Should WHS and Media Center be Combined?

Windows expert Ed Bott writes about special-purpose consumer devices on ZDNet:

Windows Media Center is mature and extremely well supported. It wouldn’t be that difficult to port the Media Center code to a next-generation operating system that could then form the basis for cool, quiet PCs that could form the hub of a household digital media system. In fact, a device like HP’s MediaSmart Server, which currently runs Windows Home Server, could combine Media Center and backup functions into a single box and would probably run better without the unnecessary overhead of Windows components it doesn’t use.

So, what do you reckon? Would it be a good idea to combine Windows Home Server and Media Center as one product? Leave your thoughts below.

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  1. hoberion says:

    Since I have both systems running 24/7 now I would say yes please

  2. Simple answer: Yes.
    Advanced: Definately! 😉

    Seriously though; Media Center should be integrated into WHS so it would be possible to really, really have just one HUB for all media in a house. You could beef up the WHS server and put like 4 decoders in it and stream TV to all rooms in the house. If we got a softsled as well that would be awesome! Or perhaps just a Silverlight client? 🙂

  3. RAMII says:

    This would make my day! I use my home server to share media accross different devices on my network & have my vista ultimate pc running to serve my 360 for media center functionality! Combining the two would allow just one device to serve up all my media & be a great option! I’d even pay extra to add it on!!!! please bring it & FAST!!!

  4. Mike Jones says:

    Absolutely! But it would need to either have a load of decoders or have it be easy to add decoders. I have WHS running today. It sits down in my basement out of the way and it just works. If I could get Media Center that way, it would be a no brainer.

  5. locker says:

    Yes, it will be awesome

  6. Atomusk says:

    No Brainer indeed !
    Using this “always on” PC with pleny of storage, and with multi-core processor doing nearly nothing for Media Center don’t only “make sence” but is a “MUST HAVE” For WHS 2.

    Also, please, make WHS V1 to V2 upgrade very cheap …

  7. SamYeager says:

    In theory this sounds like a good idea. However I’ve noticed a lot of posts where people have using IIS (with PHP) and various other products on their WHS. This might not go too well with Media Center. Another point is the impact this would have on the cost of WHS.

    My preference would be for Media Center to be easier/simpler to combine with WHS but for it to be possible to purchase WHS by itself.

  8. Of course its a GREAT idea. Why do I want my uber powerful Vista Ultimate desktop to be my Media Center when I could have a single headless appliance doing it all. Afterall a Media Center is one of the biggest storage consumers and Windows Home Server is the ideal solution to that.

  9. Joel says:

    I thought it was dumb that this wasn’t one of the original features of the system. If SageTV can do this through a plugin, I don’t think microsoft would have any problem doing it natively.

  10. Michael Saul says:

    There are 2 things that are still missing before this can be accomplished.

    1. Softsled. There is still no simple way to aggregate multiple Media Center installations together except by extenders. The trouble is that there is no extender software that will run on a Vista installation. Maybe a UPnP service for media center to share content is the logical next step. Which brings us to the next problem:

    2. DRM. I currently use a CableCard Media Center PC, but the recordings that it has are not available to my other Media Center PC because of DRM. What Microsoft needs to add is the failed idea of “Castles.” They were like mini domains for the home. If Media Center did get rolled into WHS, there would need to be some way to authenticate multiple PC clients to the content being recorded.

    This is still all moot however as (if I’m not mistaken) the team that manages the development of WHS is the same team that does SBS and EBS. This is a totally different team from the Media Center development team, and it is unlikely we will see collaboration between the two.

  11. Trent says:

    In general, it sounds like a good idea. The biggest probelm I see comes in when you want to marry two different products that have two distinct purposes into one.

    WHS’s strength is the fact that it is a true server. It’s strength lies in its ability to be a file server and hub. A Media Center’s strength lies in its ability to provide a rich media and simplified user-experience when dealing with the variety of different media types it handles. Also, the PVR aspect of a Media Center’s capabilities cannot be ignored – that in itself chews up a lot of internal CPU and GPU bandwidth – internal to the Media Center machine that is. You really don’t want a WHS machine being bogged down with that.

    A Media Center is a very user interactive focused system. WHS is supposed to be an appliance – it sits in a closet somewhere and silently does its magic.

    The physical logistics is another consideration. Any system that would double as a Media Center would have to be in close proximity to your entertainment system (i.e. TV, surround sound system etc.).

    What I would like to see is a stripped-down and simplied overall configuration for a Media Center/WHS equipped house:

    1. A dedicated Media Center system and OS with a killer graphics system that can drive high-def video systems and 7:1 surround-sound. It would also have gigabit network connection (wired, not wireless – wireless is OK, but still not fast enough) and just enough internal hard driver storage for the OS and the PVR live TV Pause buffer. All the video codec processing and playback happen on this machine because it has the GPU and CPU bandwidth to handle it.

    2. The dedicated WHS system that seemlessly connects to the Media Center (and vis-versa), which stores all the content (pictures, TV recordings, music, etc). The Media Center drives all its content (except for the Live TV Pause buffer) to WHS and allows for the sharing of all of that content among all of the machines on your network. You would even be able to set Media Center TV recording times via the WHS remote web site and view the same content (even recorded TV) over the same web site.

    While it is true that one system could ultimately cost less, I believe that the best results in performance, reliability and quality of experience would come with dedicated systems that serve discrete functions.

  12. The two products don’t need to be combined per-se. They do, however, need a bridge to allow the two products to interoperate together.

    This is something I wrote about when I first touched WHS in its final form… I didn’t speak up externally before that, because I was holding out hope that MS would have at least fixed the hinderance of blocking MC recordings.

