Microsoft in 'the living room'

01:42, Jun 18 2012

"The living room" is a somewhat mythical frontier in the tech world. The potential for innovation is huge - as internet connected as we are, a whole lot of us still watch a select few TV channels and get DVDs out of a physical store. Devices exist, plenty of them, but nothing has defined the market yet in the way the iPad defines the tablet market. The only thing that comes close right now is Microsoft's Xbox 360.

I don't know if Microsoft planned for the 360 to evolve so much when  they first released it - but it is more and more the killer living room device. We could talk all day about which system has better games and if Microsoft is holding back the industry*, but the games aren't the point here any more. There are plenty of other devices for watching internet content, everyone from Apple to Sony is in on this battle, but Microsoft is leagues ahead in penetration and features. Sure, lots of these tie-in features (Netflix and so on) aren't available here yet, but I hold out hope, now that Spotify made it here. Plus, my friends with 360s usually just plug a flash drive in to watch internet content; it isn't elegant but it is fairly easy, and most TVs still can't do this. I know that a lot of other devices can do this too - I just see people doing it on their Xboxes more often. They aren't just sitting on this either. Microsoft is looking to extend this lead and some stuff leaked yesterday about the rumoured "Xbox 720", which is clearly positioning itself as more than just a new gaming console.

Now, Apple, who are known for redefining markets, does have a fighter in this ring. It isn't doing so well however - Apple doesn't seem to put much time into it, though it is priced well. The Xbox was somewhat of a trojan horse - most people bought it to play the latest Halo, not to watch things, whereas the Apple TV is aimed squarely at media consumption. Apple could still change this by launching a bold new device - but the window is closing and Apple might be content staying focused on laptops, phones, and tablets. It doesn't help that a whole lot of the video content on iTunes isn't accesible from New Zealand. We also have to touch on "internet TVs", of course.

I don't have an "internet TV" and I don't know anyone who does. Google seem to be placing their bets here, but I don't think that is a good idea. I'm sure people use and love them, but they do not appear to be exactly "blowing up". The concept is interesting and very "Apple" - putting everything into one elegant device rather than a series of boxes and a simple display. I can understand a lot of the appeal. One remote for the whole system? Please. One device with only a few wires? So much yes. There are multiple problems, however. People don't upgrade their TVs very often, compared wwith computers/phones. Lots of us are just getting HDTVs now - the concept of shelling out AGAIN for a new device so soon seems a bit silly, especially since TVs don't get slower with age. Plus, once you have one, you are locked down - I mean hopefully you would get software updates for a long while, but a more modular system allows for cheap replacement of aging parts.

There is the possibility, of course, that TVs themselves are outdated. Most people my age without 360s just watch everything on their laptop - the screens don't seem that small when they are close to your face. Still, it would be nice to see Apple (and Sony - the PS3 is good but not good enough) throw up some worthy competition to Microsoft's living room lead.

* As a Half-Life fan, yes.

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