Microsoft's stealth move onto your TV

Web on tv

WEB ON TV: Because Windows Embedded is Windows, you get browsers that can show you any web site - but a simpler interface is better when you're lying around on the sofa

And just like a PC with a TV card, they work as a full DVR for broadcast TV (Freeview or cable - although there are satellite TV services that work with Windows in the US, in the UK Sky is still limited to a selection of channels in a Media Center app, but of course that works too).

"It's a way for cable companies to add value to their broadcast TV solution, which the vast majority of consumers are still using; it's going to take a while before cable cutting becomes truly widespread," says Pendergrast. "If you're a sports enthusiast, you can't find any live TV sports on the internet in the US on a regular basis. Broadcast TV is only as good as the shows that are on; it's really fundamentally a problem of content not technology and habits."

And hardware manufacturers can put it all in a single set-top box controlled by something that looks at least a little like a remote control (although Pendergrast points out you can also use a Windows Phone as a remote control, or send content from a PC using DLNA).

Windows-powered TVs

Chinese manufacturer Haier has a prototype 55" LED LCD TV that you can add a 'Mocard' to for gaming, for education and maybe for Media Center - with a custom interface on top of Media Center, including tiles for popular internet TV sites (plus you can type in any URL). To make that easier the remote has the usual buttons - but it also has a QWERTY keyboard and mouse pointer.

Blurosso's Vivaldi Internet TV uses Windows Embedded to drive the virtual Dolby Surround system, Blu-ray player and webcam (and it's made with leather and carbon fiber and costs a cool 11,000 euros in Italy).

Prime Time makes a much more basic Embedded set-top box for Swiss TV service Swisscom, based on Atom and Ion HD acceleration; the Media Center interface is skinned so it doesn't look quite like Windows and it comes with its own app store that offers weather apps, radio apps, Boxee, Hulu - and the Chrome browser.

"As a platform we don't really care too much what they include," says Pendergrast cheerfully; "it's really up to them."

Media center tv

CHROME TV: That's the Chrome browser on a Microsoft TV, courtesy of Windows Embedded

Reycom has a similar Atom and Icon set-top box with a Blu-ray drive and DVBT tuner where you don't even see the green Media Center logo. It's already in use in Switzerland and will be coming to the US in the second quarter of this year.

Only in the US so far is Gateway's new media box with six cable TV tuners. Not only can you record multiple shows at the same time, but you can record over your home network onto one of your PCs - including a laptop, so you can record a show at night and have it waiting for you in the morning to watch on the train to work.

Gateway media center tv

NEW LOOK: Gateway's interface looks nothing like Media Center - but it's the same features

There are more Embedded set-top boxes on the way, including models based on Intel's Sodaville low-power SystemOnChip. And when the next version of Windows runs on ARM, Windows Embedded will inherit that support (although Pendergrast points out that Google TV is also based on Atom).

"It will be an interesting space, it really will," he told TechRadar. And with the different approach Microsoft is taking he's not daunted by the fact that it's Apple and Google getting all the publicity in the internet TV arena.

"The fact we've got competitors in this space adding even more credibility is a good thing. Google and Apple, that's all good because all of this helps build overall interest in this category and awareness for consumers."


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.