  13. drashna says:

    Well, I definitely believe they should be combined. And that MS should have done it for WHS to begin with. Which is why myself and GaMeR are working on doing it ourselves. 🙂

  14. tony4d says:

    I’ve been asking for this from since before WHS was even released to manufacturing.

    I don’t think we’ll see it until WHS v2 though, and rightfully so. WHS v2 will no doubt be built on top of windows server 2008. This is great because, server 2008 has new capabilities to strip down to only necessary parts. For instance, why should the DNS component of the server even be there if I don’t need it? In server 2008 it doesn’t have to be there because you can easily create special purpose servers. Hopefully the same will be true for WHS and media center. They should be able to strip down Windows Server 2008 as much as possible to make WHS v2 the best it can be, including media center support 🙂

  15. Kevin Croft says:

    I definitely thing they should be combined. I would like to have a gigabit ethernet adapter in my Xbox 360 to connect to the resulting server as well.

  16. Dave says:

    My short answer thought is that they should be able to integrate and talk to each other better. But they have completely separate purposes, I think, and should remain separate products.

  17. Brock says:

    I believe that it would be a great add-in if anything. Not everybody wants a server that can record tv and or send the broadcast to other computers or media devices. Personally I would love it. I have more than enough devices that I use all the time that could utilize this. I could have all of my recorded tv coming from one device and stored on one device. No longer would I have to remember which computer I used to record my show or even if I did set it to record. An easy Smartphone plugin would be awesome for a Media Center Add-in in WHS.

    Just one persons thoughts

  18. Steve says:

    To be honest, I was a little shocked that MC was not supported with WHS. It seems like such a necessary part of what WHS could do and without it we are all left with lousey alternatives. I know there are ways to use unsupported software to hobble something useful together but really this should be something that is integrated into WHS and done immediately after PP1 is released.

  19. Absolutely Yes!

    Just as Steve, I was 100% sure that WHS includes some sort of MC, even was searching on how to start it instead of searching whether it present.

  20. Jacques says:

    Je trouve l’idée de Trent très intéressante (MC in two parts).

  21. Igneous says:

    I see great ideas and hardware coming down the pike to help make our homes more digital, wireless, and globally connected. Now if we could get Microsoft and Sony to do some work together, that would make me a happy camper.
    Hopefully we don’t continue to have format battles everywhere…..we want synergy!

  22. JR says:

    I kinda like that the two are separate right now. When I first started using WHS I hated it and like a lot of other people wondered why MS hadn’t combined them to begin with. Now however, I think it works well because WHS doesn’t need to be running on high-end hardware. I can keep my server running pretty good on an older P4 system and have my Vista gaming machine do all the heavy lifting for media playback. When I want game, I don’t need to worry about my system trying to do all the server stuff at the same time.

    If the two were combined, the hardware reqs for the server would probably increase and lost of people (myself included) would probably have to upgrade their systems.

  23. Craig Davis says:

    It’s a great idea as an add-in, so that those that use other third party (non MCE) extenders won’t be adversely affected. This would provide the best of both worlds, those that want Media Center can have it, and those that don’t aren’t negatively impacted with unnecessary code and resource drain.

  24. mr-data says:

    In my honest opinion, there should be some kind of integration between the two. I could imagine two possible ways of interaction between them:

    1. WHS takes over all the parts that is nessecary for recording tv, radio etc., and the MC-software in Vista and (when it arrives) 7 is reduced to a front-end/software-remotecontrol.

    2. MC continues to record tv, radio etc., and at a certain time, transfers the recordings to WHS.

    I would prefer the first solution. Why? Simple, the current solution, as well as the second, requires two computers to run at all times, which is a waste of energy, especially considering how little work WHS has in most scenarios; it should have no problem also controlling a couple of video-cards.

  25. The Kitty says:

    I vote for tight integration but not combination.

  26. Shorto says:

    I Vote YES, as an Add-in so as to be an optional choice.
    Integration would reduce the need for a separate WMC Server.

  27. Michael says:

    Yes! I have both running in my home and woudl LOVE to have them combined into one device!

  28. Craig says:

    After further reflection, I believe Trent’s well reasoned July 9th response makes the most sense and deserves another read by all concerned.

  29. Shark64 says:

    I agree completely with Trent’s well reasoned comments as indicated above.

    Also, Microsoft could and probably should make it an immediate priority to see that MC can play any and all file and content formats. If you have MC then you have fooled with codecs and have spent some time trying to get some type of media to play or had to deal with some DRM issues. Balmer could eliminate this hassle (Microsoft should have the capital and resources to do so) and would thereby make MC much more viable.

  30. Marc Smith says:

    It would only make sense for them to combine the two.

  31. Chris Penrose says:

    Running multiple TV and satellite coax around the house is a pain.
    It was hard enough to install CAT6. However I now have installed Gigabit network to most rooms in the house.

    What I would like to do now is capture FreeviewHD TV etc on WHS and stream it to the various TVs and PCs using either a STB, PS3 / XBOX or if necessary Media Center PC.
    In this situation WHS could just serve up the live or recorded MPEG4 files.

    I think this could probably be implemented as a WHS plugin.
    I could go with Sage TV HD…

  32. robdanhurt says:

    Just take a look at Linux MCE. I know the worst thing is to bring up a Linux solution in a MS discussion. I own all the MS stuff (WHS,VMC,360,and 2 media smart TV,s) and have home automation through it all. Now i am wishing other VMC pc’s could do the softsled front-end thing because the MC in the other pc’s not doing the media chores is useless. For those that disagree with MC being in WHS because of hardware limitations, your WHS is no more than NAS with fancy file server. I want mine to do both. I’m returning my media smart server before it’s too late. I’ll just use my VMC as my mock up server until WHS can be the true Home Server it’s meant to be.

  33. Ernit Tee says:

    Most logical thing too do. I would even pay for it, makes so much sence.

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