Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Microsoft's footprints mark nearly every pathway to the digital living room. On the rich client it offers the software for Media Center PCs with living room-friendly form factors from Sony, Alienware, and a number of companies in the custom installer market. It also sells the hardware for the Xbox 360 -- the best-selling product that can stream content from a PC. On the thin client side, it continues work on its Microsoft TV platform for set-top boxes and offers its own IPTV client of sorts with MSN TV, which can also stream content from a television.
The Xbox 360 was the first Media Center Extender that could stream high-definition content from a Vista PC, raising the question whether Microsoft would bring back third-party Media Center Extenders. After all, the first round of Media Center Extenders released in 2004 by Linksys and also offered under the HP and Dell brands sold poorly, and their video performance was so much of a dog that it had to be rescued from Michael Vick..
Undaunted, Apple went ahead with its own digital media adapter, Apple TV, which used 802.11n and a hard drive to overcome some of the problems associated with previous products. And this month, Microsoft raised the stakes again with a Media Center Extender platform and its first partners Linksys, D-Link and Niveus. HP also announced that it would be supporting Media Center Extender in its MediaSmart televisions. Previously, the PC giant had pursued a more streamlined user interface for getting content from the PC and broadband and had exited the living room PC market earlier this year.