RESELLERS eager to enter customers’ living rooms with a home entertainment PC running Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Centre Edition do not have much longer to wait.
After canning plans to launch the operating system in New Zealand last year, the company is launching the latest version of the software here on October 12, the same day it is released globally.
Microsoft New Zealand did not release or support last year’s Media Centre Edition 2005, citing a lack of an electronic programme guide (EPG) as one of the main reasons.
However, David Rayner, Windows product manager at Microsoft New Zealand, says while the next version of Media Centre Edition has undergone local testing it still will not feature an EPG.
“We have done a fair bit of work locally to get that sorted, but don’t have access to that content yet, so we can’t release or produce an official electronic programme guide in New Zealand at this time,” he says.
Negotiations continue on the EPG, but Rayner cannot say when this will be resolved.
“We’d like to get there at some point, but it is very difficult to say when we will have it available,” he says.
The EPG allows users to select TV shows in advance from a menu similar to that found on Sky TV, but programme guides form part of a TV network’s intellectual property and are closely guarded.
Chris Keall, editor of NZ PC World magazine, says the EPG is the centrepiece of the Media Centre Edition.
“It was very disappointing to see that the new New Zealand edition lacked an EPG,” he says.
“An EPG makes it easy for someone to record TV, because they can simply point and click from an onscreen schedule of shows. This unlocks the potential of Media Centre. Without an EPG, programmes have to be recorded manually using a VCR-style process. That’s unappealing to users, and unappealing to local assemblers who know this will likely mean more support calls.”
Keall says Sky TV is the only organisation in New Zealand that could supply an EPG, adding Microsoft has made no headway in its negotiations with Sky.
In spite of the absence of an EPG, local system builders are upbeat about the opportunities offered by the Media Centre Edition.
Jason Lake of Krome Technologies, which distributes home theatre PC cases and equipment, says many system builders have been waiting for the software to be available before entering the space.
“Many have been holding their breath and are ready to roll out systems based on it,” he says.
The Media Centre PC represents higher margins than traditional PCs as it can be sold as a home entertainment appliance, says Lake.
“The opportunities are huge if system builders do it right and offer an appliance with the aesthetics and sounds that fit in the lounge.”
John Gould of system builder Ultra Computers agrees, saying margins will be higher on devices built as home entertainment units rather than standard PCs running XP Home.
Meanwhile, Keall says Sky TV has put all its effort into creating an EPG for its own MySky hard drive recorder/decoder, which will be released in the first week of December.
He says that while brands such as HP have either been tepid in their support for Media Centre or ignored it altogether, Sky has ordered 10,000 MySky boxes for its pre-Christmas release.
HP did not provide comment by deadline, while Acer says it has had a Media Centre PC in New Zealand since last year and will upgrade to the new software when available.