Microsoft prepares Windows TV platform for the living room

Rumors have been swirling for over a month about Microsoft entering the streaming internet television market with their own product to rival offerings from Apple, Google, and others. There’s no doubt that the software giant has the ability to launch a quality web TV product, but can they be the first to deliver one that rivals cable and satellite?

The Seattle Times CES 2011 preview report this week indicated that Microsoft will give a preview of their connected TV plans at the show this week right along with their rivals.

Microsoft prepares Windows TV platform for the living room

“Microsoft’s going to make a splash in this market with a stripped-down version of Windows tailored for set-top boxes and connected TVs,” Times columnist Brier Dudley writes. “The software is a version of its embedded device software, overlaid with the Windows Media Center interface, with media streaming and remote-control capabilities.”

“The boxes are expected to cost around $200 and go on sale later this year. They’ll pose a serious challenge to the new Apple and Google TV devices, largely because the Windows boxes have a polished and familiar TV-program guide that makes it easy to blend and navigate both online and broadcast content,” Dudley claims.

Familiarity may indeed be a huge advantage for Microsoft in this arena since there are millions of Windows users already out there. The big issues, however, will likely be content and interactive features.

As Google and Apple are now largely aware, networks aren’t particularly thrilled at this point about allowing their programming on internet streaming devices, and both companies have had run-ins with media conglomerate Viacom since the inception of their services. Getting television’s most popular content onto their platforms hasn’t worked out well for either company.

Also, the products currently on the market have yet to live up to consumer expectations of what features should be available. Jessi Hempel says it well in a recent Fortune column:

“Thanks to streaming video services like Hulu and Netflix and new portable devices such as the iPad, we’ve begun to expect that TV should be more like the web itself: social, mobile, searchable, and instantly available,” Hemple writes. “When we can’t figure out what to watch, web-based recommendation software (“If you liked Inception, you’ll love Heroes!”) might do a better job of finding us programs we like than the professionals who program ABC — or we might just want to check an onscreen guide of our friends’ status updates to see which shows they’ve enjoyed recently. And once we’ve reached a decision, we want to click and watch on any screen that happens to be nearby.”

So there you have it Microsoft. Use your sheer size and corporate power to work with big media and get the programming that we want. Then, throw in all the great features that we’re used to seeing with streaming media online, and you may actually have a web TV product that will change the industry. We’ll know soon enough if you’re up to the challenge.