HP Exits Media Center Business: Touchsmart Lives On

It has to be tough when the leader in a segment you are trying to get off the ground exits it saying they simply don’t have enough resources to get it to work. For HP this has been a long road because they have been working on products in this class since before there was a Media Center and they continue with their somewhat related Touchsmart and MediaSmart TVs with built in media capability. Gateway, who had several of the more innovative MCE based products, also exited this segment though they did it some time ago. 
So what happened to the Media Center and why didn’t it work out better?
Hardware Fell Short
We’ll get to software in a moment but the real promise of the Media Center was simplification. The idea that in one product you could have a super receiver with radio and TV that could time shift online downloadable or streamed audio and video content, and even act as a DVD player. 
The idea of simply hooking up your speakers and having this all-in-one machine was really compelling; unfortunately retail stores didn’t want you to be able to do this.
Retail stores make a lot out of selling receivers and they said they didn’t want Media Center PCs with built in amplifiers. This meant you had to plug them into your receiver which not only made it harder to hook up, it made it a lot harder to use. Now, instead of 2 remotes (one for the TV and one for the Media Center) you had three and a redundant radio. The complexity was almost scary and most guys couldn’t figure it out and women, who often think tech is a waste of money anyway, were less than pleased.
Currently only Alienware, now owned by Dell, have been previewing an MCE with a built in Class A amplifier and they are able to bring this to market because they sell direct and not through retail.  
Because this was basically a PC, you had significant heat and noise issues to deal with. Initial systems were both very hot and very noisy.  HPs were one of the exceptions with regard to noise, but they did throw off a lot of heat. In addition you had to deal with keyboard and mouse issues.  A few of these machines shipped with wireless keyboards and mice initially, and even when wireless did show up, the mouse experience was less than ideal unless you were using a keyboard specifically designed for the Media Center (HP had one of the better ones and Microsoft actually sold one of the best, in fact their current Bluetooth MCE keyboard is one of the best keyboards on the market period but it just came out recently and isn’t cheap.)  
Finally, these things were expensive.  Average costs were over $1,000 in a market where you can get a lot of high-end CE hardware for that price providing a lot of competition for the money with traditional gear. 
Software Wasn’t Complete and Was Too Complex
While the Vista version of Media Center is vastly improved, it still lacks the kind of ease of use you’ll find in a typical set-top box or competitive offering like Apple TV (which also has issues, just different issues). While the MCE interface itself was very easy, the fact that it sat on top of a full OS created a lot of additional complexity which made the solution much more difficult to use than it should have been. This was one of the reasons HP explored doing a Linux based Media Center but they couldn’t get the customer experience to where they needed it nor could they get the price of the solution down to where it needed to be so they abandoned that effort. 
What the MCE should have been is a strong interface on top of embedded Windows so that it was more appliance-like and vastly easier to use. This comes closer to what the Apple TV and, frankly, Xbox 360 provide (which is part of why the OEMs that asked Microsoft to do this are a little upset with Microsoft right now). You’ll see products from Cisco in the second half that are much closer to this ideal and there are a number of additional companies going down this path, some are actually using embedded Windows but many are using non-Microsoft platforms to get this done because Microsoft was seen as unresponsive to the request for a living room appliance.  
The product was also partially crippled intentionally. First on the cable side, while it could easily play High Definition video, you couldn’t get it into the box unless you got it over-the-air. Cable card has only just shown up and if you do record programming using Cable card you probably can’t move that programming to another TV, hand held media player, or laptop and portability was one of the major advantages for an MCE. 
Crippled From the Start
What happened with this product (and it is what happens with many of Microsoft’s offerings) is no one sits down and lays out the product in terms of what it must have. The product is defined by what Microsoft wants to do. Had this simple comparison been made, Gateway (who initially had some of the best MCE products on the market), Sony (who had one of the most complete offerings) and HP probably could have saved a lot of money and concluded that what they were building simply wouldn’t be good enough and instead focused their efforts elsewhere. 
By the way, this isn’t just a Microsoft problem. Had these vendors said "No" and been clear on what they wanted, there is every likelihood that Microsoft would have eventually given it to them. But they took what they were given and by doing so contributed to the relatively poor showing for this product. If the OEM’s can’t define a product and require their vendors, including Microsoft, to give them what they need for it to be successful they not only share the blame they get the lion’s share of it.  
One of the most powerful hardware executives in the market whose company sells huge numbers of PCs that run Media Center doesn’t run one at home. He run’s a Kaleidescape and that is what a Media Center should have, could have, and must be to be successful, but at a much lower price. Something to think about as we say goodbye to HPs MCE. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Computing

Tablet or notebook? Our favorite 2-in-1 PCs give you the best of both worlds

If you can’t decide if you need a tablet or a notebook, then don’t bother. The best 2-in-1 laptops are both, and they can provide all the power you need. Check out our list for the best 2-in-1s for any user.
Computing

HP spring sale: Save up to 58 percent on laptops, desktops, printers, and more

From now until March 23, the HP spring sale lets you take as much as 58 percent off of a huge range of laptops, desktop PCs, printers, and more, potentially saving you more than $1,000. We’ve rounded up a dozen of the best deals right…
Gaming

EA is losing out on the true potential of Titanfall studio with ‘Apex Legends’

Apex Legends is a solid battle royale game, but one can’t shake the feeling that its creation was dictated by Respawn’s new owners: Electronic Arts. In the process, the studio’s soul could be lost.
Gaming

The 'Anthem' demo's crash landing raises more questions than answers

Bioware bravely allowed gamers to see a large chunk of 'Anthem' over two demo weekends, but it backfired. Lackluster missions, performance issues, and muddled messaging over micro-transactions leaves the game with an uphill battle.
Computing

In the age of Alexa and Siri, Cortana’s halo has grown dim

In a sea of voice assistants, Cortana has become almost irrelevant. The nearly five-year-old voice assistant is seeing little love from consumers, and here’s why it is dead.
Gaming

Apex Legends proves battle royale is no fad. In fact, it’s just getting started

Apex Legends came out of nowhere to take the top spot as battle royale in 2019, and it now looks as if it'll be the biggest game of the year. Its sudden success proves the battle royale fad still has plenty of life left in it.
Home Theater

Apple is arming up to redefine TV just like it did the phone

Curious about what Apple's answer to Netflix will be? Us too. So we combed through some patents, and looked at the landscape, to come up with a bold prediction: Apple's streaming service will be way bigger than anyone thinks.
Home Theater

How the headphone jack helps Samsung out-Apple the king

Samsung’s latest flagship phones and wearables unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked event had plenty of exciting new tech. But one of the most useful features Samsung revealed is also the oldest: The mighty headphone jack.
Gaming

Age of Empires II thrives 20 years later. Here's what Anthem could learn from it

Age Of Empires II is approaching its 20th birthday. It has a loyal following that has grown over the past five years. New always-online games like Anthem would love to remain relevant for so long, but they have a problem. They're just not…
Gaming

Devil May Cry is Fantastic, but I still want a DmC: Devil May Cry sequel

Capcom's Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of 2019 and a welcome return for the series, but its success should not discount just how wonderful Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry really was.
Smart Home

Alexa may be everywhere, but it’s Google’s Assistant I want in my home. Here’s why

The Amazon Alexa may have the Google Home beat in quantity of skills and compatibility with other products, but does that really matter when Alexa falls flat for day-to-day conversation?
Gaming

DMC 5’s greatness is a reminder of all the open world games that wasted my time

Devil May Cry 5 modernizes the stylish action combat while retaining its storied PS2 roots. More so, though, it reminded me that we could sure use more linear, single player games to combat the sea of open world games.