Microsoft's Portable Media Centers: a strong monoculture headstart

Microsoft's Portable Media Centers: a strong monoculture headstart

Summary: Earlier this year, I wrote a column that asked whether Microsoft's monoculture might take the 'pod' out of podcasting?   In an online whiteboard session (see the video) I explain the phenomenon in more detail and talk about how a monoculture in media player technologies could also lead to a monoculuture in digital rights management (DRM) since the two, at least for now, are inextricably linked.

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TOPICS: Windows
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plays4sure.gifEarlier this year, I wrote a column that asked whether Microsoft's monoculture might take the 'pod' out of podcasting?   In an online whiteboard session (see the video) I explain the phenomenon in more detail and talk about how a monoculture in media player technologies could also lead to a monoculuture in digital rights management (DRM) since the two, at least for now, are inextricably linked.  If a single player -- be it one from Microsoft, Apple, Real Networks, Adobe (by virtue of its acquisition of Macromedia) or any other multimedia player -- find its way into dominating the media player and/or the DRM categories, the result could be unprecedented leverage over the entertainment and media industries.  

Looking at the existing offerings, Microsoft is hands-down making all the right moves, having what appears to me to be an almost insurmountable head start (though readers are always quick to remind me that I should never count Apple out).  So far, beyond portable DVD playing, no other company has managed to penetrate the market and the Internet with the technologies to mobilize digital video the way Microsoft has.   On the device side, through Microsoft's Plays4Sure program, the Redmond-based company's re-use of the DOS/Windows/PocketPC operating system licensing formula that creates competition among hardware manufacturers is once again working, this time to produce mobile video-capable offerings from Creative, iRiver, and Samsung not to mention the portable Windows Media Player capabilities of PocketPC-driven PDAs and telephones.  

Apple, for one, isn't even in the game yet with an iPod that can play a Quicktime movie. (I've heard that the company may have one out in time for Christmas 2005.)  Although there are other offerings -- both hardware and software -- that can deliver a non-Windows Media-based audio/video experience (e.g.: Archos, Real, Adobe/Macromedia), none of those efforts appear to be as well organized or as successful as Microsoft has been with its Portable Media Center (PMC) efforts.  On the content development and delivery side, Microsoft has penetrated the telecommunications infrastructure, an effort that has yielded carriers who (1) sell handsets that can play Windows Media-based content, (2) use Windows Media streaming technologies to distribute digital content, (3) or both.

Earlier this year, in an interview that took place during PC Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sun president and COO Jonathan Schwartz said the threat of another Microsoft monoculture was not only very real (no pun intended), but that his company may be working on something Liberty Alliance-like to head it off at the pass. Sun has a lot to lose should Microsoft's media player technologies take a commanding lead in the portable arena.  Not only could Java be relegated to an also-ran on the portable multimedia front; any rise in popularity of Microsoft's portable multimedia technologies could result in increased demand for Microsoft's mobile operating systems and the mobile version of .NET (the chief competitor to the mobile version of Java). While it may be too early to count out Sun, Apple and the others, the momentum piece that served as the impetus for this blog entry was ZDNet's comparative review of the three aforementioned PMC offerings.  Although they're all a bit rough on the edges, they're a good start and they are shipping.  Says senior editor James Kim:

"In the Windows Media world, these portable media devices can do it all: WMV movies, WMA music, and digital photos with the greatest of ease, thanks to a revolutionary Windows Mobile-based user interface. Portable Media Centers (PMCs) sacrifice certain features found on conventional portable video players such as audio/video recording, an FM tuner, and native compatibility with many popular media formats, but they're also the easiest in the world to use, in part because of its automatic syncing relationship with Windows Media Player (WMP) 10.0."

For once, Microsoft appears to be leading Apple instead of following it.

Topic: Windows

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8 comments
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  • Huh? Nobody is buying PMC's.

    Who is buying these things? There is no way to easily get content to them. Ie: you can't rip your DVD's. You can't use anything buy WMV on them (hint: most movies on the 'net are MPEG4/DiVX), etc.

    I have yet to see ANYONE with one of these abominations. Big, heavy, etc.

    With portable DVD players @ ~$200, you can easily keep the kids occupied easily with movies you already own. You can easily play your home movies. You can easily show photo DVD's, etc.

    Unlike music, video requires you to actively watch it. With iPods, you can use them every time you are in the car, every time you exercise, when you walk the dog, etc. It's a small package that you can do passively. You wouldn't want video in any of those situations.

    Face it, PMC's are DOA and it's just not something people want. The market has already shown that.
    ITGuy04
    • You must be kidding?

