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The Engineer Behind Microsoft's TV Strategy

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the bill-in-every-home dept.

Microsoft 292

Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "A high-energy engineer named Joe Belfiore, age 37, has led Microsoft's Media Center team for four years. The effort has gained momentum in the past year, the Wall Street Journal reports, bolstering Microsoft's defense against a challenge from Apple's Front Row for control of home-entertainment software. 'The Apple threat seems menacing, in part because of recent history: Its iPod was a late entry in an established field of digital music players but soon stole the lion's share of the market,' the WSJ writes. At Microsoft, Front Row is already causing ripples: [Bill] Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.) At stake is more than just another piece of software for home computers. Both companies, and others, are trying to build the foundational technology for all home digital entertainment.'"

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Why 6 bottons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406250)

Cause thats all it needs!

Re:Why 6 bottons? (2, Insightful)

Urusai (865560) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406507)

N/S. I'd fire the idiot who told me that I needed 39 buttons on a remote. This is probably the same Einstein that came up with cell phones that have color screens, take pictures, have Bluetooth, play games, have downloadable ringtones, Internet surfing, text messaging, and still don't work any better as a telephone than they did 10 years ago. Heck, I can't even find an actual "ring" tone in many of these modern phones.

Re:Why 6 bottons? (1)

Compholio (770966) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406672)

Heck, I can't even find an actual "ring" tone in many of these modern phones.

I discovered that the f****** hid the "ring" option with the volume on mine - took me like a half hour to find it.

Re:Why 6 bottons? (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406524)

And five of them are redundant.

FG

I'll buy Apple before Microsoft (-1, Flamebait)

fishyfool (854019) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406258)

For the same reason I use Linux on my personal computers, Microsoft Sucks.

Building the foundations (1, Insightful)

LameJokeGuy (943407) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406265)

Relying on Microsoft to build the foundation for all home digital entertainment is like relying on Ford to build the foundation for quality automobiles. (Psst. Hey geniuses. The Japanese already beat you to it.)

Re:Building the foundations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406375)

By Japanese you mean Sony with its Blu-Ray DRM, right?

Just remember this isn't like the car company analogy. Whoever wins, we lose.

Re:Building the foundations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406432)

So: Slashdot is latest MicroSoft PR outlet - seems like an effective MS strategy to me. Anyone else notice? Maybe there has been an 'ownership' change in the background, or is /. just pure commercial interest now?

MS friendly slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406645)

If you take the stories published in the last X months,
it is clear that there has been a certain change in the views of the editors.

More glamorous pseudo-science that make most morons/curious click (like the silly warp-drive article).

More reassuring, Microsoft-friendly stories about the next oh-so-interesting presentation of Vista by mr. Gates.

I would gladly stop reading /. for a better alternative, but could not find any yet.

Re:Building the foundations (1)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406438)

Relying on Microsoft to build the foundation for all home digital entertainment is like relying on Ford to build the foundation for quality automobiles. (Psst. Hey geniuses. The Japanese already beat you to it.)

It didn't take me long to realize why your userID is "LameJokeGuy".

Re:Building the foundations (2, Insightful)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406536)

"Psst. Hey geniuses. The Japanese already beat you to it."

I don't know about that. I think the Tivo user interface and remote control are excellent and a hell of a lot easier than those crapola VCR programming tools.

Not too bright, are they? (5, Insightful)

tinpan (591424) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406280)

If neither Mr. Gates nor Mr. Belfiore can figure out how Front Row could have TV and digital video recorder functions without adding buttons to Apple's remote, Microsoft is in sorry shape.

Front Row does NOT have TV/DV record (1, Redundant)

everphilski (877346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406482)

From the snippet: Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.

Front Row does NOT have TV or Digital Video recorder functions. Whereas Media Center does.

-everphilski-

Re:Front Row does NOT have TV/DV record ... yet (2, Insightful)

J. Random Luser (824671) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406526)

psst, watch Steve next Tuesday morning

Re:Front Row does NOT have TV/DV record ... yet (1)

dabraun (626287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406607)

psst, I guarantee that if FrontRow gets TV functionality it will also get a new remote with more buttons (though most certainly less than 39 - which is about the largest MCE remote available and certainly not the required minimum button set).

Re:Not too bright, are they? (1)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406491)

If neither Mr. Gates nor Mr. Belfiore can figure out how Front Row could have TV and digital video recorder functions without adding buttons to Apple's remote, Microsoft is in sorry shape.

Mr. Gates is bright enough (chances are he scored higher on the SAT than you, and I mean chances are... He scored a 1590, and the 99th percentile is a mere 1450...) to know HOW to do it. What he wonders is WHY they've done it. There is a big difference there: between how and why.

