Niveus Media and ADI Serve Up Premium Home Entertainment

Available through ADI, the Niveus Media Server – Vail Edition provides a no-nonsense, high-performance entertainment experience.


Milpitas, CA – December 30, 2008 – Niveus Media has teamed up with ADI to distribute the Niveus Media Server to custom electronics installers across the country. Now available at ADI branch locations, the Niveus Media Server – Vail Edition is an energy-efficient entertainment server designed to store, aggregate, and distribute HD content throughout the home.


With support for movies, music, photos, and much more in its slender frame, Vail is packed with advanced technologies to deliver stunning in-home audio and video reproduction. A CES Innovations 2008 Design and Engineering Awards recipient, Vail is based on Windows Vista® Home Premium featuring Windows® Media Center. It is equipped with an optional Blu-ray Disc™ drive, 250GB of storage, and proprietary Niveus technologies including the new Niveus Movie Library movie management interface!


Through Vail, digital photography and video collections are securely stored and accessed throughout the home; CD collections are merged with downloaded audio tracks to create a uniform and all-encompassing music library; and Blu-ray Disc™, DVD, and digital movies from leading content providers such as VideoGiants, are aggregated in the Niveus Movie Library, an attractive and intuitive movie management interface.


As Niveus’ first energy-efficient media server, Vail Edition offers remarkably low power consumption at less than 180W. Niveus engineers were able to integrate the industry’s finest components into Niveus’ most compact media server, at just over 2 inches in height and 17lbs in weight.


Suitable for rack mount installation or living room placement, Vail is engineered with a silent active cooling design for cool and quiet (less than 30db noise) performance. For seamless integration into the home network, Vail is built with the proprietary Niveus ConvergencePanel™ high-performance audio and video ports.


All Vail Editions sold through ADI are bundled with an exclusive HDGiants content package, including 1 HDNet film and credit towards the purchase of MusicGiants downloads. Dealers will have the opportunity to earn recurring revenue on all the content that a customer purchases.


“The ability to store, control and stream High Definition content has become extremely important, and the Niveus Media Server – Vail Edition provides an excellent solution to do so,” said RJ Hirshkind, Senior Product Manager for A/V for ADI. “This technology will help dealers build advanced home theaters that can manage HD video, music, photos and more.”


For more information, please visit www.niveusmedia.com.

’08 Disappointments: TV Pack

The biggest disappointment of 2008 has to be Microsoft’s failure to produce a follow-up release to the RTM release of Vista Media Center.  The TV Pack, which was previously codenamed Fiji was delayed well over a year with no information give by Microsoft as to the reason why.   Things finally settled down and Fiji was released as the TV Pack in August (officially at CEDIA in September).


Of course the disappointments set in a few months early, with DIRECTV and H.264 being dropped, and then the announcement that Microsoft planned the TV Pack to be OEM-only.   Then came some bugs, torrents getting leaked, all around poor communication from Microsoft, broken third party and first party functionality, and I’m sure you know the story by now.


Not only was the TV Pack a disappointment, it was nothing short of a failure.  In my opinion it has been the worst coordinated project to come out of Microsoft since I’ve had a chance to cover the company.


Given the long delay and ultimate fate of what became the TV Pack I wish Microsoft would have just waited or simply released a scaled down Update Rollup in places like Japan where it added a bit more value.  Luckily the TV Pack functionality will be rolled into Windows 7 which I’m sure the eHome team was working on concurrently with the TV Pack anyway.  To those not running the TV Pack, I’d just write it off and wait for Windows 7 to bring a more stable and polished product.


The TV Pack has been a huge disappointment of 2008.

‘08 Disappointments: Xbox IPTV

2008 was going to be the year of IPTV, and while AT&T and Verizon (actually QAM) have made great strides in the IPTV marketplace, Microsoft hasn’t done much to push what was promised on their end (Note: Microsoft powers AT&Ts IPTV DVRs).  Of course the prime example here is the concept of using your Xbox 360 as an IPTV DVR.


