Microsoft’s Xbox Gets Media Functionality

Media Centre Extender (MCX) will enable Xbox owners to use their console as a remote viewer for movies, music and images stored on their PC, effectively letting them access their media on the television screen regardless of where in the house the PC is located, or whether anyone else is using it at the time.

Standalone versions of the kit will also be released, consisting of a set-top box that connects wirelessly to the PC. The Xbox version of MCX will consist of an Xbox DVD disc and a dedicated remote control for the console.

This initiative is a logical step for Microsoft, which faces a head to head clash with Sony not just in the game console arena, but also in the emerging – and potentially even more lucrative – market for home digital media solutions.

Sony’s first shot in this marketplace (the DVD playback functions of the PS2 aside) is the PSX, an integrated unit which combines hard drive video recorder, DVD recorder and PlayStation 2 console in a single box, effectively creating the home media centre which analysts have long predicted that games consoles will evolve into.

The Xbox, with its built-in network port and hard drive, has a significant edge over the standard PS2 in this role, and Microsoft obviously intends to use MCX to capitalise on this fact. The next generation console from the company, thought to be codenamed Xenon, is likely to offer a much more advanced version of the MCX technology built into the system.

One of the problems with MCX is the lack of availability of content in its native formats, but Microsoft is working to address this concern, with film studios and other content providers all preparing to offer their content in Media Centre friendly formats. Already US sports network ESPN offers Media Centre content on its site, while Artisan Pictures, IMAX and National Geographic are all preparing to offer films in the high-definition WMVHD format used by the system.