Re:Not too bright, are they? (1, Interesting)

pomo monster (873962) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406669)

Either way, he still doesn't "get it." Elegance, tastefulness, featureful simplicity--call it what you like, Bill Gates and the crass masses in his employ will never understand.

but they *never* achieve simplicity (2, Interesting)

matt_maggard (320567) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406677)

I would go along with that if Microsoft occasionally delivered simplicity. But they never do. I think it just shows that intelligence without insight may take you far but doesn't allow you to capture the 'hearts and minds' like apple's products do. Afterall, gates has seen and demoed MCE with the remote for years now - he could have put down a change order at any time if he thought it was a mistake.

I can easily picture an interface for front row that can be add dvr functionality without adding buttons to the remote - and I got a way lower SAT score than gates. MS has always tried to figure out how to get a product to do *more*; apple has always tried to figure out how to get a product to do what it does *better*. The latter speaks to me and my interests more than the former.

The ONLY thing I think that should ever be added to the front row remote would be numeric buttons for channels. I wish all my av gear had as simple a remote/interface.

-matt

Re:Not too bright, are they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406681)

I bet neither will Apple - they'll add more buttons if they add PVR functionality.

buttons buttons BUTTONS. (2, Insightful)

DrWhizBang (5333) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406282)

Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)

Personally, I suspect the Apple remote control would still have six buttons even with TV and DVR. But I imagine Gates still bought that explanation.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406339)

I don't have a Apple Remote or even know how work. But all you need is 6 buttons..

1-4 When in playback mode - forward, back, play/pause, go to menu mode

1-4. Up, down, left, right - when driving a menu system

5. Enter

6. Device On/Off - duh

Buttons (1)

Z34107 (925136) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406558)

The only buttons you really need are as follows:

[UP] [UP] [LEFT] [RIGHT] [LEFT] [RIGHT] [B] [A] [START]

Pair the 30 lives with a little context-sensitive programming, and you have your remote.

Re:Buttons (1)

Z34107 (925136) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406576)

Of course, full functionality would be enabled after the free hotfix:p>

[UP][UP][DOWN][DOWN][LEFT][RIGHT][LEFT][RIGHT][B][ A][START]

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

Zathrus (232140) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406369)

I suspect the Apple remote control would still have six buttons even with TV and DVR

It would be a piss poor remote then.

Power. Play/Pause. Fast forward. Rewind. Control/Menu. Channel up.

There, that's six buttons. What are you missing?

Channel down, volume up/down, quick replay, skip 30/skip-to-end, menu navigation (that's 5 right there -- up, down, left, right, select). That's pretty much a minimum for a useful remote with DVR capabilities.

Other buttons you may want easily accessible include number buttons (0-9, enter), a clear button, mute, aspect control, picture-in-picture, info/guide, slow play.

Sure, you can overload functions, but there's a limit -- beyond which you stop making things simple and start making them more complicated. And there's no way you can do everything you need with only 6 buttons.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

TekPolitik (147802) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406440)

there's no way you can do everything you need with only 6 buttons.

Left, Right, Up, Down, Select, Cancel

The "any" key brings up the on-screen menu if you are not already in it. I'm sure there are other combinations that will work too.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

Zathrus (232140) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406481)

The "any" key brings up the on-screen menu if you are not already in it.

And you've entered UI nightmare.

How do you change channels/volume? Left/right for one, up/down for the other? What about fast-forward/rewind/play(which could double as pause)/record? The same?

So, uh, how are you supposed to change volume and be able to do trick play? Oops. Or do the same while being able to change channels in live tv?

And note that you're still missing quick rewind/skip capability. And any page up/page down ability in menus. Nor do you have the ability to bring up an info screen on the current show without going all the way to the menu.

Your attempt at simplicity has turned into a UI nightmare.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

TekPolitik (147802) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406538)

Your attempt at simplicity has turned into a UI nightmare.

I did not suggest it would be ideal - just that it is not impossible ("there is no way you can"), as the original post claimed. All of the actions you describe would be possible with a six button remote by having the actions take place via a menu - even one involving a small set of icons at the bottom/top/left/right of the screen. Ever used a Playstation 2 for watching DVDs without buying the separate remote? It has a scheme very much like this (using the game controller) that is perfectly adequate for basic DVD viewing.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

lateralus_1024 (583730) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406527)

Keep it up and you're bound to get unlimited lives in Contra. //end NES reference.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (2, Interesting)

norminator (784674) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406462)

The buttons could easily function like this:

Menu Navigation: 1) Up, 2) Down, 3) Left, 4) Right, 5) Select, 6) ?

Live TV: 1) Volume Up, 2) Volume Down, 3) Channel Down, 4) Channel Up, 5)?, 6) Menu

Recorded Videos: 1) Skip Ahead, 2) Skip Back, 3) Rewind, 4) Fast Forward, 5) Play/Pause, 6) Menu

It's the overloaded buttons you're talking about, but it can be done very intuitively. I don't know how they do it on the iMac, but I think it could work farily well for DVR purposes, too. The iPod uses its wheel for scrolling through menus, adjusting volume, seeking through songs, and even various functions in the simple games it has onboard. Overloading doesn't have to be bad. If it can be done in an obvious way, it's better than having a remote with 40 buttons, 30 of which have absolutely no function most of the time. I hate the MS Media Center remotes. There's not only a button for the main menu, but buttons for each of the main activities, which can all be easily accessed from the main menu. Five buttons where one would work fine.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

droopycom (470921) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406529)

Your mistaking functions for buttons. You can clearly do everything with 6 buttons.

