Bill Gates gave his big speech at the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) yesterday, and there’s been plenty of commentary on it. Here’s a view from WinNetMag’s by Paul Thurrott, that helps explain why the computer is more likely this year to make its way out of the den and into the living room. It all revolves around the Media Center PC, a PC running a new version of XP that works as a kind of hub for all your other entertainment devices. (Yes I know this doesn’t sound new, but it seems more likely to happen this than before, apparently):
With a Media Center PC connected to a TV signal in the home office, you’ll soon be able to pump content to other devices around the home. These devices will include set-top boxes that look and act like stereo components and be able to connect to a home network through a wired or wireless connection, a new generation of portable media devices, shipping this year from several companies, playing music, running movies, downloaded material, that are “small enough to fit in your pocket, has a big enough screen to enjoy movies, and is about the same weight as a wallet”, according to one of the Microsoft guys.
As Paul points out, a lot of this could actually happen because Microsoft has involved a vast number of partners to build the machines, make content, sell the stuff to you, movie companies to make the specially formatted DVD movies you could download. Concludes Paul: “The level of cooperation Microsoft engenders with its partners stands in sharp contrast to the digital-hub strategies that some of the company’s competitors have proposed and highlights the true diversity and choices we expect from the PC industry. Seeing this business model coming to the consumer electronics industry is exciting. If Gates’s keynote address is any indication, 2004 is going to be a milestone year for home computing.”
I’m more conservative: I haven’t seen this stuff in action, and given past experience I’m not 100% convinced that folk can be persuaded to buy new hardware that is not compellingly better (folk will buy a DVD player because it’s clearly better than VHS; the same was true with CDs and vinyl; tape Walkmans and MP3.) But buying a lot of new hardware just so you can beam material from your PC to the rest of your house? Are we really going to do that? I’m skeptical, but ready to stand corrected.