March 21, 2006 12:40 PM PST

Microsoft sees rapid Media Center sales

LAS VEGAS--U.S consumers bought more Windows Media Center-equipped PCs than the standard edition of Windows XP last month, and sales of Media Center will reach 10 million by the end of March, a Microsoft executive said Tuesday.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows eHome Division, disclosed the sales numbers at a keynote speech here at Mix '06, a Microsoft conference aimed at Web developers and designers.

Belfiore also demonstrated the upcoming enhancements to Media Center, which will come out with Windows Vista early next year, saying it will "blur the line between television and interactive video content."

"The idea is to get content out of the PC and onto the TV and through a range of devices."
--Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, Windows eHome

Sales of Media Center, a higher-end version of Windows XP for handling multimedia content, were sluggish in the first few years of its life but have picked up as Microsoft has cut prices and dropped a requirement that PCs that run Media Center come with a built-in TV tuner.

Belfiore said sales of Media Center are now running at 1 million units per month and that the company is "highly confident" total sales will top 10 million by the end of the month.

Citing third-party research, he said 59 percent of PCs sold through retail outlets in the U.S. were Media Center PCs. On Monday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said sales of Media Center PCs in December of last year made up more than 40 percent of all Windows sales.

With Vista, Microsoft doesn't plan a distinct Media Center Edition but instead is including capabilities such as video recording in both the Home Premium version of Vista as well as the Ultimate Edition, which combines high-end consumer and business features.

With the Vista release of Media Center, Belfiore said, Microsoft is planning to improve video viewing, create close integration with its Xbox 360 game console and significantly expand the distribution of the product worldwide.

He said that Windows Vista Media Center PCs will have support for digital cable, allowing people to view high-definition television from a PC.

Also, Windows Vista will take better advantage of large screens to help people manage large libraries of photos, videos or music files.

Belfiore demonstrated a number of applications that were written with Microsoft developer tools for Windows Vista.

He said the Windows Presentation Foundation, the user interface toolkit to ship with Vista, will let people easily convert existing Windows or Web applications to run with a remote control on a television or Xbox console.

"The idea is to get content out of the PC and onto the TV and through a range of devices," Belfiore said.

One attendee who consults for a multinational media company said the slick user interface design enabled by Microsoft's upcoming operating system will appeal to many people.

However, he said, some of the restrictions placed on video content, in the form of Windows file formats and digital rights management, could be frustrating to some.

"If I have a video that I want to share with someone, and they can't play it except on Media Center, people are going to get frustrated," said the attendee, who did not want to be quoted by name.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Media Center PC, vice president, Microsoft Windows Vista, TV, Microsoft Xbox

9 comments

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What about the extenders?
Most people have the PC in their home office or away from the living room TV. Microsoft needs to address a extender that is affordable and easy to set up.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Xbox 360
You should really consider the Xbox 360...among other things, it's an excellent media extender.
Posted by Maxwell Studly (97 comments )
Link Flag
What current computers will run Vista?
What no-one seems to have a solid answer for is the question, will
a new contemporary Windows Media PC built on, say an Intel Dual
Core or AMD Turion 64, be able to take full advantage of the new
OS media features...or is it implied that it's hardware upgrade time,
again? All I'm hearing is "compatible" for the Dual Core and the
like, but no promises of absolutely full operability of all these 'gee-
wiz' features they're talking about.

Patches. We're gonna need some stinking patches.
Posted by shanewalker (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All new ones
Any 2 gig or faster processor will run the current beta release just fine. More important is the video card, and any decent card with 250 megs of memory will be fine. I don't know the minimum, but what I have described works great for me.
Posted by allene5 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Can do without Media Center
Sales are up maybe because just about pc you buy in Bestbuy or Compusa is a Media Center pc. This is why I am building my own pc and putting XP Pro on it. I am a particular person who likes a straight forward pc without none of that extra garbage on it. Watching tv on a pc just doesn't do it for me.
Posted by viperpa (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You don't have to watch it on a PC
you get an extender and watch it on the living room TV. You also use the 30 second skip (something Tivo doesn't officially have since they sold out to big advertisement) to blast through the commercials.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
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