When HP abruptly stopped the production of its Microsoft Media Center digital equipment platform earlier in the year there was a sense that Media Center solutions for the custom installation channel had been derailed. But HP was only one manufacturer (albeit a very large one) among dozens that are making high-end Media Center products. As we saw at CEDIA EXPO last month, the other Media Center server manufacturers have been steadily improving their product offerings.
Equally important, Microsoft has made significant strides in improving the whole-house Media Center experience with a combination of hardware and software product announcementsand, for the first time, is working hard to enlist the support of the custom installation channel.
Watching a live TV broadcast in the living room, pausing it, and then resuming it at the same moment from the bedroom or kitchen will soon become even easier, as Microsoft provided a first look at the new Pika-based Extenders for the Windows Media Center platform. New Pika devices from companies such as Linksys, D-Link Corp., and Niveus Media Inc., may incorporate these new extender features, including live high-definition (HD) video, and expanded support for audio and video formats such as DivX and Xvid. Extenders will be available in a wide range of form factors, including stand-alone set-top boxes and integration with other devices such as DVD players and televisions.
These extenders will support the ability to send protected HD content to additional rooms, including recorded TV from over-the-air ATSC or CableCARD tuners, and movies and music available from providers such as CinemaNow, MovieLink, and Napster. Extenders also support Media Center features such as Reuters news feeds, National Public Radio broadcasts, up-to-date sports reports from the FOX Sports Lounge, and subscription music from XM Radio.
Russound Smart Media Console
Russound announced it will deliver its Smart Media Console line in the fall of 2007. These Windows Media Center-based products will provide custom installers with a simple turnkey solution for enabling advanced home automation and integration with Russounds whole-home audio products. These CableCARD-ready consoles will come pre-bundled with Exceptional Innovation Life-ware client licenses.
Life-ware and Niveus Media Servers
Life-ware and Niveus Media both announced support of Media Centers that will accommodate up to four HD CableCARD tuners (up from the current 2 CableCARD limitation). These server platforms can now deliver up to four independent HD streams of live content to up five different media center extender sessions.
Web Guide Plug In is Now Free
I spent some time speaking with Doug Berrett, the author of the popular Media Center
WebGuide product. Berrett (whose company was recently purchased by Microsoft) said that as of September 5, 2007, the popular third-party place-shifting plug-in application for Windows Media Center is available at no cost. His WebGuide software allows Windows Media Center consumers to view live and recorded TV, schedule and manage recorded television programs, and access music, pictures, and videos remotely from any web browser. Its an incredible extension of the Media Center interface to give you full use and enjoyment of your homes media content (TV recordings, songs, photos, and videos) from any computing device with a browser and a high-speed Internet connection. Further details are available at www.asciiexpress.com/webguide.
If Microsoft develop as strong an ecosystem of partners in the home to support the Media Center platform as they did in the enterprise world to support the Windows platform, then they will become a significant contributor to the solutions that we design and integrate for our clients custom homes.