The concept had been thrown around online for some time, but at CES 2008 Microsoft made it official and announced they were working with BT in the UK to bring the functionality to life.  That’s about the last time I heard anything on that subject.  I’m not sure if the service never launched with BT, but to say the concept has been anything but a failure would be pushing it.


AT&T is still the only [major] US provider using Microsoft’s MediaRoom IPTV software, which means they are just about the only option for this concept coming to life in the US.  I don’t see the concept that appealing for IPTV providers (I actually said it would flop in Nov ‘07), but it will be interesting to see if CES 2009 brings anything about Xbox and IPTV back into the spotlight.

Embedded Automation Updates mPanel, Adds RadioRA Support

Embedded Automation keeps adding significant value to their mControl home automation software.  Just this month just have added support for Lutron RadioRA and HACS AB8SS Speaker Switch Box, released a new mControl driver for remote control of their mPanel in-wall touchscreen, updated their mPanel Software which includes new digital media and digital control capabilities, and showed mPanel running other HA software applications.


RadioRA is a big addition to mControl and might represent things to come for Embedded Automation.  Up until now mControl has mainly been limited to control of lower end lighting control systems.  These systems (Z-Wave, INSTEON, X-10) are fine for the DIYer, but RadioRA joins CentraLite, LiteTouch, and UPB which were released a few months ago on the big higher end side of things.


Anyone using mControl with a higher end lighting control system?  Is there an additional platform you would like to see Embedded Automation support?

Short Bits: SideShow Remote, Big Screen Savings, Video Testimonial Program, More

Ricavision is officially dead now, but Phillips is sort-of taking their place with the SRM7500 SideShow Remote.  Hardly the eye candy that the Ricavision was, but at least it is shipping with a much lower price tag.  Clear downside here is the screen which will limit functionality.


The Holidays are here and that means deals for you on Media Center plug-ins.  Up until January 15 you can save up to 40% off on Big Screen applications. 


Speaking of deals, how about getting a free DV cam?  Microsoft has launched their Media Center Consumer Video Testimonial Program at The Green Button (you need to be logged into your TGB account to see this).  Microsoft will send you a $140 Flip Camera (not sure about model, but my guess is this one) for you to make a quick 2 minute video about your life using Media Center.  You send them the video on CD/DVD along with the camera back, and they send you a brand new Flip Camera for you to keep!


NCTA says there are officially 374,000 CableCARDs deployed in third party devices (eg. TiVo, Media Center, HDTVs, etc).  You can compare that to the 9.76 million CableCARDs deployed in the boxes leased by Cable Providers.

Niveus Media And HDGIANTS Team Up To Deliver Premium Movie Collections

Niveus dealers and consumers can now purchase HDGIANTS’ movie collections for playback on any Niveus Media Server.


Milpitas, CA – December 22, 2008 – Niveus Media is teaming up with HDGIANTS to bring collections of the industry’s best movies to Niveus customers. HDGIANTS is committed to offering premium digital content that maximizes the capabilities of the Niveus Media Server and new Niveus Storage Server – Cargo Edition, to deliver an unparalleled entertainment experience. The collections are available in packages of 50 or 100 titles and include top-rated films from major movie studios.


“HDGIANTS gives customers easy access to large collections of high-quality audio and video content which helps Niveus and its dealers demonstrate the increasing flexibility and performance of the Niveus Entertainment System,” states Tim Cutting, Niveus Media CEO and Co-founder. “Through its relationships in the movie industry and its commitment to maintaining the integrity of the original audio and video productions, HDGIANTS has developed a niche in the market and has created an engaging and viable solution for our customers.”


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HDGIANTS acquires the highest quality masters from premier studio partners in order to provide customers with supremely engaging in-home video playback. When loaded onto a Niveus Media Server, HDGIANTS’ Collections demonstrate the encompassing functionality of the Niveus Media Server and the new Niveus Movie Library, a proprietary movie management interface which aggregates and displays all movies complete with high-res cover art and detailed metadata. HDGIANTS’ movies are integrated with the customer’s entire movie collection and are accessible via the Niveus Media Server or connected Media Center Extender, creating a seamless and unified, whole-home movie management experience.


