I've been giving this some thought, lately, as have a great deal other people. It could be that great minds think alike, but personally I believe it to be more like the next logical step..
One of the most interesting market places, for vendors of PC hardware to conquer and dominate, is the TV/HiFi sphere of the modern living room. As a content delivery platform the classic multimedia have several inherent qualities. The one that probably sits best with potential investors, is that there are several established means to generate revenue from content delivery to TVs and HiFi music systems, the customers are accustomed to spend good money on this platform, and to pay a reasonable premium for superior quality.. Either fact can easily be taken advantage of,-and expanded upon by new hardware/content solutions made possible in by new technology popularized in this domain.
Traditional video rentals, livingroom TV programming, and music collections represent brand new markets to take sizeable chunks of. This also represents a demographic that have lower usage of the internet, as opposed to users of emerging multimedia delivery through regular consumer PC's.
The hardware implementations have to be simple to operate, and provide visible advantages over traditional solutions, and have the more powerful technology it relies on be as invisible as possible. A bit unusual design philosophy for the PC industry, but deep technical insight into quatitative differences of different specs will be less important, and ease-of-use and design of both hardware, and software interfaces will be even more important.
Digital Video Recorders on the market are a good leap in the right direction, but still, this is still mostly enhancements to existing use of television - programming. The ability to choose how to, and when to view TV content at one's own will, empowers the consumer, and have caused grief among excisting broadcasting players, as it directly threatens to erode the TV advertizing market.
The corporate upside of these emerging possibilities, will be new ways to get content for the TV/HiFi. One possibility will be users building up libraries of content for their own enjoyment, with an obvious market of private multimedia servers placed in the private network. This scenario screams for actual working implementations of copy protection, but a wild guess on my part will be that this IS a wanted feature by many, as people tend to like the ability to do whatever they please with stuff they have saved.
The logic that consumers can pay for access is easy, or rental of physical media is an established in the minds of people. Expiring rights to use of non-physical digital content is NOT an established way to do business, so pay-per-view solutions WILL have problems gaining support, as long as the technology supports storing of streamed media. And content provision platforms that don't support the 'save' feature will face serious problems if any competition still have this offer.
Microsoft is well into this with their XP Mediacenter Edition. Along with the CCD-revolution (digital video, and digital photography is dirt cheap, and very nearly the standard way to ) they have got some of the most obvious ideas of integrating presentation of private video and pictures, devcent ability to manipulate, view, and store digital media, but also the idea of distributing the content over local network by browsing, and viewing withMedia Center Extenders.
This is not exactly news, as early versions have been arond since at least 2004, but with more functionality built in, by every version. Seeing as Microsoft have made available Media Center Extender addons for both XBoxes, these devices will fast reach a mature and very competitive level. Within a couple of years I expect a incredibly sleek cabinet, like an extremely slim DVD-player, intuitively administered with a handy remote, whose main goal is to stream and output decent-quality multimedia to both TV, and HiFi equipment.
Whatever possibilities the playback hardware will bring, there WILL be a rising demand for quicker consumer internet access wich could make fiber directly to the consumers more competitive over plain old telephone wiring. Another educated guess, is that demand for home networking and storage capacity will be quite strong for a long time to come.
This will be a 'new' mainstream market and tight and effective integration with hardware and content solutions will make the digital media package easy to accept as a whole. Exactly who comes out on top is difficult to say for sure, but good old Microsoft HAVE a lot of able equipment as of now, and have probably learned a couple of lessons in other battlefields wich will be put to good use in the fight for the home theatre.