If they dont need to type, most people do everything on their computer with a mouse which count as 6 buttons (4 direction, 2 action buttons)

Even for the rare case you need a keyboard, you can do it with the mouse and the onscreen keyboard.

Also consider that while I'm in front in a computer, I spend most of my time typing and clicking to do things, while I'm in front of a TV I dont spend my time clicking on the remote because I dont want to do anything but watch.

 

Knobs vs. Buttons (2, Insightful)

zhiwenchong (155773) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406535)

If Apple introduces in a click-wheel (a la iPod), along with a good on-screen UI, I think they can get away with 6 buttons (plus or minus 2).

You see, it's a matter of continuous UI (knobs) vs. discrete UI (buttons). Sometimes continuous UIs are *just* better for certain things. Most of us are used to discrete UI for TVs and such -- but that doesn't mean a continuous UI is unworkable. It just needs to be designed properly, and the best company to design such a UI is probably Apple.

I'll tell you where a discrete UI doesn't work. I have a Sony cassette player in one of my cars that has two buttons for volume control (+ and -). To me, that's a really stupid UI. To change the volume, I have to glance at the player, feel for the buttons, and press the relevant button x number of times to get the volume I want. All this while I'm driving.

A volume knob would have been so much more effortless. I can just turn to get the volume I want quickly, and easily fine-tune it too.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406566)

And there's no way you can do everything you need with only 6 buttons.

Complete and unreserved Bullshit. I can do every single thing I need on my DVR, more than windows media edition or front row, and all I use is a three button mouse.

Three buttons. Been doing it for more than a year too, and it's simpler than any other remote I've used.

You seem quite proud... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406589)

...of your wretched lack of imagination.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

DaveCBio (659840) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406383)

How would you propose direct access to channels and chapters with 6 buttons?

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406452)

1 'Button' is a touchscreen LCD with 33 buttons in it of course

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

droopycom (470921) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406477)

The proposal is that you dont need an access that direct.

You flip up and down, or go through the mosaic/menu to find the channel/chapter you want.

When your channels numbers have 3 digits anyway direct access is not practical.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

zhiwenchong (155773) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406596)

THat's clever....!
Now if it were possible to have something like an Exposé for TV channels.... that'll make channel surfing much easier.

Just a tiled mosaic of all the stuff that's playing and whip to the channel you want with a scroll wheel.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

pomo monster (873962) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406603)

Exactly. Channel numbers are obsolete, anyway, or at least they ought to be. Let me pick my channels from an onscreen menu. If I have favorites, let me memorize the shortcuts on my own terms, not as the arbitrary, unchangeable numbers that come from my cable provider. What a fucking pain in the ass.

Re:buttons buttons BUTTONS. (1)

dabraun (626287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406446)

Not mentioned is the fact that there are MANY media center remote designs and that they do not all have 39 buttons. THe '39 button' version includes a numeric keypad (not necessary, but convenient for skipping around large collections via triple-tap and for the occasinal text entry in search pages) and a number of dedicated buttons like 'recorded tv', 'guide', 'live tv' etc which are NOT necessary since you can get to these parts of the UI without them but they sure make it easier to navigate.

There is a reference design credit card remote available for MCE that has about 25 buttons (no keypad for starters). OEMs make up their own remotes with slightly different button sets (though there is, as I understand it, a list of basic requirements imposed by MCE including the green button).

I do agree, however, that MCE could consider also offering a remote design with some level of button overloading like the FrontRow remote has (up/down/left/right shared perhaps with volume/channel/skip as approproate) but it would actually be pretty annoying if this was the only design available since there are definite downsides to button overloading.

Six buttons vs. 39 buttons (1, Funny)

liangzai (837960) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406284)

Yeah, them dudes never realized that Apple's one-button mousey was superior, and now they are repeating the mistake yet again. Of course, the Lunix community will begin a new era of six button jokes as of this year.

Re:Six buttons vs. 39 buttons (2, Interesting)

Compholio (770966) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406626)

Of course, the Lunix community will begin a new era of six button jokes as of this year.

Well, as a good Linux user I see several buttons: left, right, middle, "thumb 1", "thumb 2", "roll forward", and "roll backward". I suppose you could get rid of one of the thumb buttons, but then how would you reload your weapon without the keyboard? ;)

Anyone get the idea . . . (2, Insightful)

ElephanTS (624421) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406291)

MicroSoft are doing a massive PR job this year?

