What Microsoft could do instead of making another Extender platform.
Of course we've been wrong before and based on the level of a disappointment in the first two generations of Extenders -- for manufactures and consumers alike -- it isn't too crazy to think that everyone has had enough. If this is truly the case, there're a few ways this could end up. One possible route would be for Microsoft to give up on its RDP protocol as a foundation and go with a standard instead. Microsoft has already adopted DLNA in a big way in Windows 7, and that spec happens to include a remote user interface protocol. But some say that protocol couldn't do justice to Media Center's rich 3D interface, which is why the RVU alliance built its own remote UI protocol on top of DLNA. So if Microsoft added an RVU server to Windows 7, then instead of building its own Extender platform it could just leach off of it. This would enable new HDTVs from Samsung and Sony -- due to support RVU this year -- to work as Extenders. And of course Linksys or HP could still make a media streamer with an RVU client built in. And with many new Blu-ray players featuring DLNA clients, even disc players could get in on the fun. This seems like an ideal solution, but we're making a big assumption that the RVU experience would be a good one. Because one thing is for sure, with the 360 selling for $200, if the experience isn't every bit as good, no one will buy it.
What if Extenders are dead?
The other possible scenario of course is that Extenders are just dead. The problem with this theory is that while a full blown Media Center PC can do lots of things Extenders can't, for those who use Media Center as a DVR, there are plenty of things a PCs can't do either. Now no one outside of Redmond really understand why a Media Center PC can't do everything an Extender can -- commonly referred to as softsled -- but the fact is that currently there are a few big drawbacks of using a PC as an extender. The biggest problem being that a copy protected recording on one PC can't be played back on another. But even if you're lucky enough to have all unprotected content, multiple Media Center PCs still can't participate in a whole home DVR. What we mean is that there's no conflict resolution and there are multiple Scheduled Recordings lists. This means that if you scheduled Lost to record in the bedroom and you don't have enough tuners on that PC to also record the Olympics, you'll have to walk into the other room to leverage another tuner in the living room to resolve the conflict. There are also some problems resuming content in another room, but we don't pretend to know what they are exactly as we haven't tested it very extensively. Luckily HomeGroup does make it easy to have a single Recorded TV list, but as TiVo owners will tell you, that alone is a long way from a true whole house DVR.
Never say never.
So yeah, no one really knows how this is going to play out, but with only a few months since the release of Windows 7, and without Microsoft saying otherwise, claiming that Extenders are dead is just premature. We do believe there is a market for Extenders both stand-alone and built into other devices like TVs and Blu-ray players, but without support for just about everything a Media Center PC can do and at a great price, there really isn't much of a point so why bother?