Microsoft ushers in new era of home entertainment

26 Oct 2005

Microsoft moves out of the home office and into the living room with the launch of Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005, the first version of its home entertainment software to be launched in Ireland.

The one-stop PC entertainment centre was showcased last night in a €1.5m “home of the future” at the Chamley Park development in Malahide. Hardware from Hewlett-Packard (HP), Alienware, Toshiba and Elonex were on display, the first products to launch with software pitched as an all-in-one alternative to a mix-and-match of multiple home entertainment boxes.

Different manufacturers offer different incarnations of the PC-based entertainment centre, from PC-style towers (HP) and widescreen laptops (Toshiba) to set-top boxes that combine DVD and personal video recorder functionality (Alienware). There was also a 32-inch Elonex TV on show with the PC functionality built in. Cheapest entry point would be around €1,700 for a laptop, but just like buying a PC, the final asking price will depend on the specification.

In its vision of a connected home, Microsoft used the different devices to demonstrate how a single media hub could distribute diverse entertainment from photos, digital music and DVDs, to radio, recorded and live TV, and the internet.

Media Server’s user interface configures the text to work on standard TVs, offering easy onscreen access to the multiple entertainment options via an infrared handset. The latest version of the software supports higher definition TV and is compatible with Xbox 360, the next version of Microsoft games console due out next month. Xbox 360 can connect wirelessly to the media centre from another room in the house, to be used as an ‘extender’ to access the other entertainment options without the need of separate box.

Clive Ryan, business group manager in Microsoft’s information worker division, said the audience for Media Server had taken the software company by surprise: “We thought it would be most young urban professionals, 28-year old males, but it didn’t turn out to be the biggest segment. It tends to be 40-plus middle-aged men.”

By Ian Campbell