All was quiet for a while and now it seems like a BS tsunami.

the unspoken battle (4, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406294)

I think the real battle here is between the xbox and the mac mini. The Windows Media center PC is nothing more than an expensive distraction. Microsoft's real wedge into the home media center space is the xbox. We saw this towards the end of the XBOX 1's lifetime, but it's all the more apparent with the XBOX 360's capabilities. Apple, of course, realizes this, and has positioned the mac mini and its iTunes offerings (and now Front Row) accordingly.

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406311)

The mini doesn't come with Front Row, only iMac's do.

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

User 956 (568564) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406359)

The mac mini runs Front Row just fine. [tuaw.com]

It's really becoming more and more apparent what Apple's strategy in this area is, they just haven't admitted as much.

Mac Mini + Front Row (4, Insightful)

norminator (784674) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406405)

The mini doesn't come with Front Row, only iMac's do.

Until next week that's true, but one of the main predictions for MacWorld is a Mac Mini with a TV Tuner and Front Row software.

It's amazing to me how the iPod came into its market, took over and completely dominates. Electronics manufacturers are building entire product lines from low-end to very high-end accessories, specifically to capitalize on the iPod's success. Most major high-end distributed audio systems now support directly connecting to the iPod to allow it as a source for whole-house audio.

The Mac Mini has been used as a cheap but solid music server by many custom electronics installers. Apple is not only winning with general consumers, but for very high-end applcations (read: rich people's houses and very nice commercial installations).

It's funny to me that Microsoft has been pitching the Media Center for a few years now, and it's starting to come around for expensive custom installs now, too, but I think it's too much. Too much complexity trying to give people stuff they didn't know they want, and not allowing the real control people need.

At work I see a lot of hype about Windows Media Center, and although the menu animations look smooth and almost fancy, and it would be nice to have full Tivo-like capabilities from my PC, I think it's too bulky, trying to be the great all-purpose PC, and give you Tivo functionality, too. I think Microsoft misunderstands a lot of the higher-end market they're trying to get into, because of their arrogance and assumptions that they can just enter any market they want. At the same time, Win MCE isn't really for alot of middle class people either, because those people mostly just want to check their e-mail and browse the internet.

I won't be surprised at all to see Apple provide an inexpensive Mac Mini-based solution that consumers from low-middle class to the very rich will be excited to own and use. I think Microsoft, even though they've been in the game for a relatively long time already, should be getting ready to have their lunch handed to them. I've never owned a Mac or an iPod, but I think I might be holding my own 6-button remote soon.

Re:the unspoken battle (0)

obeythefist (719316) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406312)

Except the mac mini is specifically lacking everything it needs to completely own the home theatre space - quality A/V outputs.

Why? I have no freaking idea, but I would have bought one myself if it had them.

For now I'm using a modded X-Box with A/V kit and XBMC. For price/performance that has no rival.

Re:the unspoken battle (4, Informative)

User 956 (568564) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406342)

Except the mac mini is specifically lacking everything it needs to completely own the home theatre space - quality A/V outputs.

The DVI output on the mac mini is a high quality output which is found on a wide variety of modern TVs [google.com] . If your TV doesn't have that, Apple sells a DVI->Svideo adapter [apple.com] for the mac mini. Apple's competing on this front, they're just weirdly silent about it.

Re:the unspoken battle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406652)

Offtopic but...

The Chuck Norris Facts website doesn't work. I was really dissapointed.

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406678)

Yes, but no S/PDIF! What the hell are they thinking?!

I've never bought an Apple, but I probably will when the release a mini with a freakin' TOSLINK port.

-Peter

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406335)

Apple, of course, realizes this, and has positioned the mac mini and its iTunes offerings (and now Front Row) accordingly.

Not everything that Apple does is in response to Microsoft. Yes, they compete mainly in the same areas, but they do not compete in absolutely everything.

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

Zathrus (232140) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406447)

The Mac Mini lacks far too much to seriously compete for the home theater space. The video is inadequate (not enough power), the CPU is inadequate (ditto), the sound is utterly inadequate, there's no capability for recording TV in standard def (which the video and CPU would be passable for), much less high def (which they aren't), and the drive is too slow and far too small.

The Xbox360 has some of the same faults (particularly the hard drive and the inability to record), so it too would need a hefty server elsewhere on the network -- and that's well beyond any reasonable expectation for the average user.

If Apple wants to compete against Microsoft, then they'll need to put forth a real challenge to the Media Center PC.

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

norminator (784674) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406514)

That's why an update to the mini is in order: 3.5" hard drives, faster processors, TV tuner with hardware encoding, and digital adio out. It's probably already going to get an Intel dual-core processor and Front Row. The rest could happen, too. It's a lot to cram into that small of a space, but I think they could do it.

Re:the unspoken battle (1)

carlislematthew (726846) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406674)

It doesn't even need to be that small - no need to try and cram it all in. Sure, don't make it as big as some of those MS Media Center boxes, but if they made it the same size as a normal DVD player then I think that would be fine for the vast majority of people.

