Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin demonstrates Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. Click image for high-res version.
REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 30, 2003 — While the desktop computer has revolutionized the way people work and communicate at home and on the job, until recently its impact on the way people play at home has been more limited. Computer video games are big, of course, and more and more people are using their computers to listen to music and burn CDs of their favorite songs. But until recently, people tended to look to the PC as a tool to help them be more productive rather than as a way to have fun.
For a fast-growing group of home computer users, that's no longer the case. With the release in October 2002 of Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition and the availability of the first Media Center PCs, Microsoft and its partners were the first to offer consumers integrated, simple, and convenient digital entertainment. Created to deliver the best of both computing and entertainment on a home computer, Media Center PCs provide the full range of productivity and communication programs that people use every day, along with great features for taking advantage of digital content including TV, video, music, and photographs.
What started last year as a subtle shift is poised to become a fundamental transformation. This week, Microsoft is announcing the availability of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. This new version of the Microsoft operating system for Media Centers PCs promises to change the way people access entertainment on the home PC.
"Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 is an important step forward," says Joe Belfiore, general manager for Microsoft Windows eHome Division. "Because it combines new features that make digital media more accessible than ever, and fantastic new entertainment experiences created specifically for Media Center, it will inspire people to see their home PC in an entirely new light."
Media Center PCs Going Mainstream
According to Belfiore, one key to making the computer more central to the way home users enjoy digital entertainment will be the availability of PCs that are suited to occupying a spot in almost any room in the house. Strong evidence of the growing industry support for providing PCs that meet this requirement include the recently announced plans of Dell and Sony to deliver Media Center 2004 PCs, joining existing Media Center PC manufactures such as Gateway, HP, and Toshiba. With over 40 PC manufacturers shipping Media Center PCs, consumers can choose from a broad range of PC designs and configurations provided by familiar computer makers. Prices are expected to start at less than US$1,000.
This new generation of Media Center PCs will be available to consumers in a number of new markets, notes Belfiore. Previously available only in the United States, Canada, and South Korea, new Media Center PCs can now be purchased in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, and Japan.
New Entertainment Experiences from Leading Companies
In addition to new manufacturing partners, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 includes new content partners, such as CinemaNow, Movielink, and Napster. These companies are offering customers an easier way to order and enjoy movies and music, downloaded or streamed over the Internet, through Web pages designed specifically to be accessed with a remote and viewed from across the room. Consumers will also be able to take advantage of PrimeTime Deluxe, a program from Sonic Solutions that makes it easy to record and archive home movies and television shows onto DVDs that can be played on any home DVD player
To simplify access to these and other new entertainment experiences, Microsoft has unveiled Online Spotlight, a new online guide created specifically for Media Center Edition PC customers that brings together a rich array of on-demand services and content in a single location. It will also give users an easy way to view entertainment, news, weather, and tips and tricks from anywhere in the room.
"Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 extends the range of entertainment experiences that are possible with the PC," says Belfiore. "With Online Spotlight, we're making the ability to order movies, access international radio stations, play games, and receive tips and tricks about your Media Center PC incredibly easy and convenient."
A Better Way to Access Entertainment
Among the new and improved capabilities of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 are enhancements that deliver faster performance for everything from launching live TV to changing channels, and new options that offer better slide-show viewing. Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 also adds full-featured access to FM radio, including station presets and a seek function, along with the ability to pause a favorite radio show, as well as rewind, and skip ahead. Listening to ESPN Radio but missed your favorite athlete being interviewed? Simply press Replay, and jump back seven seconds in the broadcast or pause the interview if you need to step away.
Other enhancements include the ability to copy music from a CD while it is playing, and automated CD ripping. Insert a music CD and it will automatically copy to your music library. Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 also provides new features designed to make Media Center PCs a great place to store and manipulate digital photos. Users will now be able to play slideshows from their summer vacation from the comfort of the couch by simply inserting a Smart Media or CompactFlash card. Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 also offers the ability to do photo editing with the ease of a remote control. Features that can be accessed with one touch of a button on the remote include Rotate, Zoom, Print, and even Touchup to remove red eyes from photos of people.
"The Media Center PC is all about making the computer a better place to take advantage of digital entertainment of all kinds," says Belfiore. "Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 turns your PC into a great central hub for everything from listening to music to creating slide shows, burning DVDs, watching live television, recording TV programs, listening to FM radio, and much more. With Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, you can do all of this from the comfort of your couch on a single device, using a single remote control."
The Home Computer of Choice
The addition of Dell and Sony, and the availability Media Center PCs in critical markets in Europe and Asia, are the result of consumer demand for computers that integrate productivity and entertainment tools, and a clear indication that the Media Center PC is poised to enter the mainstream.
A survey of 2,070 home computer users in the United States conducted earlier this year by Harris Interactive found that the PC is becoming increasingly central to the way people entertain themselves at home. In that survey, more than 60 percent of respondents said their computer was more important than either their CD player or stereo, 59 percent ranked the computer above their DVD player, and 43 percent said they thought their PC was more important than their TV. The survey also found that more and more people are using PCs in social-gathering places in their house: 63 percent reported that they have a computer in the living room, family room, den, dining room, kitchen, or media room, with 28 percent using a PC in the living room.
"Entertainment companies and computer manufacturers recognize that the Media Center PC has the potential to become the home PC of choice," says Belfiore. "That's why we're seeing such a tremendous amount of innovationWindows XP Media Center Edition 2004 is a great platform for meeting the emerging demand for computers that deliver easy access to a rich array of digital content and entertainment."