Though Microsoft has not gone public about whether there will be a separate Media Centre release for Windows Vista, it's very likely Microsoft will eschew a separate edition in favour of building Media Centre features directly into the edition of Vista that goes out on most consumer machines, says Matt Rosoff, analyst with Directions on Microsoft.
"I'm very confident the standard consumer [version] of Vista will have Media Centre built into it," he says. "It's just going to be a part of the OS."
Rosoff echoes what has been published in various reports, though a representative from Microsoft's public relations firm Waggener Edstrom says the company is not confirming how Media Centre will be built into Vista, or if there will be a separate Media Centre edition for Vista.
Michael Gartenberg, analyst with Jupiter Research, acknowledges that Microsoft itself may not be sure how it's going to package Windows Media Centre for Vista, which is expected to be available before the end of the year. Still, he expects the core features of Media Centre, such as providing users access to television programming and digital media on the PC, to be included in the Vista release.
"Look for Media Centre to be very much a part of the consumer Windows experience," he says.
Windows XP Media Centre Edition allows users to play digital music, cable television programming and movies on PCs while using a remote control and a user interface that is more like a consumer electronics device than a normal PC OS.
At the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, Microsoft made a lot of noise about how Media Centre PCs are beginning to catch on as a digital home entertainment hub.
Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates quoted numbers from Current Analysis that 47.1 percent of the PCs sold at retail in the US in December were running Windows XP Media Centre Edition. He also demonstrated new multimedia capabilities of Vista that are similar to features in the current Media Centre Edition.
Even if the Current Analysis numbers on Media Centre PC sales are accurate, Rosoff says that does not mean everyone who purchases a Media Centre PC today is using it as a digital entertainment centre in the living room. "Just because somebody has a Media Centre operating system doesn’t mean they are using it to watch and record TV shows," he says.
Still, Rosoff says Microsoft expects that with Vista, there will be more widespread adoption of Windows PCs as more of a digital entertainment hub than just a place to store media files such as digital music and photos. And that, in turn, could inspire those Windows users who balked on upgrading to Windows XP to make the jump to Vista that much sooner.
"Microsoft's saying, 'If we can make home entertainment an easier thing to do from a Windows PC, we will spur consumer upgrades,' " he says. "With Vista they’re hoping [Media Centre] becomes mainstream."
Indeed, convergence of the PC and the traditional television set is going to be a major theme in 2006, Jupiter's Gartenberg says. "This will be a very big trend in 2006 as people begin to hook up their PCs to their TV and get content from their PC over to the television."