So I spent most of my day yesterday afternoon at the Microsoft booth. I got to talk to Matt Goyer a bit about some of the recent Microsoft announcements. Matt seemed very optimistic that we would in fact see HDTV via DirecTV for the Media Center sometime next year with Vista. This is the most exciting thing I've heard come out of CES yet. I was super excited when I heard that we would finally be getting premium HDTV with Media Center a few monts back but I'm even more excited about the possibility of things with DirecTV. DirecTV has recently launched a bunch of satellites and promises to bring much more HD content in the future. I really think that DirecTV will be positioned to be the king of HD content delivery next year and to see that they are now working with Microsoft and that we will see an HDTV DirecTV combo for Media Center is huge.
I am not as optimistic, though, about the control that you are going to have with your content going forward. One Microsoft rep that I spoke with today told me that in terms of what you will be able to do with the content in Media Center that this is going to be left up to the content providers. He told me that in fact even in MCE 2005 that some broadcasts were already being copy restricted and that you could not even make a single PVR copy on Media Center. I think he is wrong on this fact as I've never seen anything in MCE 2005 that I couldn't record or even that I couldn't copy over to my laptop. I hope he's wrong. I do think though that the scenario that we will probably see in Vista is that we will be able to record anything once on a single machine (similar to what you can do with a closed box DirecTV HDTV TiVo right now), but that the content will not be able to be moved to a second machine including unfortunately your laptop. I do think that you will be able to move it to "approved" portable devices, meaning devices that things can't be copied off of. Nobody that I talked to at Microsoft seemed to have a real firm grasp of how the content will be handled in the new HDTV world.
Also, I was not very impressed with the quality of the HDTV that Microsoft was demoing using a new Dell HDTV tuner that is coming out for Vista. It really did not look good at all and even the Microsoft rep commented on how poor the picture quality was. I'm sure that this was probably due to the fact that the software is still in beta but I was hoping to see something really crystal clear like I see on my HDTV TiVo and I did not see that today.
In terms of my large media library issues I still have concerns there as well, although Matt did tell me today that Microsoft had actually tested the new Vista Media Center with a million songs in it and that it could still perform. What I saw today was slow load times still for music libraries. The Vista software was very buggy too of course, but that should be expected as it is in beta. I'm sure more will come out on this in the future and we will see more definitively on how Vista is going to handle large digital libraries.
I also spent some time playing around with the new photos features in Vista and really like them. I particulary like the fact that you can advance forward and back in full frame view from within the photo app and that basic editing functionality including cropping, contrast, saturation, etc. are all included. It's certainly not something to replace Photoshop but for on the fly stuff it will be useful. It kind of reminded me of Picasa a little bit. I did convey to the Microsoft rep who showed me the photo stuff that it would be cool if they could make sure and work with Flickr to have Flickr automatically tag your photos when you tag them in Vista already. She thought that since all tagging in Vista is is an easy way to edit the EXIF data that this might work. I would think the owness would be on Flickr on this one to ensure that they mapped the EXIF data that Microsoft is now going to let you edit through Vista to the tag fields in Flickr. Shouldn't be too difficult but it would be good for Flickr to look at this now.
I'll try and spend some more time over at the Microsoft station today to speak with their Windows Media Player expert. Matt wasn't sure if you could get just WMP11 in beta without Vista or not but I'd love to be able to test WMP11 alone out some more.
Overall Vista Media Center looks amazing. The design work is especially strong and aesthetically it is super pleasing. It was real buggy still because it's beta of course but it looks really slick. I particularly liked the fact that in My Pictures in Media Center you can now sort and show by date. I think this will be super helpful.
I also spent some time with the MTV guy looking at Overdrive and talking about the new things they are doing with Comedy Central in Online Spotlight and their services are starting to grow on me a bit more. I particularly liked how extensive a library they are going to give you to watch. 15 to 30 second commercials are going to be inserted between every two videos that you choose to watch (and you can even build video playlists). The archive was really extensive and they will have a similar archive from Comedy Central of commedians. This is video on demand here and now today and that is cool. It's a great way for them to monetize a bunch of old content (yes even inluding AHA videos from the 80s) and it's a fairly extensive library for us to choose from. I asked the MTV rep about the possibility of high def content from Comedy Central or MTV and he was not optimistic. He told me that MTV has only recently even begun filming in HDTV and that the content providers will not let them allow us the ability to download the high def stuff but only stream it. He felt that streaming it was still too bandwidth intensive. Hopefully this changes soon.
Speaking of high def. CES 2006 is ALL about high def. Everywhere you go you are bombarded with it. More than any other thing at the convention high def is being pushed big time. My favorite high def TV set so far? The Sharp Aquos LC-65D90U 65 inch LC-TV. The set claims to be the world's largest available LC-TV with 1920x1080 full spec 1080p HDTV resolution and comes digital CableCARD ready. This folks, is a beauty. A stunning picture better than any other I've yet to see at CES yet.
Next stop: TiVo, DirecTV, Yahoo!, Google, and what ever other cool things I can find.