Local launch of MS Media Centre in doubt

Local launch of MS Media Centre in doubt

While Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, was talking up the new multimedia software hub, Windows Media Centre 2004, at the Computer Electronics show in Las Vegas earlier this month, the company has backpedalled on its launch schedule for Australia.

The challenge of incorporating local television programming and controls was proving greater than Microsoft had anticipated, according to a source at one of Microsoft’s vendor partners, who claimed Microsoft had advised of a delay.

“We were just informed that work on it has been postponed and they’re reviewing the situation,” the source said.

In October, Microsoft was touting a September 2004 launch date, but now the official word from company is that it hasn’t decided on a date, leading some industry observers to speculate that the local release had been delayed.

Australia now faces the prospect of waiting more than a year for the multimedia software, which was available in the US in September 2003.

The staggered release of the software to overseas markets including Australia was necessary in order to tweak it to local conditions, according to Microsoft senior manager of strategic development, home and entertainment division, John Gillhespy, who spoke to ARN in October.

Personalised television viewing functions in the software, including personal video Recording (PVR) and electronic program guide (EPG) services are key elements in the software, and need to be incorporated into the software with input from local television broadcasters.

“To date the Windows Media Centre Edition has only been released in markets where PVR and EPG services are established and well understood,” said Gillhespy. “As these have not evolved in Australia at this stage, we will have to work with local suppliers to establish these services, before we can release the product in Australia.”

But hardware vendors including Acer and HP, who will be incorporating the Media Centre software on multimedia PCs and home entertainment devices, are pressing ahead with their plans for the category.

HP hadn’t been advised of any delay to the Media Centre release, and expects to be shipping products preloaded with the software by September or October, according to a company spokesperson.

Acer marketing director, Raymond Vardanega, was taking a wait and see approach to the release of its Media Centre hardware.

While Microsoft might need more time to get the software right, Acer was in a position to push ahead with its own products in the multimedia home entertainment category, Vardanega said.

The Aspire home entertainment PC system, launched last year, was a “bridging product” in the fledgling category, he said.

“The products Media Centre would sit upon are ready right now,” said Vardanega. “But I will not release a product that is not supported by Microsoft, or fully or properly functional.”

Microsoft had no plans for a Media Centre release date in Australia as yet, according to product marketing manager Shannon Rudd.

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