The myth of the living-room PC. By Paul Boutin Paul Boutin, writing for Slate, is out with an article talking about the future of the living room PC. In part his article is sparked by the lack of success of Apple’s Front Row initiative (Boutin notes that reference to the number of units shipped was “conspicuosly” absent from Job’s keynote talk in San Francisco yesterday).
But he also takes issue with the much hyped Viiv technology seemingly omnipresent at CES early this January.
“What happened here? Tech pundits say Intel botched their TV debut by pushing technology that wasn’t ready. Still, if the living-room PC is such a great idea, why hasn’t the Viiv void been filled with better alternatives?”
He gets a dig in at Media Center itself as well stating, “Has anyone bored you to death talking about their Media Center PC lately?”
So is Boutin right? Is the living room PC, the connected home of the future, a central entertainment environment dwarfing anything we’ve seen yet today, all one big pie in the sky?
I would of course would say no. And I think Boutin gets it wrong in a big way. As you might suspect, PVR Wire thinks he’s wrong too — and thanks by the way guys for the post.
So why have living room PC based entertainment systems not taken off yet? There are three simple reasons for this. 1. People think computers are too complex. 2. People don’t want a big, bulky PC in their living room. and 3. The software for the living room PC is not quite ready.
So people don’t want a PC in their living room. Although some decent efforts have been made in the form factor design world this remains an issue. So what *do* people want in their living rooms right now?
HDTVs, especially plasmas, PVRs and XBox 360s.
What Boutin gets wrong is that in his nearsightedness at looking at today’s world he fails to see the bigger picture as to where things are headed. He gets confused and thinks that the future of PC living room based entertainment is somehow all about Viiv when Viiv, although sexy, is somewhat insignificant. What does matter? Vista and the XBox 360. Boutin fails to see the infrastructure that Microsoft has been laying in place by selling tons of XBox 360s — in anticipation of the great release of Vista.
The problem is just that Vista isn’t here yet.
So how will Vista change everything? To start with the first step to getting Media Center into your living room involves you buying a new PC. “What?” you say. “Who wants to spend $1,000 buying a new PC just for the living room?” Exactly. The point is though that the new PC won’t be for your living room it will be for your den. It will be the natural upgrade that we are all holding off on for our home office/den PC. Nobody is upgrading PCs right now. Why? Because we all know that Vista is just around the corner and why not wait until that’s out to avoid the hassle of having to buy a new PC and then have to also upgrade your OS a few short months later.
We all want more power. Our hard drives are all stuffed full to capacity with pdf files and jpgs and mp3s — with external USB hard drives plugged into extra USB hubs. Our processors are too slow. We don’t have enough RAM to get all that we know we can from Photoshop and it’s bugging us. But we still don’t upgrade. We don’t upgrade because Vista is just around the corner.
So what will happen when Vista ships is two things. First, the power on our PCs will be dramatically improved. Most PCs upgraded will probably be in the $1,000 to $2,000 range with some bargain users below $1,000 and some power users above $3,000. But all of these PCs will be vastly more powerful than what we have in our home office/den today. And more importantly all of them will come with Media Center software shipped by default.
And here’s where the marketing push comes in.
Since you will now already have a super powerful new Vista PC with Media Center built in and since you already have an XBox 360 — you *do* already have an XBox 360 right? The marketing message will be something to the effect of “would you like to add an HDTV PVR to your current XBox360?” By checking this option you will essentially be adding an HDTV CableCARD tuner to your new PC purchase which will then wirelessly or wired (if your home is wired for a network and a lot of them are) transmit your HDTV to your XBox in your living room. Oh, and to your bedroom and to your guest bedroom and anyplace else that you have an XBox 360.
Recently Ray Ozzie spent a lot of time talking about how Microsoft wants to transform itself into a internet juggernaut. The reason is simple. Google has shown that there is huge money here. And the money is not in hardware or software, it’s in advertising. And this is why Microsoft also *must* dominate the living room. It’s not about hardware or software it’s about advertising. It’s about controlling the advertising on the central device in our living room.
For this reason I think in order to ensure that this happens that Microsoft *must* push this strategy when Vista is launched. Part of this should involve further discounting the XBox when purchased in conjunction with a PC upgrade and discounting HDTV PC based tuners for upgraded PCs as well.
If people don’t own an XBox 360 today they want one. They’re sexy. Give them an impulse way to buy one on the cheap. I can imagine the digg headline now in the deals section now — “XBox 360s $99 when you buy a PC with a TV tuner.”
Make the XBox 360 an impulse buy for everyone that doesn’t already have one. And make the XBox 360 your gateway into the livingroom.
This is the the future of the living room and this is what Paul Boutin misses entirely.
Apple of course will likely recognize this far too late given Job’s continued prejudice against a computer based PVR solution.
Update: Kevin Briody disagrees with me. “I have zero need or desire to stream my music collection to my TV. Display my photo collection on the living room TV? Um, why exactly?”
Kevin, recently my best friend came up from Southern California for a visit. I asked him what kind of music he wanted to hear and he said Ella Fitzgerald. So I set up an Ella Fitgerald station on Pandora to play in the background while I had my Media Center PC run through a filtered photo of every photo that had his last name in the title. These were photos from back when we were in high school together, photos I took last year when we visited him down in Huntington Beach of his kids, etc. And these looked fantastic on a 43″ plasma. The slide show ran in the background while we sat in the living room and caught up. He was mesmorized by the slide show. People love to see photos of themselves. When you filter the photos by your guests they really enjoy this.
My parents also live down in Southern California. One of the favorite games for my young children to play is to tell my wife and I who is in a picture. As our family photos rotate on the plasma (and I relax with a nice glass of wine) our kids shout out the names of who comes on the stream. My daughter Katie who is 22 months still thinks every photo of her is her sister but they usually get grandma and grandpa right.
My media center has become a giant wall hanging photo album with advanced filtering tools. You are right about things like email, IM, etc. These are not what people want to do in their living room. But I think you are wrong about photos and music and I think being able to record multiple tuner HDTV with limitless storage (just keep adding hard drives) will be of value to
people vs. the cheapo cable HDTV PVRs where you are lucky to get 10 hours of HDTV record time.