On Media Center, Windows 8, and live TV versus streaming video, and discs

I think Media Center was a great idea at first, it aimed to deliver a great centralized media experience. But I've found the experience to be sub-par when I've used it for live TV.

Tuner Issues

I use a cheap TV tuner I got from Best Buy. It is certified for Media Center use, my computer brings up the right drivers immediately when I plug it in. It's recognized in Media Center. But, it doesn't work all the time. I constantly get this error message of "Low bit rate". I've set up Live TV over and over again and these issues happen from time to time (and I've updated the drivers, I've reinstalled Windows 7, updated Windows 7, etc). It's been a bad experience overall, and I don't think it's necessarily the tuner, probably the drivers are the big culprit.

So let's put it this way, I don't blame Media Center or Microsoft for this issue. It's probably the drivers that the manufacturer supplied to Microsoft. But there's really a genuine problem here: inconsistency in the experience. Some tuners will work great with Media Center, others will be terrible. I wish Media Center could be the best experience you can get with or without these kinds of driver issues.

Setting up live TV on Media Center is a bag of hurt

It takes longer than 30 minutes just to set up Media Center live TV. It is pretty simplified, as it will download your location setup options. The problem is that you can't save a profile or something of your setup, so it's useless to use it in more than one location. And you can't export settings from one computer to another to save time if you reinstall Windows or go to another computer. It takes a long time, scans for channels when you probably don't need to, and I guess I would want some kind of "reinstall" option for my tuner or reset or something so I may be able to fix the low bitrate problems.

Streaming video, wave of the future?

So I'd like to contrast my TV experience with streaming video. Netflix will be my comparison. So, Netflix doesn't offer every video I want, but it does work every time, it's fast, the stream starts very very quickly usually, the quality seems good (as good as my TV (720p). I can call up what I want and I don't need to wait or anything for the show to start, like you do with TV. I've not had any real issue streaming video on Netflix. The downside is that you don't have live TV content available, that's only with IPTV. I did use IPTV on Xbox on Fios, and it was actually a pretty good experience, though I think that was a bit clunky since it was an Xbox interface and not a conventional TV interface and remote.

So really, what I'd like to say is that there seems to be little to no issue when I use Netflix or other services, whereas I think Media Center and live TV just aren't as seamless and easy to use. As long as I have a good internet connection, I think it'd be pointless to go towards live TV instead of streaming TV. What I wish is that we can get more IPTV (and especially get it unbundled from Fios TV).

So my thought here is that streaming TV and IPTV should be our new emphasis, which brings me to...

Windows 8

Windows 8 will unbundle Media Center from all versions. This is because the cost of licensing each codec costs money, and drives up the cost of each license of Windows. It may not really lower the cost to the end user, that is true, but with OEMs like HP considering getting out of the PC business, I suspect that it has to do with OEM licensing more than anything. OEMs don't often include TV tuners, some aren't including DVD players anymore, and most of the new PCs I've seen still have DVD software bundled in despite Windows having DVD playback built in.

But with streaming video becoming the new hot thing, I expect that it won't really matter too much about live TV. DVD playback will be a non-issue (UNLESS, you're building your own computer and you have DVD drive still, in which case you'll have to provide your own playback software).

So really, I think it makes sense they would unbundle the Media Center from Windows 8 for this one reason: few people are even using Media Center, and many won't care about DVD playback not being built into Windows (since it will be done by OEMs who continue to offer DVD players).

Discs, bag of hurt, or sack of pain?

When live TV works, it's pretty convenient, but DVDs? Not convenient. Whenever I can, I want to stream, because I don't have to go to the store or anything to buy the disc, I don't have to rent it, or use Netflix DVDs. DVDs take up actual space, streaming doesn't. I can stream many movies or rent from Amazon or iTunes and whatever, but buying DVDs takes up time to actually find the movie in store and buy it. I can download movies too from iTunes or Amazon.

But on the other hand, many more movies are available on DVD than through the internet. I can buy DVDs anywhere (like airports or convenience stores, though they may have bad selections), but I will need an internet connection that has no data cap to download movies (if I was going on a plane I would need to download, obviously I couldn't stream).

Blu-Rays are probably higher quality than you can get from streaming. I haven't even seen any Blu-Rays to be honest. I haven't cared too much, I only have used my computer which doesn't have a Blu-Ray drive, and I didn't care to pay so much extra for a Blu Ray drive.

Show *ALL* the digital media!

I guess it could be argued that Windows 8 should be the center of your digital life: it should do live TV, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and streaming. But what I've thought recently is that it's unrealistic to expect that everyone will use their computer in this way (as an HTPC). I think the idea of your computer sitting on the living room floor kinda sucks, so people just haven't done it. It's extra cost for a computer, though it obviously is more capable than TiVo or Google TV. It's harder to set-up, use, and maintain. So for the living room, people want something simple to handle TV and discs and streaming. So that's why I think it's better to offer Media Center as an add-on: people just aren't typically using their Windows PCs like an HTPC. And I don't think people are sitting in front of their desks to watch movies, so if they have a desktop they probably aren't using it for media. I know my parents are not like that, they watch TV on the TV and DVDs with the DVD player, while the computer is strictly used for computer stuff.

Hopes for the future

So lastly, I'd say that Media Center is actually nice for what it does, but it needs to evolve into something new for Windows 8. I want IPTV like on the Xbox Fios app, I want more Metro apps that will handle video streaming through Netflix and others. And let's get that into a Windows RT based TV. I can imagine TVs with ARM processors running Windows RT, and getting streaming video apps and IPTV. This would be a dream of mine, to get Metro on my future TV. I could probably give up conventional TV services if I could get full IPTV. Then I could use only wifi to get TV all over my house. That sounds to me the direction we're going in.

I just hope Microsoft has that kind of initiative with regards to digital TV. I hope we can get all of our devices to do IPTV: Xbox, Windows Phone, Windows 8, Windows RT, etc. Let's hope they can deliver this kind of 21st century TV experience for all their various devices and do it well.