I spent the weekend trying to think up some great business value scenarios for using Windows Media Center. The truth is, I couldn't come up with many, though I did manage a couple:
I'm not fooling anyone, right? Truth is, in my mind, Windows Media Center probably doesn't have a TON of business value for the average organization. But, that doesn't stop it from being an incredibly cool application that any good discussion of Windows Vista should include. So, let's discuss it! :)
Let's start with exactly what it is -- it is, at its core, a way for Windows to easily interface with a user and a remote control. If you have the appropriate connections, you can hook your PC to your television (which is how I have it set up @ home). It is included with the Ultimate and Home Premium versions of Windows Vista.
Media Center allows you to watch/record television, play media files (such as music and videos), play DVDs, even watch online content. Sounds a lot like a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), right? It should because it is.
I used to use a TiVo at home to record all of my favorite television shows. In fact, I bought a TiVo when the Series2 units were first released. And I loved it. But, I finally retired it a few months ago. Why? Because I replaced it with a machine running Windows Vista Ultimate. Windows Media Center does everything my TiVo did and then some. It allows me to record all of my favorite television shows the same way TiVo did (using keywords, subscribing to a series, using the program guide, etc). Unlike my TiVo (which had only one tuner), my Media Center machine has a dual tuner in it, so I can watch one show while I record another or record two shows at a time. I can easily order another TV Tuner card (because at its heart, the machine is a PC running Windows Vista) and increase the number of shows I can record simultaneously. I can easily expand the storage space, too. No "hack" is required. All I need to do is swap out the existing drive with a larger one to increase the space available to record.
I can also use what is called an "extender." The one I have at home is my Xbox 360. The Xbox 360, by default, allows you to connect to a Windows Vista Media Center machine and play all the content from the Media Center machine through the Xbox via the network. Why would you need to do this?
Let's say you have a PC set up to record your favorite TV shows. It is in your home office. But, your 92" LCD television is in the family room (might as well dream big, right?). The Xbox, which is already hooked up to everything in the family room, can be used to stream the content from the Media Center machine, rather than having to purchase an additional PC for the family room.
The main difference between a DVR (like a TiVo or the one you get from your cable provider) and the Windows Vista Media Center is that the Media Center is a PC. That means, in addition to doing all the cool things your DVR can do, you can also use it as a PC. I do this all the time. I'll be watching a movie and wonder where I know some actor from. I can pause the movie and pull up a web browser (right there on the same screen via Windows Vista), look up the actor in www.imdb.com and then switch back to my movie without ever getting off the couch. (Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but when I can't think of where I know someone from, it can drive me crazy.)
I can also use the Media Center to play my music, show off my photos (trust me -- your vacation pictures are much more interesting when they're on a 92" LCD than they are when you are asking friends and family to crowd around your laptop to view them), watch home movies, all from an easy-to-use interface within Media Center. It will even let me play Windows games.
A great business value scenario I came up with involves something happening right now -- the Olympics. People get fairly pumped up about the Olympics. Some businesses even use the Olympics as a morale booster (taking some time out of the day to view a specific event or a particular athlete). If that is the case in your business, then you definitely want to explore Windows Vista Media Center. A new feature, NBC Olympics On the Go, is now available within Windows Vista Media Center.
With NBC Olympics On the Go in Windows Media Center, you will get:
· NBC Sports’ complete on-air HDTV coverage of the Beijing Olympics on the NBC, USA and Universal networks – even when you don’t have a TV tuner for your Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate PC
· 225 hrs of long-form Olympics video over 17 days
· 24 sports, full opening ceremony, and a closing ceremony montage
· Up to HD quality, with the vast majority of the video delivered in 840x480 progressive scan resolution at 1.5 Mbps bit rate, plus several events per day delivered in 1080i resolution
This is a free download-and-play service.
Features of the NBC Olympics On the Go service in Windows Media Center furthermore include:
· Easy to install
· Select the sports you want and get automatic downloads of all available coverage for those sports during the Olympics
· Content becomes available as soon as NBC completes its primetime on-air coverage on the West Coast (i.e., beginning at 3 am EDT)
· Watch online or offline – during your morning commute or through any Extender device
· Rewind, fast-forward and re-watch your favorite Olympics moments
Note: As I understand it, this is currently only for 32-bit US-based machines.
Here's a link to Ian Dixon's blog with a screenshot of the Olympics On the Go application running.
While it may not be as easy to create business value with Media Center as it was with, say, Windows Meeting Space, I can definitely say that Media Center is an outstanding piece of Windows Vista. I use it daily at home and would not want to be parted from it.
RIP TiVo. You served me well.
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"The Last and Final Chapter" -- that sounds ominous, doesn't it?  Maybe "Windows