Competing For Your Home Media Center

The battle for control of the digital living room is heating up

The race for dominance in the digital home, where digital entertainment media such as music files, photos, and video and television programming is managed and distributed by one device or platform, is not new. For several years, consumer electronics and PC manufacturers have been courting consumer interest in this initiative which, to date, has shown no clear winner. So far, the electronic industry has failed to sell the need for the ultimate gadget to control all home entertainment, but that may change as more contenders enter the ring with more options.

Backing the PC as the winning digital living room hub, Microsoft jumped into the fray several years ago with its Windows XP Media Center application. It followed up with Extender Technology, which provides access to digital media on any connected TV or device throughout the home. At his keynote speech at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reiterated his commitment to the digital home and announced that the Media Center will serve as a personal video recorder (PVR) — also known as a digital video recorder (DVR) — and operate under a common electronic program guide (EPG).

Microsoft is being challenged in the home media space by telecoms, cable companies, and hardware manufacturers touting non-Windows options such as set-top boxes, digital video recorders, and more. Hewlett-Packard has plans to expand its family of media hubs. By fall 2005, the company expects to announce a set of new home media products, as well as enhance the capabilities of its current Digital Entertainment Centers, which are priced between $1,400 and $2,000. Samsung recently revealed that it is testing technologies to network entertainment devices in the home. Price will play a key factor as well, which is why the answer may lie with the set-top boxes, DVD players, and DVRs already taking up space in the wall unit.

The battle will certainly continue into 2006 but may not end with one winner. Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, believes the competition among home media providers will result in more choices, better products, and lower prices for the consumer. “The advent of products such as TiVo and Windows Media Center are pushing the FCC to force cable companies to offer more choices than the set-top boxes they supply,” says Rubin.

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