Here’s an article that describes the struggle to involve a computer in the living room, delivering photos, music and movies. The struggle is not going well. Hewlett Packard just announced that it is ending development of its Digital Entertainment Center line of PCs – the ones designed to look like living room A/V components, plugging directly into the TV and controlling all TV and media functions, using Windows Media Center Edition. I have one of the HP units; it’s a little finicky but far better than the pile of components it replaced. The HP DEC was the best of the A/V computers introduced a few years ago, and one of the last ones still standing; the big manufacturers have largely backed away from living room computers for the moment. (There are some stylish and expensive units from Niveus.)
The XBox 360 can connect to Microsoft’s Media Center technology in WinXP and Vista, but that part of the XBox experience has hardly caught fire. Apple TV is far more limited than you realize; what it does, and all it does, is extend iTunes to your TV screen, which is a perfect fit for some people and a modest achievement at best for most people. (And completely useless for anyone who’s not enmeshed in the odd world of iTunes.) Video quality on Apple TV is getting startlingly poor reviews, by the way.
Setting up a TV is a complicated mess these days. Showing the movies and family photos on the TV in the living room isn’t getting any easier. Maybe the combination of a Windows Home Server and an XBox 360 will help kickstart things.