Om Malik on Front Row vs. Media Center

Om Malik’’s Broadband Blog ?— � Microsoft Media Center Vs Apple FrontRow Om Malik chimes in with his thoughts on the Media Center vs. Apple FrontRow conversation.

One thing Om points out is that he’s had trouble getting his Media Center PC to work with his Comcast box — a valid point. Perhaps the biggest weakness to the Media Center PC is that in the end it is still a PC. This means that it will be buggy from time to time and that things won’t work. Now with the recent rollout things work better and better, but still since the very beginning I’ve had a whole host of trouble with mine… as I have with ever PC I’ve ever owned — they are never error free.

In terms of the IR blaster. It is a problem but I’m not sure of the answer. I’ve got to place my little remote control bug just right on my DirecTV receiver or it doesn’t work. The problem is that the kids knock it off. Or it gets bumped and moved. Or something happens and TV doesn’t work right. I can usually get it fixed and haven’t had the trouble that Om has but quite frankly I don’t watch much TV on My Media Center PC anymore — that’s what the high def TiVo is there for. Still, if it’s even possible, it would be nice to see a media center where the IR blaster was not necessary. Also, the cable to the blaster is razor thin and I’ve had it tear before and stop working and had to have HP send me another one.

Charlie Owen says he doesn’t have trouble watching TV. And in general I don’t either but sometimes it takes a little work and adjustment if the IR blaster’s been touched.

Om also asks for a Media Center Lite version that’s cheaper than the current version. Of course Om knows that you can get the software without a PC these days. Here’s a standalone copy on eBay that just sold for $91. I do think that this is a fair price though and think you’ll see more of these stand alone copies sold once the XBox 360 is here and people will be able to stream to that.

Even though I think that $91 is a fair price for standalone Media Center software though, doesn’t mean that Om isn’t on to something and doesn’t mean that Microsoft shouldn’t explore a cheaper or even free offering. Sometimes it makes sense to develop free software (take Windows Media Player for instance). The portion of $91 that Microsoft might get today for a copy of Media Center is financially not all that significant to them. The promise of owning the living room though is huge actually. The real payoff for Media Center comes five if not ten years down the road when that position of strength can be monetized in a whole host of ways. The important thing is to get the install base now today and to own it. Sometimes free software makes sense. WMP, IE, etc. Perhaps this is one of them — as much as everyone at Microsoft hates to hear about free software. Is there a business case that could monetize a position of strength in the living room later to offset the cost of developing Media Center here and now today? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Om goes on to say that he thinks that the current Mac Front Row offering is more or less a placeholder for the time being while Apple improves their product:

“It is actually a very clever move on Apple’s part. It is clearly a placeholder, and a move that shows, they are throwing their hat in the ring. They are betting that in next 12-to-24 months the downloadable video market is going to gain strength, and they want people to think about the FrontRow as an option as well. By the time Broadband-over-Video market takes off (my guess is towards end of 2006), Apple will have a more complete offering.”

Fine, I have no problem with it being a placeholder and I’m pleased as punch that we now have two horses (well three if you count TiVo) in a media center race. Hopefully this will pressure both to innovate more. But for the time being, the Apple offering still sucks.