Media Center Extenders and programmable television

As I've indicated in the past, I'm a user of Windows Vista Media Center. Up till now, however, I've mostly used it through my XBOX.
Written by John Carroll, Contributor

As I've indicated in the past, I'm a user of Windows Vista Media Center. Up till now, however, I've mostly used it through my XBOX. That, however, isn't ideal, as I don't like leaving my XBOX on indefinitely (for obvious reasons), and restarting the box usually takes time (not LOTS of time, but it certainly isn't instantaneous).

I would prefer to have a dedicated task-specific Media Center Extender that I could attach to other TV sets in my home and is designed to be left powered-on all the time. That's where the new Media Center Extenders come in. Of particular interest is the fact that, as the referenced article reports, the new extenders will include decoders for such popular formats as DivX and XVID. Even better would be if the list of supported codecs could be extended (no word on that yet).

Media Center Extenders make it possible to leave the desktop computer, most instances of which aren't really designed to be placed in the living room, in the office while accessing its media assets and Media Center UI from other rooms in the house. It treats Windows as a high-feature media server (of sorts) with the added advantage that I can create new applications that can plug into the user experience. Media Center represents customizable TV, and given that the Media Center environment runs on Windows, extensions have access to the full Windows development library. Merged Internet and traditional cable viewing experiences (among other things) become very possible.

The best viewing experience in the new Media Center Extenders appears to come from plugins written in MCML. MCML is an XML grammar used to create screen layouts in Media Center. It exists in parallel to other Media Center development options, such as HTML and WPF extensions. It is also a format that gets sent (in a compiled form) to the latest Media Center Extenders, enabling the kinds of smooth animations that wouldn't be possible if Media Center Extenders performed some kind of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) access to the Windows box to view the user interface.

WPF Media Center plugins aren't "remoted" in this way, mostly because the full WPF framework would be far too heavyweight to run in a task-specific consumer electronics device. I expect, however, that that will change in future, and Silverlight will be the agent for this.

It only makes sense for Media Center to eventually support Silverlight. Silverlight is a WPF subset that is more lightweight and a better fit for embedded devices. Further, somewhat like MCML, Silverlight XAML pages get downloaded by clients and rendered locally, enabling the same kind of smooth animations and transitions made possible by locally-rendered MCML.

Ray Ozzie speaks of Silverlight as a common development layer that will extend across product categories. Imagine if you could use the same Microsoft developer tools to target desktop computers (Windows, Linux, Apple), mobile phones, IPTV Set-Top Boxes, and Media Center Extenders.

Since high-level executives are speaking that way, I think its a foregone conclusion that Media Center will eventually support Silverlight. Just a prediction...

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