Media Center PC). Of course the new season for the Sopranos is not scheduled to start until April ’06 from what I’ve read, so perhaps by then I will be able to watch it on my Media Center PC.

I’d also add that Media Center wins on portability. I can’t watch CSI Miami on my BART commute on my Comcast cable box, I can on my laptop once I transfer the file over from my Media Center machine. And Microsoft, please keep fair use in mind as you continue your DRM development. I really like being able to move content to my laptop and this is my legitimate portable media player.

By the way, when I do buy my next Media Center PC, I will buy the very highest powered one I can get my hands on. I will use this PC to replace my primary home office PC at present. I’ll move my old Media Center PC down to the basement where it will work as a computer dedicated to my wine cellar (I’ve got great digital photos of every bottle of wine that I own for a great wine slide show). I’ll then put extenders (new Xboxes if they support streaming HDTV) in my living room, upstairs bedroom, the upstairs bedroom for the boys and one for a new home theater I’m putting in the attic. The current PC in my office will go up in the attic as an extra PC. Throw in my laptop which I can use to roam the house wireless and now there you go, the true digital home.

This will be a really nice setup and when you have 64 bit computing, Longhorn Media Center, and cable/satellite supported HDTV Media Center, I think that Microsoft will honestly have this digital home thing down. Stay tuned folks, we’re close.

Thanks, Chris!