Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

Summary: When Microsoft brass say "three screens and the cloud," do they mean PC-TV-phone? Or Xbox-TV-phone? Or is it really four screens and the cloud we're talking about (PC, Xbox, TV, phone) -- with Windows (or Xbox) as the "alpha" screen?

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Readers are continuing to send in more clues about Microsoft's cross-platform media play. The leads, to this point, have focused on Xbox as the the hub in Microsoft's "x number of screens and a cloud" entertainment strategy. But after reading a few recent "Windows Entertainment Client" job posts, I'm wondering if at least some of the Softies are trying to hold onto Chairman Bill Gates' long-held vision that the PC will be the living room hub.

Last week, I blogged about Microsoft's "Ventura Media Services" -- which may or may not be the successor to the Microsoft Zune's music/video service. This week, a reader sent in a link to another Microsoft job posting that doesn't mention "Ventura" by name, but is also related to Microsoft's three-screens plan on the consumer side of the house.

The new job posting (and a couple of other related ones I subsequently found) make reference to the Windows Entertainment Client team that is in the Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB) unit at the company. This team is building a synchronization platform "from ground up," according to one of the postings.

Here's more from one of the WEC job posts:

"We are the Windows Entertainment Client team and are chartered to revolutionize the way that people consume the Video, Music and TV content on their PC. Working closely with Xbox, Windows Phone, and Zune.net http://Zune.net>, we will light up the premium PC entertainment experience. Together we will build rich, immersive, social, and cloud-connected video and music experiences that will delight our users by giving them access to the entertainment they want, anywhere they want it to be....

"The WEC Platform team is building a next generation synchronization platform from ground up to enable accessing and sharing media content across PC(s), mobile device, Xbox and cloud. We are actively partnering with multiple Microsoft groups to light up these scenarios in seamless manner. We are seeking to hire a passionate developer with strong technical and development skills, customer focus, great team player attitude, ability to quickly ramp up on new technologies and drive for results. This is a unique opportunity to lead the entertainment industry by enabling access to user’s media on any devices."

(The post mentions that preferred candidates will have knowledge of sync frameworks, including Live Mesh, the Microsoft Sync Framework and SQL Server concepts. Sounds like a job for David Treadwell and his merry band, to me....)

Another WEC job post seeks individuals desiring to help create a "new generation of 'Epic Entertainment Experiences' for Music and Video that span the PC, TV, and Mobile screens."

Here's more from that job post:

"Are you interested in helping create a new generation of “Epic Entertainment Experiences” for Music and Video that span the PC, TV, and Mobile screens? Do you have a passion for quality and providing a great customer experience? If so, the Windows Entertainment Client (WEC) team might be the place for you. By joining this team, you have the opportunity to help revolutionize the way people interact with their music, videos, games, and social networks through PC entertainment.

"The WEC team (part of the Interactive Entertainment and Business Unit within E&D) is responsible for delivering the current Zune PC software and the next generation PC software used to consume all the media on your PC as well as interact with Windows Phones, Kin Phones, Zune devices, Xbox360, Zune marketplace, and other key partners. We are just beginning the next product cycle planning and development so you still have time to get in on the ground floor. This is a great opportunity for someone looking to broaden their technical skills, make a big impact, grow their career, and have a lot of fun."

Another Windows Entertainment Client post mentions the Zune PC software (codenamed "Dorado"). From that posting:

"If you like the experiences that the Zune PC Client delivers today, and would like to be instrumental in delivering the next generation of these, and feel you have the drive, smarts, and leadership skills to make this happen, this could be the role for you."

Here's a quick refresher on Microsoft names and codenames. Zune doesn't refer only to the Zune media player devices. Zune also is Microsoft's brand name for its music/video service, as well as the aforementioned client software that allows users to sync/update their Zune players and Windows Phone 7 devices. It's unclear whether Microsoft intends to drop the Zune brand in the coming year.

Ventura is the codename for a set of services being developed by Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices (E&D) unit, of which IEB is a part. These services are focused on music and video discovery and consumption. They sound, from my sources, as though they include recommendations, ratings and comments. New/future versions of the Zune software and/or service may have something to do with Ventura (or may be replaced by it).

