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It’s the Ultimate

Windows Media Center is the Heart of Imperiums Award-Winning Utah Project

May the Life-ware be with you. That could well serve as a business mantra for Tyler Jennings, president, Imperium Smart Systems LLC, a residential integrator with offices in Pleasant Grove and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Imperium recently was named the winner of Microsofts first Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. The award-winning project was Imperiums custom connected-living installation for an 8,500-square-foot primary residence in Orem, Utah, for a family of six. With 12 distributed audio zones, including the patio, and multiple entertainment access points ranging from in-wall touch panels, Xbox 360 consoles, televisions, and even an Ultra-Mobile PC, the project featured Windows Media Center at the heart of the installation.

The homeowners desires encompassed numerous categories including management of the familys music, photos, recorded programming, and DVD library. Life-ware home automation software, an add-on to Windows Media Center from Exceptional Innovation of Columbus, Ohio, extended the installations capabilities beyond entertainment to include management of all home systems, including lighting, security and surveillance, and HVAC.

The project featured Windows Media Center at the heart of the installation.The 7.1 surround sound system with Klipsch in-ceiling and in-wall speakers, two iPod docking stations, and a Russound CAV are also featured. An Xbox 360 Extender, with brains in the basement, allows 16 players to indulge at a time, from four locations in the home. Each room has a Russound keypad for audio, and the main 12.1-inch RelayTouch in-wall touch screen sits in the family/kitchen area and allows for quick access to change music, execute lighting scenes, or turns off the whole house.

A Single Interface for Media Storage
The client, who contacted Imperium through a referral, was in search of a solution for integrating his familys photos, music, home videos, TVs, and DVDs into a single interface, controlled from one menu.

They built the house in 1989, and later added a home automation system, but only the husband knew how to operate it, Jennings said. So we started from scratch. We were able to tie in three Netgear cameras but we put in new HVAC and security systems, and a new Insteon lighting control system. The benefit of Insteon is that it can run over existing power lines in the house, so we didnt have to tear out walls.

Home gym

Viewing digital photos and listening to music were two major considerations for the homeowners, Jennings noted. From a computer in the family room, the client and his wife can download their many photos albums, synched through the Windows Media Center, to view photos and slide shows from any TV in the home, or in the home theater, he said. Cover art from a downloaded CD shows up on touch screens and TV menus throughout the home. The system is very intuitive.

Windows Media Center at the Core
Use of Windows Media Center as the platform for entertainment and whole home integration is the common thread among all of the Ultimate Install Contest entries, said Todd Rutherford, Microsofts eHome program manager in Redmond, Washington. As this years winner, The Clearwater Residence by Imperium Smart Systems, demonstrated, Windows Media Center can be used to deliver high entertainment value as an alternative to proprietary, closed control systems.

Windows Media Center, he said, is somewhat competitive with media servers such as Kaleidescape and Escient. But were also a platform, enabling channel-focused companies such as PC manufacturers, content partners, and application developers the means to add consumer or installer features in addition to the built-in Windows Media Center experiences. Because of this flexibility, Windows Media Center is much more than just another media server; it is both an entertainment platform and a delivery tool for great applications written by others.

Home office

Many consumers still arent aware that Windows Media Center is built into Windows Vista Premium and Ultimate operating systems or what it can do for their home entertainment needs. Unfortunately, the same goes for many residential integrators. Both the increased channel momentum and the publicity of the Ultimate Install Contest and its winners will draw attention to the viability of Windows Media Center as a great entertainment platform for installers, Rutherford believes.

Ultimately, the software giant is looking for custom professionals who are not afraid to think outside of the box, he said. Were going after the installer who is not intimidated by putting PC-based solutions in homes and who wants to offer a seamless, consistent experience.

The Winning System
In the Orem house, the master bedroom has a 52-inch Panasonic plasma with the Q1 running automation from a touch screen as well as master control for the house. A balcony off the master suite also has speakers.

The lower level home theater, with seating for more than 10 people, features a Sony Pearl projector, Vutec screen, and a Harmony H1000 touch screen remote. An adjacent well-appointed gym with a pair of speakers and a TV, and the clients office, also are accessible to the Windows Media Center for front entry viewing as well as for music and videos. The client, a professional golfer, can often be found viewing downloads of his swing practice videos in the home theater.

This family travels a lot and we put a vacation mode on the server so various lights will be turned on and off, Jennings said. The client can access the home menu online and watch CDs, security cameras, golf swing videos from anywhere. They can receive a text message when theres an event such as movement in the house. Its the same menu everywherethats the key.

Life-wares Role
Life-ware is not trying to bring down the price point as much as bring the solution up, said Mike Seamons, vice president of marketing, at Exceptional Innovation. Theres still a market for those consumers who need aspirational products, who have an appetite for the highest end gear. And thats OK; Life-ware is more affordable but its elegant and plays just as well with those products. The Ultimate Install project is a great example of the perfect blend of high-end and high tech. Life-ware connects the AV systems to the environmental systems creating a simplified lifestyle that changes the way a TV is used in the home. The higher end the gear, the more elegant the experience.

With a base of about 700 Life-ware dealers from Mexico to Canada, the company is on a quest to show dealers a different way, Seamons said. Theres not been a lot of tech advancement in home automation systems for the last 10 years. The components have evolved, but we see the same user paradigms. We represent a totally new way to use and manage technology though the house. Generating awareness of this is our big quest.

Comfort with Windows
Several of Imperiums 13 employees gained an advantage in having grown up on Windows, Jennings said. A lot of the bigger integrators are only familiar with other automation systems that are heavy on programming. I do a lot of presentations to construction companies, giving them a bid and showing them the difference with the Windows Media Center and Life-ware; we can normally do a project for half the cost of our competitors.

The Orem clients allow Imperium to bring prospective clients through their home to see the system in action, he added. We have a showroom in Salt Lake City, but many installers can make things work in a showroom; seeing it all work in a home has been a big selling point for us.

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado.