“Halo 2 is Sold Out,” the handwritten sign read. “Check back after T-giving.” Why the sign maker decided to abbreviate the holiday, I couldn’t figure out. There was plenty of room on the sign to spell out “Thanksgiving.” Probably some Communist.
My friend, Kane, would be disappointed, but he’d certainly wait a week to get Halo 2 at a steep discount. I didn’t want to have wasted a trip to The Store, however, so I poked around a bit and came across a display of the new Windows XP Media Center Edition. I know about this Windows version because I read about Billg yokking it up with Queen Latifah at the launch last month, and how the Media Center was the next logical step in the evolution of PCs. But having recently built a new computer (following Mr. Risley’s most excellent guidance in “Build Your Own PC”), I was bothered that I hadn’t a firm grasp of what actually makes a computer a “Media Center computer.”
Is it the software? The hardware? A combination? The computer I built has some serious memory and media power – do I already have a “Media Center PC” and not know it? (And who is Queen Latifah, anyway? An actress or a singer? Or is she just one of those people like Fantasia Barrino with no real talent but who gets to be famous because she has an unusual name?)
A little research (very little) revealed that a Media Center PC is actually a souped up PC with a special operating system that lets you meld your computing and entertainment devices together into one big “thing.” Consider your current home electronics configuration. You think of your stereo system as one thing, your TV-VCR-DVD as another, and your desktop PC as yet another. The Media Center movement thinks it makes sense to combine all of these things. Why have a lot of separate stations and receptors when you can control your music, TV, movies, photos, and games from one place using a remote control?
Over the past few years, we’ve been deluged with a wave of new media-related technologies, such as digital cameras and camcorders, writable DVDs, gaming consoles, enhanced audio boosters, HDTV, and TiVo – along with all the software and Web services that go with them. Like you, I’ve adopted some of these things into my lifestyle; others I don’t need just yet. Apparently, a Media Center PC centralizes all of these things into one neat little power-packed computer. Not a bad idea, particularly when you consider that such a hardware-software combination could effectively produce higher-than-ever quality audio and video output while providing a host of new TiVo-like services.
Happily, from what I can gather, it doesn’t look like the Media Center pushers are talking about a Media Center PC actually replacing my desktop PC, which I use for research, bill paying, and harassing certain bonehead government officials. This is all sensitive PC stuff that I wouldn’t want to host on my TV-watching PC. No, the Media Center PC is just a way to organize your home entertainment devices, enhance a bunch of services, and let you control it with a single remote.
I personally have four remotes for the “television center” in my den — one for the TV, one for the DVD player, one for the VCR, and one for the stereo — and if I wasn’t such a tightwad, I’d have another one for the Xbox. The thought of replacing those four remotes with one certainly appeals to me. (Don’t talk to me about getting a single “universal remote” from Circuit City. I’ve been down that road and it’s another article.)
Besides, I get the idea that the whole migration is inevitable anyway. VHS tapes are just about gone; there’s no room for anymore set-top boxes; and the FCC is requiring that TV manufacturers equip all new TVs with DTV (digital television) tuners by 2007. The time may just be ripe for getting rid of all the remotes, boxes, screens, speakers, and S-Video cables and “commanding my computing and entertainment center from the comfort of my own sofa.”
I may not be buying one in the next few weeks, but my research has definitely piqued my interest enough to look into it when I have more time. Maybe after T-giving.
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