I think that the footprint of the mini is designed for conservation of desk space, which is perhaps more constrained than the space on top of the mammoth AV receivers that people have these days! :)

Oops! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406308)

For a second I read it as "The Engineer Behind Microsoft's Tragedy" - the other second I sensed something is wrong - Impossible. ONE Engineer can't create this big a Tragedy.

Baby steps... (4, Insightful)

sexyrexy (793497) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406318)

As fun, and seemingly simple, as it is to bash M$ for being a complete failure at taking over the living room, they are taking the tried-and-true approach to establishing dominance: baby steps. Put the Xbox in the living room, and after two or three iterations of that it's pretty commonplace to see Microsoft sitting under your tv. And so on.

The line from Pirates of Silicon Valley where Bill says (paraphrasing) "You have to make people need you" is perfectly descriptive of Microsoft's philosophy. You create a dependency over time... something that seems fringe or even silly in 1995 but in 2005 everyone can't live without it. It's a long process, but it works. You might not like it, either. But it makes money. It's a sound business practice.

Except... (4, Interesting)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406398)

The XBox wasn't a baby step. It was jumping in feetfirst into the deep end, losing billions and costing billions.

The Mac mini is a baby step; cost effective, profitable, yet tentative. The iPod with video is a baby step; heck, even the original iPod was a baby step.

Apple has undertaken several baby steps to get themselves into the living room:
iPod
Mac mini
iMac with Front Row
Airport Express
iTunes Music Store
iTunes Video Store

Each one works on the experiences of the others and feeds off the successes of each other. Apple watches how Creative (mis)handles MP3 players and comes out with the iPod, watches how Sony and Creative and Real create jukeboxes and creates a correspondingly better one itself, watches how poor music stores are written and creates a nice one, etc.

Microsoft, in comparison hasn't taken any baby steps. It debuts the Media Center PC without any segue devices into the home, then years later introduces the XBox sans media center functionality, then introduce the XBox 360, again sans Media Center functionality.

If Microsoft were doing baby steps, why not release the XBox with build in Media Center functionality? It had the harddrive already, the DVD drive, the CPU! Why not use the XBox to refine the media center functionality, instead of a gaming PC? Why not introduce the XBox mini, who's sole purpose is to lower the price point for the XBox to $99, act as a DVR, and a digital hub? Of course they can't do it because Intel sees no reason to, but that is why you parter with AMD! Create a purpose built CPU, integrate the GPU and other hardware, for a system on a chip so that they can release an entire console with only three components and four devices!

Instead they end of life the XBox the same day the XBox 360 is released; unlike how Sony has successfully kept the PSOne and PS2 alive these past years, and likely will continue to support PS2 for years after the PS3 is out.

Re:Except... (1)

RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406522)

then introduce the XBox 360, again sans Media Center functionality

While the 360 doesn't record TV (nor would you expect it to), it does function as a high-definition media-center extender that allows you to veiw and control your Media Center PC.

Re:Except... (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406549)

Which is like saying, "The iPod doesn't actually store music, it functions as a relay that allows you to control iTunes when it's docked to your PC"

The iPod is a self contained "music center PC", while the XBox, and now the XBox 360", are not Media Center PCs despite having all the necessary hardware to be so, if Microsoft so chose. Why they didn't, I do not know.

Re:Except... (1)

dabraun (626287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406584)

But they DON'T have the necessary hardware. No tuner and a totally insufficient hard drive - also no hardware MPEG encoder. These things would make the device way too expensive as a game console - and really, if you watch TV in more than one place in your house wouldn't you like to have access to all of your content everywhere?

It is most certainly a challenge to get the average consumer interested in setting up a client/server environment in their house but, whether or not you believe it, MCE is well on it's way to pulling it off. The majority of medium to high end desktop PCs now come with MCE (even if most of them don't include tuners) - with Vista this will likely only become more so ... live is getting a very large percentage of xboxes plugged into the network - add PC and xbox to the network for reasons totally unrelated to the MCE extender functionality, they see each other, and for many people this will be a pleasent and unexpected bonus.

57 Channels (And Nothin ON) (1)

Pinback (80041) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406321)

A successful PVR need not be more than a Hauppauge PVR-150, a Creative DXR3, a Soekris VPN-1401, a large hard drive, and an OS.

People have come to expect even the smallest innovation to become an endless renenue souce.

Case in point; Intel will flog Viiv for most of 2006. AMD won't have a chance to compete, Intel's marketing poop pump is just too big.

I want my TV via FTP. wget, gunzip, and xine

Re:57 Channels (And Nothin ON) (1)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406348)

A successful PVR

Sounds like an oxymoron to me...

And even if... (5, Insightful)

Sosarian (39969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406329)

And even if it did have tv recording functions, my MythTV setup for instance uses about 9, maybe 10 buttons plus lets say 12 for the number pad. 22 total

Tivo Series 1 has 33 if you count the four way hat as four.

For me it's not so much how many buttons, but whether they layout is useful.

