Hot on the heels of his in-depth comparison of TiVo vs. Microsoft's Media Center, we asked Thomas Hawk to follow up for us with a list of ten things each of the companies could to do to win the War for the Living Room. It won't be easy (like TiVo making a version of their software for PCs? Not going to happen.) but we've got a feeling they might be better off listening up.

The digital video recorder revolution is on, with two players, Microsoft and Tivo, having emerged as the most likely candidates to dominate. Microsoft is betting on their Media Center Edition software package, while upstart TiVo has the name brand recognition and strong reputation among loyalists and was first to market. Either has a shot at becoming the gold-standard.

At present Tivo is winning in the quality game. This year Hughes released the HR10-250 Tivo PVR.  If you have not seen time-shifted high def television yet, it is simply breathtaking. Microsoft is winning in the portability game.  It is much easier to get content off of your MCE box than a TiVo.

Below are my suggestions for the top 10 things Microsoft and TiVo must each do to win the battle for the living room.Media Center

The top 10 things Microsoft must do to win the living room:

  1. Offer support for recording high-definition TV as soon as possible, including an immediate announcement of an anticipated delivery date.

  2. Offer quad (four) tuners - two for regular broadcasts and two for HDTV. There should never be recording conflicts.

  3. Provide easy support for 16:9 widescreen video display, including the development of a generic display driver that will display the Media Center software correctly on almost any 16:9 display. Forcing a plasmato display in 4:3 format for extended periods of time creates screen burn.

  4. Develop simple drag-and-drop archiving of shows to DVD. Words like codecs and drivers and DivX and Sonic DVD and memory buffer error should not be a part of the process.

  5. Media Center should handle large media libraries better. In the "instant on" world of today, media libraries (especially music) must be indexed and optimized to create instant entertainment.  At present Media Center does not handle large digital media libraries well.

  6. Create a  "My Radio" option and a "My Radio" guide. If I would like to listen to KFOG's "Live at the Archives" on Wednesday morning at 3 a.m., so be it. If I would like to get a season pass to Howard Stern, great. These files should be saved to MP3 and be portable. 

  7. Improve stability.  Media Center should be as stable and error-free as TiVo's Linux-based system.

  8. Provide ratings and preferences in the user profile rather than in the files or players. They must also create some kind of suggestions feature similar to Tivo for television and music. One huge step that Microsoft took in the right direction was creating a music ratings feature.  At present these ratings must be the same for all users of a computer. If I like Nirvana and my wife prefers Alan Jackson then we are out of luck. 

  9. Provide ratings and simple filtering capabilities for digital photos. If I want to show pictures of John and Alan and Pete and Bob while they are over for dinner then the filter tool in "my pictures" should allows for me to do this.

  10. Provide a host of additional remote services including email, voicemail, caller ID, vehicle tracking, home automation (lights, home alarm security, window shades, thermostat), and "My RSS" feeds.  "My Art" should also be included.  Wasn't Bill Gates running around buying up all the digital rights to fine art a while back? 

tivologoAnd the top 10 things TiVo must do to win the living room:

  1. Produce a standalone HDTV unit. The development and expected delivery of this unit should be announced immediately.

  2. Provide Ethernet connectivity to their HDTV unit and include the ability to share recorded files with a Windows-based PC. The fact that the Ethernet ports are disabled on the Hughes HR10-250 is simply ridiculous. 

  3. Provide a DVD burner with all units. Copying should be as simple as selecting a program and pressing "Burn to disc" on a menu.

  4. Create a "My Pictures" and "My Music" option for their HDTV units that can access a music and picture library via an Ethernet connection. The current HDTV unit does not allow the TiVo Home Media option.

  5. Offer a software package for sale that will run on any Windows-based PC. TiVo should leverage their name brand recognition and become a powerful software player.

  6. Create WiFi-enabled devices to access TiVo media from any television in the house.  I would also mention this as a must for Microsoft as well, were it not for the fact that they have already announced that this technology is on it's way in the form of "extender" units due out by the end of this year.

  7. Provide the ability to connect external hard drives. The robust 250GB drive on my Hughes HR10-250 will be a dinosaur in a few years, and you shouldn't have to hack into your TiVo box to upgrade storage.

  8. Improve their recommendation feature. The thumbs up / thumbs down system is good, but it frequently gets derailed by erroneous entries, changes in taste, etc. Like Microsoft's "My Music" ratings, at present TiVo ratings are limited one user per box. Tivo should allow profile ratings so that my wife and I could each set our own ratings.

  9. Similar to my suggestion for Microsoft, TiVo should develop a "My Radio" feature, and also develop a similar host of external applications including email, RSS feed reader, home automation, alarm, lights, shades, security, "My Art," etc.

  10. Merge with a cash flow positive company. TiVo is losing money. Yes, the talk turns to profitability at some point but at the present they do not have the bank account that Microsoft does to fend off lawsuits and the like. A possible merger candidate would be Netflix who does have real earnings. There are board relationships as well as corporate synergies where this might work.

Thomas Hawk is a digital media writer and enthusiast living in the San Francisco Bay area.

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