I've noted previously that Ventura also is part of "Orapa," the platform that will bring Mediaroom features to Xbox Live users. The Ventura social-networking and music/video discovery and consumption pieces are also slated to be part of Orapa, from what I've heard. There's said to be a Mediaroom for the Windows Media Center client in the works, as well, that's codenamed "Monaco."

The Windows Entertainment Client job postings leave me with lots of questions and few answers.

  • Is the Windows Entertainment Client team building something beyond just a new version of Windows Media Center?
  • Does the Zune client (or whatever "Dorado" is called, going forward) end up becoming the new Windows (Live) Media Player, as has been suggested by some?
  • Why is Microsoft -- the company of many different synchronization technologies and frameworks -- creating yet another sync platform from scratch?
  • Are these plans for Windows Entertainment Client still current, given the early 2011 reorg in the Entertainment and Devices unit (about which we know relatively little)?
  • When Microsoft brass say "three screens and the cloud," do they mean PC-TV-phone? Or Xbox-TV-phone? Or is it really four screens and the cloud we're talking about (PC, Xbox, TV, phone) -- with Windows (or Xbox) as the "alpha" screen?

My biggest quetion: Is Microsoft positioning the Windows PC or Xbox console to be the "hub" of its consumer media play? Or are company execs doing the traditional Microsoft internal bake-off/internal compete thing, letting the "best" team win?

Topics: Software, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, IT Employment, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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46 comments
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  • In this case only...

    ...keeping the hard-wired sync service built into Zune/Windows Media/Windows Live Media/Whatever software makes sense whereas the Windows Live Sync is cloud-based sync capabilities. I can certainly understand that. I just hope they continue to bake in WLS services to WP7 and Zune devices.
    GoodThings2Life
    • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

      :)
      www.awwgame.com
      lariosshow
  • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

    I really hope that we still will get "PCs" as TVboxes in the future, perhaps something that can work out of the box for the people that want the basic setup, but then add functionality for us tinkerers.
    hvakrg
  • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

    "Windows Live Media Player" is an awful name.
    angarita calvo
  • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

    I'd take a PC top any day. I despise consoles.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Couldn't agree with you more!

      @Cylon Centurion 0005 +1 on that. Go PC or go home!
      Bates_
    • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

      @Cylon Centurion 0005 - I have both under our main TV.

      The problem today is that both offer features that aren't available on the other.

      On my Media Center PC, I can get live & recorded TV, music and photos and Netflix movies and can fall-back to browser-delivered streaming via Hulu, etc. if necessary. But I can't get Zune experience integrated into Media Center - for that I have to stand up and operate the MCPC using a mouse. THAT SUCKS!

      On my XBox, I can watch content stored on my MCPC, watch Netflix, get some Zune integration and can stream movies etc. from Zune's online movie streaming service. I can get live TV with my XBox Media Center Extender feature, but it's a clunky, disjointed experience. But I cannot get Comcast OnDemand streamed content and cannot access online content such as Hulu (I know, it's coming but it's STILL NOT HERE!), YouTube, South Park Online, PDC online, MIX online, etc.

      Microsoft REALLY need to tie these loose ends together. I should be able to watch ALL my content and preferred streams of content ANYWHERE on ANY (Microsoft-compatible) DEVICE.

      Microsoft are INCHES away from having the most extensive, pervasive, consistent and integrated media experience available ANYWHERE. They just have to let go the internal politics and build the damn thing!
      bitcrazed
      • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

        @bitcrazed

        Yer damn right! Well said! And since Xbox is a platform branded for gamers, that means there's still a gap in the story for non-gamers. Why isn't there a Windows Media Center or Zune OS for embedded systems? Hopefully one of these new initiatives will finally cover that base.
        scH4MMER
  • Don't name it Ventura

    Have you ever been to Ventura?

    What happened to those native-American themed Pacific Northwesty names?
    HollywoodDog
    • Ventura

      Ventura is just the codename, don't worry :) I have not been there.

      They are using all kinds of city codenames these days. They've been going more outside the Pac Northwest lately for their choices (Rome, Monaco, Ventura, Orapa)... I've heard the reason they use city names is to avoid trademark issues... even with codenames, I guess (?) that's an issue...? MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
    • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

      @HollywoodDog
      Hey, I think portions of Ventura are very nice.
      DannyO_0x98
    • How about Joliet?

