Microsoft made headlines recently by proudly proclaiming it would support Netflix streaming video to Gold members starting this fall at no additional cost. They have also announced plans to open a community application store whose concept very much mirrors the approach taken by Apple with the iPhone app store. Anyone can apply to join the XNA Creators Club, as long as you have the $99 application fee and a unique idea to work with. Microsoft will distribute content at prices ranging from $2.50 to $10.00 taking a mere 30% cut of the profits. Most readers know this approach is about as creative as the mii2 avatar’s but is still a step in the right direction. With community application support and streaming video now coming to the Xbox, it speaks to a larger trend. Consumers are increasingly looking for a one box solution to their entertainment needs. And the battle for the living room is just starting to heat up.
When it comes to all in one entertainment solutions, game consoles and set top boxes are working hard to challenge the versatility of a home theater PC. While both Microsoft and Sony feverishly pound away at firmware updates to improve media delivery options, Apple and TiVo are likely looking for ways to optimize their hardware designs for gaming.Below we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Home Theater Personal Computer
When it comes to getting the most out of a home theater system, nothing brings it all together and offers the versatility of a well equipped HTPC. Until recently, consumers were a bit hesitant to move a clunky office style box into their living room. But recent offerings in this category such as the Sony VAIO VGX-TF25E promise to change this trend. HTPC’s allow users to access any web application or video source from a standard browser, store incredibly large amounts of content, and will scale well as internet media evolves. The biggest setback here is price. It’s easy to create an inexpensive HTPC, but they tend to be a bit of an eyesore compared to the new OEM offerings which are considerably more expensive. Until the price comes down, or we can find a creative ways to bury a Bache box under the carpet, HTPC's will remain a bit of a novelty.
The current generation of consoles is currently the most affordable and elegant way to bring the power of internet media to the living room. Featuring a heavily subsidized hardware cost, and a massive install base, the console makers are in an excellent position to innovate and evolve content delivery. Consoles such as the Xbox 360 lead the pack in this department, but the Playstation 3 isn't far behind with its built in Wi-Fi and Blue Ray player. This arguably makes the PS3 the best deal on the market for HD. Both consoles are already capable of streaming media from your PC making them almost as versatile as an HTPC for a fraction of the price.
Set Top Boxes
Offerings such as the Apple TV and TiVo have focused on merging online content delivery, with a very comfortable living room look and feel. Their popularity has given them a large install base to work with, and just like their game console counterparts, the ability to add features through software rather than just hardware. If the success of the Wii has taught us anything, it’s that casual gaming is back in a big way. It turns out graphics aren’t as important as they used to be and it isn’t the only feature people look for when they sit down to play a game. Casual games on these platforms would likely do well even in current versions of the hardware but future iterations with more powerful graphics capabilities could see them competing for entertainment dollars from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.