Tactile UI design (2, Insightful)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406365)

not so much how many buttons, but whether they layout is useful

Exactly--and more importantly, whether the common functions (volume, channel, play/pause) are sensible and can be discerned by feel. Nothing worse than having to look away from the display down at the remote in your hand to twiddle the volume, something I tend to do almost constantly.

My zd8000 MCE laptop remote control is about as bad as it gets, so it's just collecting dust.

Re:Tactile UI design (1)

MoralHazard (447833) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406395)

This is SOOO true, and so many UI designers forget about it. Household devices, especially, need to be brutally simple, or at least self-explanatory, or else they won't get used as often.

Case in point: I was at my new girlfriend's house, where her father has set up a wonderful entertainment center (CD/DVD, VCR, Big Ass HDTV, receiver, satellite tuner, PVR, etc.). There is an equally massive collection of remotes to go with this bunch. The GF knows how to operate most of it, because she lives there and has been on the learning curve for a while.

While she was making dinner, I tried to get things set up to watch a DVD. It took me so long to figure it out that she finished the food, brought it in, and grabbed the remotes from me and set it up herself. That's not just annoying, that's emasculating!

Common Man design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406487)

Donald A. Norman's book.

The Design of Everyday Things.

Let's count them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406402)

Just a quick count of buttons that I'd expect on a PVR remote

1) Power - Activates the PVR software or switches the computer to PVR mode
2,3) Channel up/down - Scroll channels through channels
4,5) Volume - Adjust volume levels up or down
6-15) 10 button pad - Could possibly be left out if channel scrolling is sufficient, but that's unlikely
16) Record - Start recording current channel
17) Menu - Bring up software menu. Reuse 2,3 and 4,5 to allow navigation of menu screens
18) Play - Play current selection
19) Stop - Stop current action (playing or recording)
20,21) FF/RW - Fast forward, Rewind. No special need for 30 second skip button
22) Pause - Pause/Unpause

Optional buttons:

1,2) Skip F/B - Skip 30 seconds forward or back
3) Back 1 chapter - Skip back to beginning of current chapter/scene
4) Next chapter - Skip to beginning of next chapter/scene
5) Next content - Skip to beginning of next media content (the next recorded video, for instance)
6) Slow - Slow playback rate
7) Slow reverse - Slow backwards playback
8) Mute - No sound (could be a mandatory button if device has large volume level count)
9) PinP - Picture in picture if software supports it.
10) PinP frame switch - Select which frame of PinP should get remote control commands

I am probably missing a few and adding a few that you probably don't need. But my final count is 22/23 mandatory buttons and up to 32 buttons for a full-featured remote control. The most important key is that all configuration and non-essential features are hidden in the menu.

Re:Let's count them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406676)

Play/Pause/Record can be only one button. FF and RW can be eliminated if you use the Channel buttons while the media is paused. And the Menu can be selected by going to Channel number zero.

Re:And even if... (1)

egardner4 (652075) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406428)

As much as I love my MythTV(s), I can't imagine using its remote control navigation as an example to which Microsoft should aspire. Of course, part of the issue that Myth faces is that it isn't coded for a single remote button layout. But that doesn't completely excuse the clumsy navigation. This is one area where user studies and subsequent development could push MythTV to the next level of usability. Unlikely to happen though...

Re:And even if... (1)

Sosarian (39969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406565)

I think that's a problem with the menu layout not the buttons persay.

I still think you could get away with about 10 buttons since I dont usually use the 12 for the channels.

The thing I would really like though is the ability to page-down page-up in the guide, skipping 5 or 6 at a time would be ideal. Maybe there is that functionality already, but I don't have it set up.

Re:And even if... (1)

jgc7 (910200) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406564)

Well then, do what I did and buy a tivo remote and program myth to work with it. 20 bucks on ebay.

Screw Apple *and* Microsoft (4, Insightful)

typical (886006) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406340)

*My* living room media box is a Linux machine with a 104-key keyboard attached. And I'll bet it's a hell of a lot more capable than *either* of the above companies' offerings.

Re:Screw Apple *and* Microsoft (1)

liangzai (837960) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406391)

But only you can operate it and tweak it when the sound is out of sync, the video is B/W, or your customized bash script enters an infinite loop.

Re:Screw Apple *and* Microsoft (2)

Yahweh Doesn't Exist (906833) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406413)

and I bet *you're* really comfortable controlling your media with 104 keys, but most people won't be.

Apple's design proves the idea that perfection is obtained not when there's nothing more to add, but when there's nothing else to take away.

if everyone else in the world aspired only to levels such as using a 104 key keyboard just to change channel, then computers would still take up an entire room.

Qualification For Such A Big Position? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406341)

He was the only one left who hadn't left for Google...yet.

Default - The two sweetest words in the English language!

TV remote's numeric buttons (2, Interesting)

wesley96 (934306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406345)

Apple's 6-button approach is effective, but it DOES miss out on the numeric buttons you see in most TV remotes, so that might pose a bit of problem when Front Row has TV function added for those who channel surf by entering channel numbers. That's about the only argument I can see making sense about the but-it-doesn't-do-TV-or-DVR excuse.

