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Extreme Media Player Makeover: OS Update Edition

For Windows Media Center, the push really is integration with online content, since the Media Center user interface, like Front Row, is extremely clean and relatively intuitive. Online content means YouTube and other sites, but also, as Microsoft continues to demonstrate, it also means integration with quality content.

A public demonstration of Netflix streaming, integrated with the Windows Media Center menu, showed the potential ease in which consumers may be able to access Netflix on-demand content directly from within the operating system.

"We know that there's a trend happening right now where people are using more and more media on the PC," said Mike Ybarra, Microsoft's Windows Product Management general manager said during the demonstration. "In fact, there's a lot of articles out there about a shift from people watching on the TV and coming to the PC."

Ybarra also holds out the possibility of other services being integrated into the Windows Media Center, but says these announcements won't come until closer to the Windows 7 release date of October 22, 2009.

Windows Media Center will also include virtualized channels, including channels from Microsoft partnerships like MSNBC, and will allow for copying of remote content. The idea for remote content copying is that accessible libraries of content (or other Media Center machines) may have content that a user would like to download to the user's Media Center machine for viewing offline. Windows Media Center will make a copy of the content (as long as it is not DRM copy protected) for offline viewing.

While 100 million copies of Windows Media Center have been sold, there are hundreds of millions of copies of the Windows operating system on the market. For those users, the bigger news in the Windows 7 release is the inclusion of Windows Media Player 12.Windows Media Player 12 (WMP12) takes advantage of the improvements that have been part of the recent Silverlight and IIS upgrades, including the ability to play back H.264 video and AAC audio content. The biggest user-interface improvement in WMP12 is the fact that it now has two modes: a library mode, which looks similar to the traditional Windows Media Player mode, and a Now Playing mode, which eliminates the clutter of the library mode.

Taking a page out of Apple's iTunes/Airport Express integration, where iTunes content on a local machine could be pushed to a wireless access point and played via the audio-out port, WMP12 now has a "play to" feature that allows any machine on a local network to push playback to another machine on the network. This provides a way not only to push content to another Windows machine connected to an audio system, but also opens the possibility for pushing content embedded Windows devices that might be connected to a home theater system.

Microsoft is also making it possible for content to be pulled from a Windows Media Player to other devices. Machines on the local network can share their media libraries with one another, so that a user can choose content from any WMP12 library on the network. As part of the DLNA, the Digital Living Network Alliance, Microsoft is also making WMP12 aware of DLNA 1.5 or higher devices: the Library view contains an option called Stream that will allow DLNA devices to see content from a WMP12 library and remotely control that device for playback of content on the DLNA device. In practicality, this means content can reside on the desktop but still be viewed on a large screen device in the living room, eliminating the need for multiple copies of the content.

This is just a brief overview of the media features in store for those who upgrade to the latest versions of either the Apple or Windows operating systems. For those who want to be first in line for upgrades, both companies are offering pre-orders of this new software, to be shipped on the designated release date.

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