Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Both Microsoft's Windows Media Center and Apple's Front Row provide a "ten-foot" interface for music, DVDs and photos. But, when used with a compatible video card, Media Center includes the ability to record television shows. In fact, small USB ATSC tuners now available or coming soon from the likes of Pinnacle are recognized by Windows Media Center.
Apple has eschewed such a feature, probably for a variety of technological and business reasons. Modern Macs don't include TV tuners and adding them would increase cost. Setting up DVRs to work with set-top boxes via infrared blasters can be cumbersome and unreliable. Much of the complexity of Windows Media Center remotes that Apple has chided is due to their more comprehensive control and recording of television. And CableCARD – the ailing standard in which Microsoft and TiVo (to name a couple) have placed great faith for simplifying tuning by bypassing the cable set-top box -- is far from a universal solution. Meanwhile, the increased distribution of subsidized and well-integrated (if sometimes impaired) DVRs from cable and satellite providers makes the market a challenging one.
Apple's omission of DVR functionality has also been relatively easy to understand or justify until now because of the iTunes store. Apple's novel channel for selling video has facilitated bringing television shows to PCs and iPods, emerging platforms for video. Despite Windows Media Center and other PC-based DVR products including Windows pioneer Beyond TV from Snapstream, Linux favorite MythTV, and consumer electronics crossover ReplayTV, DVRs remain overwhelmingly in the living room. And so it has stood -- iTunes-purchased shows local on the PC and recorded shows local to the TV.
For Apple, though, that wall will melt like the transition effect in a sitcom flashback next year when the company releases the product known for now as iTV. The digital media adapter, which resembles a slice of Mac mini, will bring a Front Row-like interface to televisions.