Microsoft announced a new software update for its Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, but did not issue a complete operating-system overhaul as the company has done for the past few upgrades.
The company unveiled the changes, called "Update Rollup 2" at the DigitalLife conference in New York. Analysts already have noted that the update is fairly minor despite a few compelling new features.
The most notable upgrade -- a link to the forthcoming Xbox 360 video-game console -- will allow users to stream digital music, videos, photos, and standard or high-definition TV and movies from Media Center PCs to any television in the home via the Xbox 360 system.
In addition to some performance improvements, the Update Rollup 2 has several smaller feature enhancements, including integrated support for external DVD changers. Media Center-supported DVD changers will be available in early 2006.
The update also includes an "Away Mode" that improves on current PC power-management systems by enabling the system to perform unattended tasks, such as streaming content or recording TV shows, while in low-power mode.
DVD-burning improvements have been added, especially for converting high-definition TV shows to standard definition so they can be burned onto DVDs more efficiently. Also, there will be additional HDTV tuner support in Update Rollup 2.
Microsoft vs. Apple
Microsoft's upgrade release comes just days after Apple announced its latest iMac G5, which is expected to compete with the Media Center PC for home users.
The coming holiday season could determine whether the market is strong enough for all the competitors trying to bring computing into the living room, noted IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky.
"As the Tablet PC showed us, just because the technology is there doesn't mean that there's a ready-made market," he noted. "The two could be similar in how they're adopted, with the early technology buffs signing on first, and the mass market coming along in the future," added Kusnetzky.
Microsoft already has been boasting about the Media Center's success, noting that it has sold more than 4 million licenses to hardware manufacturers.