Still, the 6-button approach is better in general over 39-button one IF the buttons are assigned in a clever way. It's obvious that most of those 39 buttons only get pressed once in a while or never get used at all.

TV remote's "nipple" control. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406386)

"Apple's 6-button approach is effective, but it DOES miss out on the numeric buttons you see in most TV remotes, so that might pose a bit of problem when Front Row has TV function added for those who channel surf by entering channel numbers. That's about the only argument I can see making sense about the but-it-doesn't-do-TV-or-DVR excuse."

An IBM "nipple" would do as well, with an on-screen channel guide.*

*Gesture control is made easier this way.

Re:TV remote's numeric buttons (1)

Yahweh Doesn't Exist (906833) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406434)

I would love to control a TV with an iPod style clickwheel - the faster you rotate the faster you change channels.

but has anyone noticed how appalling modern (UK) cable boxes are? all the ones I've seen have had a second or two lag whenever you change channel, and my dad's nokia freeview box frequently crashes.

could you imagine expose-style simultaneous viewing of all your favourite channels and then select what you want like you do with pictures on the iPod. not likely any time soon though.

Re:TV remote's numeric buttons (1)

pomo monster (873962) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406633)

As I said in another comment, we really need to get rid of channel numbers (or at least hide them, like IPs on the internet). Who wants to memorize a bunch of arbitrary numbers? Nobody. What you want is to flip back and forth through your favorite channels, which you can do by adding them to a list from an onscreen menu, then just hitting next/previous channel on the remote. When you want to jump to a specific channel, you want to be able to pick it from the same onscreen menu. Memorizing numbers have fuck-all to do with channel surfing except for historical reasons that were good in their time, but which everyone seems to be clinging to now only out of habit.

Re:TV remote's numeric buttons (1)

slashname3 (739398) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406634)

With DVR functionality why would you need to enter numbers for the channels? You pull up the on line program listing and page up/down to the show you want to watch. If you are channel surfing use the channel change buttons.

The real features for a successful DVR are having enough encoders to record at least three channels at once if not four. And to have enough disk space to keep at least 150 to 200 hours of recordings on line. If they short change either of these they will reduce the usefulness of the DVR significantly.

It would also be nice to have inexpensive front ends that can access the recordings from the primary unit from other TVs in the house. No encoders or storage needed on these frontend only systems.

One button? (5, Funny)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406381)

I thought Apple's remote control would have only ONE button.

the real answer (5, Funny)

webdev (605160) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406390)

"Mr. Gates, Apple didn't release their remote until we had already gone to manufacturing."

Buttons? (5, Insightful)

Rand310 (264407) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406417)

Why must there only be buttons on a remote? What about a scroll wheel like on the iPod? The 'superluous' padlock on the iPod is an easy way to squeeze numeric buttons into one scroll wheel...

Re:Buttons? (1)

Overneath42 (905500) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406467)

I wish I could mod this up. I would totally buy into a MPC setup where you could scroll through channels using an iPod-style scroll wheel.

Re:Buttons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406509)

If they let you quickly change channels with the scroll wheel, the multimedia PC (or Mac) will have finally caught up to my...1994 VCR. It lets you change channels quickly using the jog/shuttle dial. Come on people, some of these problems were solved already!

How to dismantle a remote control bomb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406422)

Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.

On other words, according to Microsoft, at least 33 buttons are required for remote digital video recording and TV operation.

Memo to Microsoft: It's the UI, stupid.

Re:How to dismantle a remote control bomb (1)

Keeper (56691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406442)

It's the difference between being forced to use the GUI for nearly every operation, or having keyboard shortcuts available.

Number of buttons (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406457)

The number of buttons on the average remote is absolutely ridiculous. Take the one that controls my set top box, for example. There's a blue button (actually, two blue buttons), 'OK', 'TV', 'Guide', and 'i', that all do the same thing in various situations. Other situations make you hit the red button for favourites - even though there's a 'Favourites' button that doesn't work in that situation, and so on.

The actual on-screen interface it controls is dire too. I don't know about anybody else, but it seems to me that the current generation of TV interfaces were designed and implemented by computer people, where the previous generation was designed and implemented by telecom people. You can tell the difference in professionalism in a heartbeat - ten years ago, the idea of something like a TV crashing would be laughable. Now, when I switch on my set top box, I'm greeted with a video explaining how to reboot it! Seriously!

PS: don't take this as a flame, I' m a computer person as well. But let's face it, our industry is full of cowboys, and it's been that way for so long, we've progressed past the point of "I can't believe those jokers get away with things like that", and we're now at the point of "this is normal, it's pie-in-the-sky nonsense to expect things not to break randomly". How pathetic of us.

Hey Ed! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406492)

Long time, no see, Yourdon! What are you up to these days?

