Unlike the Web site for Ceiva, another subscription-driven hardware product aimed at older users, msntv.com features
no hint of the Geritol generation eagerly awaiting the latest photos of their grandkids. With its ground-up recreation
of the device, Microsoft has expanded the scope of MSN TV 2 and turned it into a digital media receiver for streaming
music and photos from multiple PCs around the house; what they now awkwardly call an ?Internet and Media Player.?
Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding like a player-hater, the interface for media sharing isn?t very polished; some
client software for the PCs would probably help. The MSN TV 2?s digital media receiver interface diverges greatly from
the streamlined interface of Windows XP Media Center as well as the standalone and Xbox-based Media Center
Furthermore, a USB-based Wi-Fi adapter just adds more to the pricetag and the MSN TV 2 provides no facility for
typing in a hidden SSID of an access point. MSN TV 2 can also display photos from a flash card, but again you have to
add a reader via USB. The device itself, an asymmetrical silver and white box, is guaranteed to match nothing in your
A/V environment unless you keep some late-model Apple gear near your television just in case you need it.
The interface has lost some of the simplicity and charm of WebTV?s, as well. With its new support for broadband and
Internet Explorer 6 rendering engine, though, the product displays most Web pages surprisingly well and has long
supported Flash, so you can read Strong Bad?s e-mails as well as your own. Less surprising is that other media file
formats that compete with Microsoft?s own (such as QuickTime) are not supported, but to its credit it does handle MP3
with aplomb. Some secure banking and financial sites also work, but shamefully MSNTV 2 can?t manage Outlook Web Access
The Web itself has also changed for the better since WebTV?s heyday. After being attracted to lots of gimmicky
design elements and plug-ins, more Web sites are embracing the minimalist stylings of leading sites such as craigslist,
Google, and many blogs. Indeed, the simple designs and niche content of blogs make them the perfect Internet television
content. Several blog aggregation Web sites work nicely on the device, but Microsoft should have provided an RSS
reader. Forget about the grandparents. Combined with short video clips, Internet radio, and streamed network music
support, the MSN TV 2 may be the world?s best decaffeinated geek workout accessory.
Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, and MSN TV?s continues. The MSN TV 2 is a worthwhile, fun and
medium-appropriate online experience, but its bifurcated target market may not carry the day. The remainder of WebTV?s
core audience will be a tough sell to upgrade since they probably enjoy the stability of their online experience and
aren?t likely to have broadband or a home network. On the other hand, the technophiles are likely to frown on MSN TV as
This is a nice-to-have product that simply won?t command its price for most users. Microsoft (or a competitor such
as Opera Software) would serve consumers well by offering a good TV browser into other initiatives, particularly XP
Media Center. It would be a great complement to the standalone TV-optimized Web sites being created for Microsoft?s
modern-day living room beachhead.
[You can also read Engadget?s Gear Eye review of the
MSN TV 2.]
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division
of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback
is welcome at email@example.com.