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The Media Center Experiment

However, the Shuttle system has some crucial limitations that mean I won’t be giving up my Sky+ any time soon.

For a start it’s only equipped with a single analogue TV Tuner. Now, come on people, this just isn’t good enough! We live in a digital age, so why can’t manufacturers get with the program. With analogue, programme choice is limited in the UK to just five terrestrial stations – and I was only able to tune in to three of them. Secondly picture quality is much softer than a digital signal and thirdly you can’t pick up true anamorphic widescreen pictures, with most broadcasts going out in 14:9, optimised for 4:3 screens.

On the Shuttle, you are also limited to a single tuner, so you can’t record two programmes at once or watch one while recording another. Now of course MCE 2005 does support twin tuners and you can get two tuners on one board from Hauppauge, but that’s only analogue. For digital you need two PCI cards, which isn’t available in a Shuttle.

What I do really like about MCE though is that once you’ve recorded something, you can easily burn it to DVD for safe keeping. With Sky + your only option is to copy it off, either to tape, DVD or into a PC capture card, in real time, which is never a convenient solution.

So what I’m really saying is that what I really, really want, is a MCE 2005 system with Sky integrated. This would really be the ultimate solution, especially once HDTV and a Blue-ray was added to the mix. Of course this is just a pipe dream. Issues such as DRM, and sheer corporate greed will prevent it. Sky will never want a machine with an optical drive in. Providing a system that could archive its content and be used to watch non-Sky content would not be in its interests.

Microsoft wants to move its influence from the study to the lounge as it knows that’s where the money is. But in the UK it doesn’t really have a chance. Microsoft isn’t the monopoly in the lounge, Sky is. But if more people knew how good MCE 2005 would be that’s what they would want in their living room. But people aren’t buying MCE PCs. If only Microsoft had some way of showing people how good it actually is... What if there was a way of getting the public to buy an MCE system. A Trojan horse, if you will, for MCE? How about a machine that will nominally just for games but also could deliver the full MCE experience? Let's call it... I know, - Xbox 360.

Xbox 360 promises to enable users to network up to a MCE machine to play content throughout the home. This is possible on the original Xbox thorugh the Media Center Extender but the interface isn’t as good as a proper MCE machine. The power of the 360 however, means that it will do a better job of it than most PCs. So Sky had better watch out. Sky will still have exclusive sports coverage and next year HDTV, to maintain its appeal. But with an Xbox 360 is many homes and a fat internet connection bringing down the latest TV shows and films, even in HDTV format, savvy users in the UK may find fewer and fewer reasons to keep paying for Sky.

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