      Who is buying these things? Everyone from small MP3 like players to full blown home entertainment systems.

      There is no way to easily get content to them. Ie: you can't rip your DVD's.

      Of course you can, try Windows Medai Player 10 and see for yourself.

      You can't use anything buy WMV on them (hint: most movies on the 'net are MPEG4/DiVX), etc.

      Wrong again, muitlple formats supported. By the way most of the movies from legitimate sites provide multiple formats including WMV.

      Oh by the way, my Creative music player is smaller, lighter, and has more staorage than your IPod...
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Are you confused?

        I'm talking PMC's - the oned that play movies and stuff.

        Let's see here - the Creative Zen is the best of the bunch:

        WMP 10 is a POS - looked at it and it's junk.

        from http://www.creative.com/PortableMediaCenters/productinfo/specs.asp

        "# MPEG movie file (.mpeg, .mpg, mpe, .m1v, .mp2v, .mpeg2)(4)
        # Windows Video file (.avi)(4)
        # Windows Audio file (.wav)
        (4) Compatibility of some file formats is dependent on third party software."

        No MPEG4 and various other MPEG's may or may not play.

        And your Zen is not smaller, lighter, or has more space than my iPod. I have the 40GB iPod, and the Zen is still 20GB.

        There is a reason that the iPods have:
        90% of the hard drive MP3 market in the US
        58% of the flash MP3 market in the US (up from 43% last month)
        (According to NPD 2 days ago)

        It's because they offer the best mix of features and are the easiest to use.

        I'll stick with my iPod, thanks.
        ITGuy04
        • All a matter of taste i suppose.

          Be hapy with your IPod, just don't try trash talking the competition.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Not the problem

    DRM or vendor lock in is not the problem.

    The problem is getting the music labels and movie studios to
    agree to the same DRM and a media standard. Thats why MPEG
    LA is popular and that is why Apple has the jump start with the
    iTunes music store. All the music labels were bickering among
    themselves about online music, mp3, piracy etc and Apple came
    in with all the answers. All Steve asked the music labels to do
    was sign on the dotted line :-)

    Will vendor lock in happen with online movies? I think it will.
    Because all the movie studios are bickering about pirate video
    being available on the net before they are released in the
    cinema. When all they need to do is agree on a unified DRM and
    a media standard.

    My last opinion is. To make the DRM available for Linux in one
    way or another or you will see Jon Johansen crack another DRM
    encryption.
    Ian Mc
  • you've swallowed the koolaid, why should we expect to change your mind?

    The PVP market is not just "big & heavy" -- it's big & heavy
    because designers were envisioning putting the things into the
    same stack with the "home theatre". They've stepped outside
    that box: The new generation, which includes offerings from
    Sanyo, Sony and iRiver, are hand-portable and have more than
    enough battery life for full movies. Archos is even building
    wireless into all their new PMPs. Pricing is too high right now;
    anyone who's not a blind idiot knows that will change.

    Anyway, you're off the track you claimed to start on as soon as
    you bring up iPods. Bottom line: They don't play video. Knowing
    Apple's (i.e., Jobs's) fondness for micromanagement of their
    marketing attack, they won't until xmas '05. Dude, I dislike MS
    as much as most folks, but substituting a slavish devotion to
    Apple or Linux is not a solution.

    Why not? Archos, for one, is doing it now: My Gmini 400 can
    play all kinds of video (WMV, AVI, some DIVX), and if Apple
    would get their heads out of the sand and open their API, they'd
    be able to play QuickTime. (No RealMedia, though; hardly
    anybody uses Real for non-streaming content, so that's not a
    big loss.)

    The Gmini XS (which is much smaller than an iPod) can also play
    movies. Archos has a line of hand-held PMPs that can do most
    of what a TiVo does, and they distribute them with software
    tools that help you convert your other formats to ones they can
    use. Their flagship PMA400 can even play movies or music while
    you use it as a portable networked computer; upcoming models
    will have bigger screens and higher res.

    And that's just Archos. What *about* Sanyo, Sony and iRiver?
    escoles9
    • urgh -- supposed to have been a reply to ITGuy04

      ... 'nuff said ...
      escoles9
    • Don't even waste your breath

      If you have to explain it to him he wouldn't understand.
      He's a tried and true MacAss.
      Portable Media Players are just not quite there yet to be mainstream, but iRiver is as close as anyone.
      And like you said that will change, and even if crApple made a media player you know it would only play quicktime and mp3's.
      As far as price if they got it 100% in terms of compatibility I would but one regardless of price, but for now I'll make due with my PSP with all it's limitations.
      Thanks for spending your time explaining it to that bonehead.
      rsouza9