“HDGIANTS is committed to supporting our hardware partners and their custom installers and we consistently work on creating content packages that help drive sales and increase their profit margins,” says Scott Bahneman, CEO of HDGIANTS. “The Niveus demo movie collections are a perfect example of a tool that equips dealers with a successful way to showcase a high-end entertainment solution and sell more home theater installations.


As Niveus continues to enhance movie integration with the increasing functionality of the Niveus Movie Library movie management interface and availability of HDGIANTS’ premium movie packages, it has become essential to offer a robust storage solution that can house a user’s expansive HD movie collection. The Niveus Storage Server – Cargo Edition, available with up to 16TB of scalable storage, enables secure storage of thousands of movies, complete with expanded metadata and high-resolution cover art. HDGIANTS content stored on the Cargo Edition can be accessed via the attached Niveus Media Server or connected Media Center Extenders.


Additionally, with each movie collection purchased for use on a Niveus Media Server, HDGIANTS will include a $75 music sampler including audio tracks from today’s most renowned musicians, allowing the customer to experience Niveus’ high-fidelity audio output and elegant music interface.


As an added bonus to dealers, HDGIANTS plans to automatically enroll participating Niveus Authorized Dealers in its dealer program, which promises recurring revenue on all content that a customer purchases.


Featuring hit films from the last 40 years, the HDGIANTS’ 50 and 100 movie packages are now available. For more information, please visit www.niveusmedia.com.


About Niveus Media


Founded in 2003, Silicon Valley based Niveus Media, Inc. manufactures award-winning media server hardware and software solutions, optimized to manage all HD entertainment in multi-zone applications. With the most advanced media servers, storage servers, proprietary software and service technologies, Niveus revolutionizes the aggregation, distribution, and enjoyment of today’s digital media.


About HDGIANTS


HDGIANTS delivers high definition entertainment directly into the living room through its proprietary content delivery platform. Our HD MediaStore™ is integrated into top media servers for convenient delivery of HD movies, music and other digital media. HDGIANTS is the perfect companion for home audio and video systems and anywhere else that high quality content matters. For information on HDGIANTS, visit www.HDGIANTS.com.

Linksys: “No Plans for Models to Replace” DMA2100/DMA2200

Silly me, I figured the fire sale on Linksys DMA2100 and DMA2200 Extenders over the past two months might indicate them getting ready to drop a new hardware revision on us, but sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case.  Consumer Electronics Daily is reporting that Cisco (eg. Linksys) “has no immediate plans” to replace the two Extender SKUs.  Cisco did note that a firmware update would likely be the next step.  When that update drops or what is included remains to be seen.


The DMA2100 has sold for a low of $59 at Dell.com a few week ago.  The average price now is about $125, which is nothing to turn up your nose at (unless they drop to $59 again).  Isn’t it amazing how the drop to a reasonable price seems to get more people on board with Extenders (hint, hint)?  How many of you purcahsed an Extender because of the recent sales?


What issues does Linksys need to focus on for their (hopefully) upcoming firmware update?

Okoro Media Unleashes Intel i7 Core Media Centers

Okoro Media Systems, manufacturer of digital entertainment systems for the high end audio video market, is pleased to announce the availability of the Intel’s new i7 Core processing technology to our high-end 2009 Digital Entertainment Systems. Keeping with our mission of bringing the latest in cutting edge technology, our i7 Core series machines will continue to bring unprecedented 3-D gaming performance and will provide better performance for streaming movies, and music to multiple zones.
 
“Our customers expected us to push the envelope with systems that can provide the greatest performance when they are playing the latest Blu-ray movies in 1080p with TrueHD audio, while recording multiple HD channels and extending content to multiple zones. With the integration of Intel’s i7Core  technology in our  line of premier Digital Entertainment Systems, we can provide our customers with unparalleled video performance.” says Christopher Curry VP of Sales and Marketing.
 
The following systems are based on Intel i7Core technology:
OMS-TH550
OMS-GX100
OMS-GX300 
The upcoming
RK200 & RK300
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During this 2008 festive season, Okoro Media Systems wants to make your holidays even brighter with some complimentary gifts to enhance your Digital Experience. We want to help you with those “Stocking Stuffers”.
 
