Today we have a variety of sources for digital home entertainment (in New Zealand)... We can just walk to the local video rental store and get a DVD (a few weeks after the movie's been to the silver screens). Or you can get free-to-air high definition TV over Freeview|HD (including the option of using some interesting recorders like the Magic TV and TiVO). You can subscribe to Sky and get your TV programs over satellite. Or even wait for the TelstraClear HD PVR coming soon (after months of delay).
Or you can get an Apple TV and use the iTunes service to rent movies (albeit from a limited selection when compared to the list of titles available overseas). You can also use iTunes on your PC if you don't have an Apple TV.
You can also source your digital home entertainment from dubious sources, such as torrenting those TV programs that have not been released in the country yet - not even through the iTunes service.
Here at home we use a Windows Media Center. It's a very flexible setup, basically a Windows PC with an appropriate video graphics card and a TV source (in our case a HDHomeRun). It brings together HD TV (we have very good Freeview|HD signal here), music, DVD, photos, even some web content (including YouTube), at the point of a single remote control. All this in a very small Dell Zino HD PC that hides inside the cabinet.
There are other media centre software, both for Windows and Mac PCs, but after trying a few, I still like the Windows Media Center big screen interface.
However this very flexible setup is, it still won't allow me to rent movies directly from the Internet. If we want to buy or rent an iTunes movie then we need to grab the keyboard, close Media Center and use the keyboard to navigate the iTunes software to complete the action, download the movie and watch it.
An alternative, you'd have thought, would be for Microsoft to have a Zune Marketplace add-in for Windows Media Center. Because they already have Zune Marketplace for Xbox 360, and it's even available in New Zealand (with less titles than the iTunes service I am told). But no. Microsoft didn't put much effort into that, and although a new Zune application for PC is coming, nothing seems to be planned for Media Center.
Of course one could hope Apple would tap into this market - and seeing they already have an Windows version of iTunes, then it could be just a hop to have a native add-in that would allow access to your iTunes account from inside Media Center. Alas this is not out there either. And no, I don't think the new generation Apple TV beats the Media Center - it doesn't even accommodate a real TV receiver.
So these are the features I want to see most in Windows Media Center: either a Zune Marketplace or an Apple iTunes add-in.
What would you want to see in your digital entertainment hub?
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