      @HollywoodDog Jump back in your time machine... The Windows Joliet filesystem for CD's? Have you ever been to Joliet IL? Ugh!
      NotMSUser
  • I don't see why this is PC vs. XBox360

    I have an HDTV tuner card in my PC running Windows 7 Ultimate. Windows 7 comes with Windows Media Center and with it I record lots of air the air programming using an HDTV antenna. (Hint: You can do this with cable TV as well but with Netflix, Hulu et al, I cut the cord 2+ years ago)<br><br>In my living room I have an XBox360 and in case anyone here chiming in hasn't noticed, there's a "Window Media Center" application to the right of your avatar on the XBox360 dashboard. Which means I can watch everything I record on my PC by way of my 360 in the comfort of my living room sofa and HDTV. Furthermore, if I hit "LiveTV" on the 360 it works (despite the HDTV tuner card living in the PC). The PC buffers a couple of seconds and simply transmits "LiveTV" as an mpeg to the 360 which is just part of Microsoft designed as part of the overarching Window Media Center protocol. Not shocking really since TiVo et al are doing the same thing (when you pause live TV) minus transmitting to some other device.<br><br>In other words, this is a perfect synergistic scenario. I don't see why this has to be a question of PC vs. 360. Furthermore, it's par for the course for lay people to not readily see what Sun Microsystems used to say all the time a decade ago - "The network *is* the computer." While Sun may have been swallowed by Oracle, that principle is alive and well -- it's just that most people can't escape the myopia of a single device that's in front of them, i.e. "thinking outside the box" (in front of you) and tossing in another "box". Even if everything happens to housed in your own home and not in the cloud (someone elses "home" -- a company).<br><br>-M
    betelgeuse68
    • My thoughts exactly

      @betelgeuse68

      I was wondering why there was a choice in the matter. The 360 is the perfect platform for the living room. Have your PC do whatever you wish in another room and just stream your media. Having a full PC in the living room is cumbersome to say the least.
      LiquidLearner
      • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

        @LiquidLearner

        The problem is that consoles aren't updates as often, and they're not that flexible either. The Xbox will never be able to handle bitstreaming, and Microsoft does not seem to want to add mkv-support. On a PC both of those can be added with 3rd part programs.
        hvakrg
      • RE: MKV on XBOX 360

        @hvakrg

        I am not totally positive but I thought there was a codec pack or something that helped make MKV files stream. I also think the latest divx plugin does that too. I haven't tried as I usually use MP4, WMV or some other compatible format.

        I guess that is because I only stream recorded TV and what Videos I take myself which are in .Mov format and I convert using a free converter program. The only time I have seen MKV files really used is in movies ripped from DVD/Blu-Ray and technically pirated. I do not mean to insinuate that you are pirating as I am just stating an observation.
        bobiroc
    • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

      @betelgeuse68

      Just like LiquidLearner stated My thoughts exactly.

      The XBOX 360 and a Windows Media Center Capable PC are great compliments to one another. I find it very convenient to use the Media Extender functionality playing my stored media files over my network. The only thing I plan to add to the mix is a WHS when version 2011 is releases officially. Since I have never had a WHS I am not sure if that can totally take over for my media or not or just be a repository for access.

      Some may argue a PC is better for gaming and others may say a console is. I find consoles more convenient but if you have the money for a gaming PC then there are advantages to that as well.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

        @bobiroc
        <i>Some may argue a PC is better for gaming and others may say a console is. I find consoles more convenient but if you have the money for a gaming PC then there are advantages to that as well.</i>

        Isn?t that the best part, different people like different things. I honestly prefer a controller to a keyboard. But there are those who run out and buy special keyboards. To each his/her own I guess. I am not as hardcore a gamer as some people I know, but to me gaming is just a distraction, something I enjoy, but not something I am going to give up my life for. I ope Microsoft does something unique, if only to push others farther along. To be honest I only bought a Playstation 3 because, besides gaming, it also acts as a Blu-Ray player.
        Rick_K
  • RE: Windows PC vs. Xbox: Which gets the starring role in Microsoft's living room hub of the future?

    makes no difference, MS is slowly sinking into irrelevance. They won the desktop war and have lost all the others...
    panic man
    • Sure, whatever you say.

      @panic man
      the fact that you're posting here tells me a different story.
      John Zern