With every purchase of a BX series or system that is upgraded with a Blu-ray player we will add the critically acclaimed box office smash hit – The Dark Knight Blu-ray movie to your order, as a gift from us.
 
We want to continue the gift giving by adding an additional 5% promotional reduction to the listed MSPR price of the following OMS Models: TH550, BX300, BX100, GX300, GX100, and ZX100.


The complimentary Blu-ray movie Batman- The Dark Knight and the 5% discount will be valid until Sunday, January 11th, 2009.


For more information, please contact Okoro Media Systems at 877-539-4788 or visit www.okoromedia.com.

Can DISH Network One-Up DIRECTV?

Now that we are fairly certain that DIRECTV will not ship with Windows 7, the big question remains to be will DISH Network?  Around the time the TV Pack started beta testing, I did hear that some testers had been contacted about testing DISH Network Tuners, and that talk has popped back up in the past few weeks.


Going under my theory that Microsoft has all the plumbing in-place for DIRECTV support, there is no reason that same framework can’t work for DISH Network.  If DISH Network wants to make a Media Center tuner, they can using this framework, and they might have already.


Looking around, their are some other hints about the possible DISH Network Tuner.  Ben’s photos of the eHome Lab show Windows 7 running with a branded Start Menu saying “TV with DISH Network.”  In addition to that, several people, including Dave Zatz have brought up the possibility that the unmarked white box in the photo below is a DISH Network tuner.  Of course, the tuner being in Microsoft’s Lab means nothing as Microsoft as evidenced by the suspended DIRECTV HDPC-20 tuners also present.


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(Photos via Engadget HD)

Back to the framework which I believe is complete to ship with Windows 7, here is something Microsoft showed at WinHEC.  That is premium Pay-Per-View TV being ordered via Media Center.  We know that’s not from a CableCARD as tru2way tuners don’t have any specs from CableLabs yet.  It chould be DIRECTV, but considering that Channel 510 happens to fall in the range of DISH Networks PPV and most PPV content on DISH Network happens to be $4.99, there is a good possibility you are looking at working PPV via a native DISH Network Tuner.


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So, should you jump and switch to DISH Network because of this?  I wouldn’t suggest it.  Should you keep checking back to see when we get more details?  I’d suggest it.  I’m a DIRECTV customer, so even if this DISH Network tuner is real I likely wouldn’t be testing it.  That said, I’m looking forward to see what happen with this.  Given DISH Networks TurboHD package for $24.99 has every channel I’d ever watch, and the fact I can get ATSC HD using an antenna in Media Center saving me from having to add HD Locals to the package, DISH Network does look like a good deal if I could get a native Media Center tuner.

DIRECTV and Microsoft: What Went Wrong

Now that DIRECTV has suspended development on their HDPC-20 Tuner where does that leave us?  There are a lot of differing opinions going around about why DIRECTV canned the tuner, whose fault it is, and where do we go from here.  Most people are pointing the finger at Microsoft, and with their history of releases how could you not?  This doesn’t mean however that Microsoft is totally at fault, but let’s look at the whole situation to see how we got here. 


Timeline


January 2006 – Microsoft and DIRECTV announce partnership to “develop new ways to expand the reach of digital music, television and movies throughout the home and to portable devices.”  Nothing is said specifically by either party about a Media Center tuner.


January 2006 – Microsoft employee Sean Alexander says “In the future (timing wasn’t discussed), you’ll be able to have an installer come out and install a DirecTV tuner into your Media Center PC and get your local channels complete with DVR.”  This however, was not an official Microsoft statement.


January 2007 – We really start asking for information about the assumed DIRECTV Tuner.  DBSTalk.com does Q&A with DIRECTV at CES, DIRECTV says “Still in progress, internal beta testing” when asked about HTPC Tuner cards.  Confirmation that a tuner card is in the works.


December 2007 – Microsoft states in an online job posting that they are “working with newly developed dual satellite tuners” for the next Media Center release.


