As some of my friends may know, I’ve been a vocal advocate of Boxee and I’ve lead by example building my own Media Center experience using Boxee and Windows Media Center. As a result, I don’t watch terrestrial ‘over-the-air’ TV when at home and have not missed it.
For the uninitiated, Boxee is a piece of software that you can install on your PC, Mac or Linux system that converts any computer running those Operating Systems to work as a ‘Media Center’.
“What is a Media Center?” I often hear asked. The best way to explain a Media Center is to show someone. Failing that, probably to compare it to a set top box or other contemporary cable/satellite box, but mixed in with a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray player, also able to record your analogue and digital broadcasts and on top of that the vast majority of Media Centers also pride themselves on being able to play the vast and varied amount of digital media files that are becoming so common. This is where the key part of this is lost to the content producers; the internet is free. Free as in beer. But I’m getting off-track.*** A PC can do all of this, yes, but Media Centers do all of this from a sitting on the sofa distance, which bears so many functionality conundrums into account like font size, ease of controls, menu systems, etc… This all works differently when you’re not sat at a desk with a mouse and full sized keyboard in front of you.
Please remember that this is about functionality, not form factor. The set top box is the established form factor of the home electronics world. People can recognise a DVD player or satellite box by its form, shape and size the same way that a games consoles are naturally made this way to be expected to slot under/next to your TV along with all the other freeview boxes and DVD players etc.
Its like comparing playing games on a PC to playing on an Xbox or Playstation.
Its also, in this case, about the difference between analogue and digital media.
Its all about DIGITAL media. What’s wrong with analogue media? Well, in my opinion, is the future of television and also how we will eventually come to assimilate and use DIGITAL media. Boxee and other Media Centers like WMC (Windows Media Center), XBMC (Originally named XBox Media Center, but no longer on the Xbox), Media Portal and other efforts are leading the way in this digital revolution. Traditionally, analogue media works in a stream and can be cut and played from different segments like videotapes. Digital media is different in that you can instantly ‘seek’ to a point in a movie or music file. An example of this would be DVD players that remember the exact point of the movie you were watching last when you stopped it, or an iPod that resumes your track from the same spot even though you may have done something else with the device. This is profound in that it allows us to watch what we want, when we want. Stop and start it. Pause and resume. Not the same as a video tape.
Boxee have taken this a step futher by using the open sourced software code base from the XBMC team and adding functionality which allows even more media to be streamed from online. This is another profound step forward because it adds sources such as YouTube, Google Video and ‘Internet TV’ channels such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Revision3 and Vimeo to the sofa experience. You could argue that BBC iPlayer and 4OD are accessible via ‘normal’ TV, but you cant pick and choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch it. This is the big difference; Online access to content, which means no swapping DVDs and no requirement to be sitting on the sofa at 7.30pm EXACTLY to watch Eastenders.
All the benefits of iPlayer and all other digital formats like a PC, but on the sofa.
That’s what appears to me is the future of Media Centers and digital media.
More to come.
***As a matter of fact, I went so off-track as to make enough extra text to make another whole post, which I will post later, explaining how it appears to me where things are going and where to content producers have got things somewhat wrong.