Media Centre struggles with digital TV support

CeBIT: Microsoft's Windows XP Media Centre Edition is coming to the UK - just don't expect it to work with digital TV

The latest version of Windows, aimed at making it easier to use digital media, has been such a success in the US that Microsoft has decided to bring forward the roll-out to the UK, France and Germany.

However, it may end up being premature, as Windows XP Media Centre Edition (MCE) doesn't yet have the capability to integrate with digital video and audio broadcasting.

Just as the UK is moving to digital cable, satellite or terrestrial TV and radio, this new release is stuck in the analogue age, Microsoft representatives said at the CeBIT ICT show in Hannover, Germany this week.

Since MCE is based on Windows XP Professional and runs on a full-featured PC, it's possible to install DVB (digital video broadcasting) and DAB (digital audio broadcasting) cards in such a machine, but the first release of MCE to the UK almost certainly won't integrate these functions into its front end -- what Microsoft calls the "ten foot user interface," referring to the distance from which it's used.

Speaking at CeBIT 2003 in Hannover, Jodie Cadieux, marketing manager for the Windows eHome Division, told ZDNet UK that a lack of demand for such services in the US was the problem: "The UK is much more advanced than the US in that respect."

While MCE provides an electronic programme guide (EPG) for TV, the data for this has up until now been delivered through the PC's Internet connection. In contrast, the digital broadcasting services in the UK deliver their EPG data over the air, and MCE isn't yet ready to use this data. Other digital TV features, such as digital teletext and multiple camera angles will also lack support.

Cadieux explained that the timing of MCE's release in the UK could depend on how quick the new features can be added. "It's a question of whether you release without that functionality in time for the holidays, or wait until later and include it," she commented.

All may not be lost though, since vendors of digital broadcasting receivers are able to write extensions to MCE which add extra UI components, but this won't solve the problem of EPG integration.

Microsoft is keen to stress that while MCE revolves around Windows Media technologies, this isn't a way of locking people into one particular platform. "The goal is not Microsoft controlling everything. Innovation is key," said Cadieux. Other companies were free to develop devices that use the services provided by MCE using other technologies such as Linux.


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