January 2008 – CES comes around again and DBSTalk.com gets a flyer from the CES floor for the HDPC-20.  This is the first official confirmation that the tuner exists.  CES attendees hear information about the public unveiling of the tuner to be scheduled later at CES.  This didn’t happen however, leaving several people confused.  No one from Microsoft or DIRECTV is talking now.  DIRECTV had the flyers to give out at the show, so something happened that caused either Microsoft or DIRECTV to back out of the public announcement.


February 2008 – Top Media Center OEM Niveus Media now lists “HD Satellite” tuner option on their website with “TBD  (To be determined)” availability.


March 2008 – Microsoft started sending out e-mails for the Fiji (codename for TV Pack) beta program.  Several leaks happened around this time including an e-mail asking select beta participates for information about their DIRECTV account.


July 2008 – Fiji beta testers leak more information including DIRECTV and H.264 support being pulled from the release.  It is suggested by some in the beta that they never received tuners from DIRECTV.


July 2008 – It is reported that Microsoft will be releasing a second Media Center update in 2008 with nothing to backup the statement.  The proposed purpose of the second update was to add H.264 and DIERCTV support.  This didn’t happen.


September 2008 – Subscription news service Consumer Electronics Daily (CED) reports that Microsoft “continues to look at ways” to make the tuner happen and that news will be announced at “the appropriate time.”  DIRECTV made no comment in the article.


November 2008 – Ed Bott finds a driver for the HDPC-20 in the PDC build of Windows 7.


November 2008 – Microsoft invites several bloggers and journalists to tour the eHome Labs (no, I wasn’t invited).  Ben Drawbaugh scores pictures of the DIRECTV HDPC-20 working in Microsoft’s Labs.


December 2008 – DIRECTV e-mails several in the community to tell us that DIRECTV has “suspended the development of the HDPC-20 tuner…after assessing the impact of missing the August 2008 release of Windows Media Center update [Fiji, TV Pack] and considering timing of the next release.”


Talking a Step Back


The big question now is what does all of this mean and who is at fault.  Let’s explore a few things here.


Microsoft is a software company; they don’t make hardware (generally speaking).  Microsoft’s main goal is to produce various software frameworks so that other companies can come in and produce hardware to work with their platform.  I’d actually say that this is the reason Microsoft has been successful as a company, but it is also their largest fault.


Anyway, Microsoft makes software and third parties make hardware (and most of the time drivers to go with this hardware).  Seeing as Microsoft is going to produce the software aspect of this DIRECTV Tuner, it means they want to produce a common framework to allow third parties to integrate a number of different things into their Media Center platform.  I’ve gone over this time and time again, but to refresh I’m talking about things like H.264, Pay-per-view order, content protection, etc.  DIRECTV on the hand has to make the hardware (or contract it out) to pair with Microsoft’s software framework.


DIRECTV has suggested that they are suspending develop of their hardware because of the impact of H.264/DIRECTV support not shipping in the TV Pack and the wait until the next release. (Windows 7, highly publicized to have a 2009 ship date)


DIRECTV-less TV Pack, whose fault?


This is a bit hard to answer because outside of DIRECTV and Microsoft no one really knows.  What we do know (or rather, think we know) is that Microsoft had plans of shipping DIRECTV support in the TV Pack as evidenced by the beta e-mails.  We also know (or think we know), that neither Microsoft nor DIRECTV shipped tuner to beta testers.  Microsoft then cut H.264 and “subscription-based satellite TV support” before the TV Pack ship date.  Notice they never said they cut DIRECTV support.


The main thing we don’t know here is why beta testers reportedly didn’t get tuners.  Hundreds of options here, but here are three main ones.


  • Possibility that DIRECTV didn’t have stable hardware/drivers
  • Possibility that Microsoft had issues with H.264 support in the TV Pack
  • Possibility that Microsoft had issues with other software aspects in the TV Pack
  • Possibility that Microsoft and DIRECTV are fighting like kids about something

There are various possibilities about why beta testers might not have been shipped tuners and why support was cut from the release.  I don’t think you can make a clear judgment about who was at fault knowing what we do.


