The king is dead; Long live the king

The fact that I am a self confessed tech geek goes a long way towards explaining why it lasted as long as it did, but it is finally over.

I am, of course, referring to my long standing relationship with Windows Media Center. The relationship started around 2005/2006 in the days of Windows XP Media Center Edition (or "MCE" as it was affectionately/conveniently called. Though it offered so much flexibility and promise, the idea of a computer under the TV in the lounge perhaps sounds a little more palatable now than I remember it being at the time. I think this is simply a result of the coalescence of the functions of computers and consumer electronics devices. You can barely buy a phone today that isn't also a games console, email reader and web browser. Televisions come with all manner of social media "widgets" and IPTV capabilities. Yes, the boundaries are much more blurred than they were, and one could be forgiven for hailing these developments with fanfare and celebration for the coming-of-age of computers, with an expectation of social acceptance for the long suffering geeks of this world.

But arguably the most crucial dividing factor between computers and consumer electronics is not function, but rather usability. Nobody wants to use a mouse to control their TV, any more than they want to peer at Facebook through a black-and-white dot matrix screen or write a work email with a 10-digit keypad. And this, I think, is what MCE sought to rectify. Yes its PVR and media playback functionalities were impressive, but by designing a swish interface, a good remote control and banishing the mouse, Microsoft sought to bring those functions into the mainstream and, crucially, into another room in the house.

So why did the relationship end? The answer, for me at least, is that despite several iterations and immense growth in the market, Media Center still doesn't live up to its promise. It might not be entirely Microsoft's fault, but it's true that Windows still crashes, drivers need endless patches, TV guide data gets corrupted and it's impossible not to get lost in a maze of codecs and file formats. Don't get me wrong, Microsoft was ahead of the game with MCE in many respects and still arguably offers the best combination of features and usability, and any criticisms must be tempered with the memory that the first products to market are never going to be the best. But in the end I just got bored of hearing my wife say "the media center isn't working again", and I don't have the time any more to fiddle with it. So with a modicum of rosy-spectacled regret, I have consigned the media PC to the study and bought a Humax HDR-Fox T2 to take over PVR duties.

And so: the king is dead. Long live the king!

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