Microsoft is thought to be preparing to unveil a new Windows-based set-top box that uses Windows Media Center as its primary interface.
According to the Seattle Times, the company, which has been trying to put a Windows box in living rooms for more than 10 years with little success, is expected to make the announcement during the Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place in Las Vegas this week.
Despite Microsoft's limited past success in getting people to hook up a PC to their TV, 2011 might be the perfect time for a new Windows Media Center box. Devices from Apple and Google have garnered a lot of attention, and movie and television episode streaming from services such as BBC iPlayer and SeeSaw is becoming increasingly popular.
It's not clear what features the device will have, but considering that Windows Media Center comes with almost every new PC we can make some pretty good guesses. Media Center currently sports DVR capabilities, a TV and web programming guide, internet video streaming, and the ability to play or view videos, images and music stored on your home network. You can also buy a Media Center remote control so you never have to get off the couch.
Since the new device is rumoured to cost about $200 (£128) in the US - that's $100 (£64) more than Apple TV - and should have DVR capabilities, it would be likely to have a fair amount of storage (say 500GB to 1TB) for storing all those DVR-recorded shows. But that's just a guess. There is no hint at whether the box would hit UK shelves, and if so, how much it will cost.
Microsoft won't be the only one showing off TV software at CES. Vizio is expected to debut a new version of its Vizio Internet Apps Plus platform with Google TV baked in. The new platform will be featured on new 47- and 55in HDTV sets at CES, as well as a new Vizio smartphone and tablet.
Despite Vizio's bet on Google TV, the new internet TV platform has hit a few snags such as the major US networks blocking website access to Google TV. Google has also asked its partners to delay releasing new Google TV-powered devices so the search giant can tweak the software, according to The New York Times. There's also no release date for the service in the UK yet. However, Vizio, it seems, is willing to forge ahead without Google while others have reportedly scrapped their Google TV plans for CES.
Internet-connected TV sales were on the rise in the US in 2010. Connected TVs now make up 12 percent of all flat-panel sales, according to market research firm NPD Group. And connected TV sales between January and November 2010 rose by 38 percent compared with the same time in 2009. An NPD survey also found that 57 percent of people with internet-connected TVs are very satisfied with their connectivity features.
It sounds like people are finally willing to access the web from their sofas, just in time for a Microsoft and Google showdown at CES.
See also: What is Google TV?