This week, Microsoft announced the beta availability of Internet TV, an upcoming new feature for the Windows Vista version of Media Center. (Which is itself available in the Home Premium and Ultimate editions of that operating system.) This new feature, available only in the US, allows Media Center (and Media Center Extender) users to watch streaming television-like content in a manner that is similar, but very much not identical, to the ways in which they can now enjoy live and recorded TV, digital movies, and other video content.

Because this is such a new feature, I haven't been able to fully test it and provide you with a quick look. My early opinion isn't hugely positive: The quality of the videos being delivered via Internet TV is middling at best--far below television-based standard definition quality--and for whatever reason, this video doesn't seem to integrate very well with Media Center. It doesn't display underlayed behind the Media Center menus as does most video and TV content (see this screenshot for an example of how it should work).

That said, Internet TV is an interesting way for people without TV tuners in their Media Center PCs to enjoy a limited range of TV-like content. I say "TV-like" here because, while the content is indeed technically from television, it is pre-packaged in ways that aren't necessarily very familiar to TV viewers. You can't watch ongoing news reports, for example, though there are news "segments" from MSNBC and sports "clips" from FOX Sports. There are also full episodes of just one TV show--"Arrested Development," admittedly one of the funniest shows ever made--various concert videos from second-tier musical acts, and a number of movie trailers. Nothing particularly compelling.

I'm not sure how Microsoft intends to expand this functionality in the future--hopefully it won't be left to die like much of Media Center and the Ultimate Extras--but I'll keep my eye on it. For now, here are a few quick shots.