Thursday, August 26, 2004

Portable Media Center stuff

Here's a review of Microsoft's Portable Media Center (PMC).

Basically, the PMC is a small device with a video screen that can play recorded media like music and video. It is what an iPod would be if it had some ambition. Of course, it is a little larger and a little heavier than the iPod and other MP3 players, but it isn't much larger than a Gameboy Advance.

In a previous life, I worked on a PMC project actually. Obviously I can't say who it was, but according to the PMC website and the OEM's website, that one never hit the market. Not that I'm surprised, the hardware was severely underpowered. Basically, they needed more graphics chip horsepower and I don't think we were able to squeeze any more out of the chip they selected. I loved the demo they had at one trade show, though. They cut a hole in the back of the device case and ran cables to a more powerful platform underneath the counter. The device demo ran very fast and everything worked correctly, you just weren't allowed to pick the device up. ;-)

There is a lot of really cool stuff that the PMC ought to be able to do but doesn't seem to thus far. Since it is essentially a media player, it makes sense that it can act as a UPnP Media Renderer when attached to a home network. It also contains storage (large HDD) so it can also be extended to work as a UPnP Media Server. As a Control Point, it doesn't work too well, though it ought to have enough controls to act as its own control point, but not really enough to manage connections between other media renderers.

This device is designed for commuters, the Japanese commuter in particular. Since the vast majority of people here ride the trains every day, such a device would give them something to do during the commute. The trains and buses are used here in lieu of cars which are almost impossible to use as a primary means of transportation. Public transportation is the norm here, not just a means of transportation for lower-income and non-drivers as it is in many American cities. The disposable income of the typical train commuter is well in the range of such a device as the PMC. Any short ride on a train and you will see people occupying their time with their cell phone, Gameboy, or a comic book. The PMC fills a niche here.

But on the other hand, it doesn't seem to fill a niche in the States. The vast majority of people over there drive to and from work. They have large screen TVs at home. They simply do not have the time for such a small screen device to watch videos. If they want to listen to music, the iPod or its relatives can offer that in a smaller form factor for a lower price.

If they can keep the price to around 300 dollars or 37500 yen, this thing could be big here. It will likely flop in the US.

Addendum: The Creative Zen device looks like a cheap plastic toy compared to the solid metal cased device that I had worked on for a previous customer.


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