On the Road to Windows 7


Given on how Microsoft operates, we knew that the next chance for DIRECTV support was in Windows 7.  Microsoft doesn’t push out Media Center updates to add functionality months after a major release.  Things were now looking good for Windows 7 DIRECTV support, at least from the outside.  CED published reports saying DIRECTV and Microsoft are still working together, and Windows 7’s projected release date keep moving up.


Ed Bott finds the drivers in the Windows 7 build, and then Ben gets pictures of the tuners in the lab.  We are all thinking that Windows 7 with DIRECTV is a-go.  DIRECTV then says they are “suspended development” of the tuner and points to the conflicts with the TV Pack as a prime reason along with the “timing of the next [Media Center] release.”


What’s DIRECTV Hiding?


Lets say Microsoft and DIRECTV missed the TV Pack ship date, again we really don’t know why.  In the e-mail statement DIRECTV is basically implying that they are done with their part and just waiting on Microsoft.  Is this really the case?  I fully believe that Microsoft had 90% of the software framework in-place to ship with the TV Pack.  In fact, if you look in your RTM TV Pack registry you can find some DIRECTV bits hiding pretty well.


If DIRECTV was ready and willing to release their tuners, why cut the project after all your initial expensive and development?  The tuners seem to be real, and if it was Microsoft who screwed up the TV Pack you would think that DIRECTV is sitting on a near finished product waiting for Microsoft.  DIRECTVs enginners can jump back on a new project and leave their efforts intack for Microsoft to start Windows 7 beta testing (which is basically 6 months after the TV Pack release).


I’m thinking that DIRECTV might not be a clean in this whole ordeal as some might think.


DRM, Doubtful to Blame


Whenever there is a hold-up on a product like this the first thing in peoeple’s mind is that Microsoft is DRMing it up and thus causing massive delays.  Considering CableLabs approved Windows Vista with their very strict content protection guidelines I think it would be a huge stretch to think that Microsoft was holding up the project in this way.  Their system already works, and has been for two years (mostly, DRM might actually be too protective given the bugs).


It has been suggested to me that DRM might be to blame because DIRECTV offers service outside of the US.  I was personally expecting to see the DIRECTV Tuner be US-only, but if it was international this would be a contract issue between DIRECTV and their content providers.


Who needs who?


Media Center is hardly the platform it should be, and DIRECTV might have misevaluated the commercial need of such a tuner.  It is also possible that their DIRECT2PC, TiVo partnership, and their own Multi-room Viewing features could be playing into things (along with the economy).


Microsoft has no leverage here.  They have a platform that hasn’t lived up to expectations of any market and they have to be pleading with broadcaster providers to help them save their platform.


Maybe DIRECTV has come to the conclusion that there focus should be elsewhere.  Of course, if it turns out that DIRECTV was not prepared to ship with the TV Pack this is a godsend for us users.  I want a stable platform, and with DIRECTV in charge of hardware/drivers for this they need to have their heart in the game before I want to play.


Ben argues that DIRECTV only released a statement because they want to downplay expectations about the tuner.  I don’t follow the concept because DIRECTV has no visible reason to do any sort of damage control.  This is where Microsoft should have stepped in, but alas has failed to do.  When/if Microsoft makes a statement (which they need to), it will likely be very simple and there is a good chance it will not mention DIRECTV by name.


As far as I know, Microsoft’s framework is done for third parties to integrate DVB-S tuners into Media Center.  What third parties (eg. DIRECTV) do at that point is largely up to them.  The only thing I’ve been told by Microsoft is that when two companies are involved they can’t say anything.  NDAs are play there just as they would be in any business partnership.


Bottom Line


I firmly believe both companies at a fault, but Microsoft will always take the most abuse because they can’t seem to conjure up a good Media Center release.  This is not DIRECTVs platform falling apart before our eyes, it is Microsoft’s.


Given that I think the framework is there, we might see other providers step up to the plate and offer solutions.  I strongly suspect others have like projects in development, but then again so does did DIRECTV, so I guess we have to wait for an official word at this point.