This morning (NZ time) Microsoft’s Bill Gates unveiled a consumer-oriented version of his company’s Windows operating system designed to take PC technology out of the office and into the living room.
Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 can turn a PC into an entertainment centre; downloading, controlling and recording music, radio, movies and television. Hardware running the OS can link to high definition televisions, portable devices and other home entertainment hardware.
Although the OS is being rolled out internationally in time to catch an anticipated Christmas sales rush, Microsoft is not formally launching Media Centre in New Zealand.
A spokesman for the company said part of the reason for this is the lack of a local electronic programme guide (EPG), which allows users to select TV shows in advance from a menu similar to that found on Sky’s existing hardware. TV programme guides form part of a TV network’s intellectual property and are closely guarded.
Microsoft says negotiations over a local EPG are continuing, until these are complete the operating system remains an early adopter product. The company is formally launching the OS in other markets where EPG negotiations have not been completed.
A handful of hardware makers, including Hewlett-Packard, are planning to introduce Media Centre products in the near future despite the lack of an EPG.
One local vendor, Albany-based Arche Technologies, has been selling a product based on the technology for the past year. Sales Manager Darren Smith says that to date his company’s Media Centre-based Megabox system has not sold in large numbers.
He says, “We’re releasing a new version to our dealers on November 1. We’ve revamped everything, the box has gone black. In the past we only offered one model, we’ll now offer a range with a variety of looks. The earlier version looked like a Shuttle PC, the new models have been sized and designed to fit in with a stereo or home theatre system.”
Arche’s Megaboxes are custom built, but retail prices start at $2499.
Smith says the absence of an EPG is not a big issue for users, “It means little because the functionality of a Media Centre box is so good anyway.”