PVR is a distraction (1, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406496)

I think PVR functionality in a media box is like making a toaster-radio combo. While it's interesting to see it done, how useful is it really in the long run? Trying to support PVR features is the Media Center's Achilles Heel. I simply cannot believe Microsoft does not have a video store of its own by now, also selling TV shows. When ITMS started to take off that was absolutely the right time to trump Apple and get ahead of them. The fact that Microsoft has done so little in that space shows they simply do not have vision any longer, they are just chasing after shiny objects.

Broadcast is a stupid model for delivery in a world where you can just buy what you want, when you want. Even if you want to really "broadcast" something because you want people to see it live, multicast is a nice replacement.

If I had a Mac MINI equivalent box that had digital audio out and supported 1080p and a DVD/Blu-Ray player, I would just drop my cable subscription altogether as we are rapidly approaching critical mass of TV content online. If I can just buy any show I think looks interesting, I have no use whatsoever for cable.

I think a TV remote with six buttons, plus a microphone for speech searching would be just about perfect for me.

Re:PVR is a distraction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406661)

Where have you been? Chasing shiny objects has been the foundation of MS's business model since its inception, and it seems to have paid off.

Home entertainment versus computing (2, Interesting)

Glowing Fish (155236) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406542)

As someone who uses computers semi-seriously, and who knows many people who use computers seriously, I wonder at what Microsoft is doing spending so much focus on the exact design of a sophisticated home entertainment center.

While Microsoft's good choices at picking and promoting a standardized user interface are certainly not to be overlooked, I wonder if it means that they are taking the actual guts of the system less seriously than they should.
After Linux first showed signs of becoming popular, Microsoft quickly upgraded Windows NT into a passably professional server product (Windows XP). But if Bill Gates' big speech to the CES was about a home entertainment computer, I wonder if the company is going to actually think about making their server product more secure at all.

To me, this is like someone going in to buy a utility truck for work...and having the salesman spend all of his time explaining how the car stereo system works.

Re:Home entertainment versus computing (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406594)

After Linux first showed signs of becoming popular, Microsoft quickly upgraded Windows NT into a passably professional server product (Windows XP).

NT4, back in 1996, was the first "passably professional server product" when it started displacing Netware in significant amounts. That would be ca. Red Hat Linux 2.0.

But if Bill Gates' big speech to the CES was about a home entertainment computer, I wonder if the company is going to actually think about making their server product more secure at all.

When properly managed, their server product is *at least* as secure as its contemporaries.

Re:Home entertainment versus computing (1)

dabraun (626287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406600)

CES is not about server products - and Microsoft is a large enough company that they can certainly compete in multiple markets at the same time. I doubt they'll be talking about MCE at MEC just as I doubt they'll be talking about Exchange and Windows Server at CES.

Oh, and XP is not a server product.

Simple, Easy is NIH at Microsoft. (2, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406599)

[Bill] Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)

I see it didn't occur to either one that the Apple remote has fewer buttons becuase the interface is simply not as complicated as theirs. Another company falling for the dillusion that "more buttons = better".

Buttons (4, Insightful)

carlislematthew (726846) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406606)

[Bill] Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)

Typical Microsoft. I wonder when they'll realize that Windows XP is not appliance-ready? AFAIK, Media Center is just XP Pro with an extra app (the main Media Center app) installed. I've personally worked with XP Embedded (a componentized version of XP Professional) and it's a total BITCH. You have to hack it to make it "embedded" by setting registry settings, and installing things that click "OK" to modal dialogue boxes and so on. If I can't get XP Embedded working like an embedded appliance, what makes MS think that they can make a standard XP Pro installation work for the average consumer?

Media Center is great for people like me, and also people on Slashdot that don't foam at the mouth every time MS is mentioned, mumbling "Linux! Linux!!". It's also pretty awesome as a bedroom computerTV or for a dorm, but I just can't see it making significant inroads into the living room. Apple may change things somewhat by simplfying things, and so perhaps will the Xbox360, which is where I'm putting my money (not literally of couse).

consumer as lab rat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14406622)

Call me a Linux advocate (ohhh, the shame!) but it's amusing that even a Microsoft fluff article mentions a number of products (Bob, the first Media Center, Media Center Extender) sold by MS that just absolutely sucked, screwing the customer to buy MS more time. No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft, but they sure got ripped off!

why do they bother? (2, Informative)

penguin-collective (932038) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406668)

I bought a Media Center PC; I found the UI to be mediocre, and after a few months, things gradually stopped working (as it received more and more patches and hotfixes). I eventually installed Linux and it works a lot better now. I also have used a Mac with a TV card, and I also find it a lot nicer than Media Center.

war of the buttons (5, Funny)

lucm (889690) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406670)

Microsoft can't win this war of the buttons.

Mac could go with only two buttons ("play" and "order a new battery from apple"), but Microsoft is stuck with at least four ("play", "reboot", "reinstall" and "upgrade").

Only Amazon.com could possibly come with a single button operation... but wait, don't they already have a patent on this?

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