Microsoft, Media Center Integrator Alliance Announce 2009 Ultimate Install Contest

Co-sponsoring this year’s contest with Media Center Integrator Alliance, Microsoft again seeks best residential project design based on Windows Media Center in custom installation industry.


ORLANDO, Fla. — March 12, 2009 Today at the Electronic House Expo in Orlando, Microsoft Corp., in cooperation with co-sponsor Media Center Integrator Alliance, announced the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest. This industry design contest, now in its third year, seeks to recognize the residential integration business that best utilizes Windows Media Center in a custom home installation project. With the support of the newly formed Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA), a group dedicated to driving awareness and adoption of Windows Media Center technologies in the custom channel, the Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest will represent the best of the best in the ecosystem.


Last year, the winner of the Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest was a home installation designed and implemented by Los Gatos, Calif.-based integration firm cyberManor. The system was created for a family in Sunnyvale, Calif., that desired a centralized, user-friendly entertainment and automation system. The result was a complete integration solution with Windows Media Center at the helm.


“Once again, custom installers have the chance to demonstrate how a connected home can be designed using the Windows Media Center platform,” said Kevin Collins, director of the Custom Installer Channel in the Connected TV Business, Entertainment and Devices Division, at Microsoft. “Microsoft and MCIA are excited to give custom installers the opportunity to showcase their creativity, execution and personalized solutions for their customers using all the products that make up the Windows Media Center ecosystem.”


Contest Eligibility


The goal of Windows Media Center Ultimate Install Contest is to identify the best implementation of the Windows Media Center platform as designed and installed in a residential electronics system:


Read Full Press Release

Media Center Gets More Web Marketing

Pete pointed to some excellent new marketing videos that were done for Microsoft and I noticed one thing that just keeps coming back to me.  None of them have anything to do with connected home entertainment!  What do they have to do with?  You guess it, watching TV on your PC.


Media Center definitely needs more marketing like this, preferably I’d like to see this wrapped up with Zune, Xbox, and Windows 7 but this is a good start (I’ve said that before though).  The Key Moment video was good, as was the Singing Antenna but I’d like to see this taken further.  The Sports with Windows video wasn’t bad, but between SportsCenters ads and DIRECTVs March Madness/NFL Sunday ticket ads I feel like the film maker could have taken a different direction that didn’t just merge and copy the two.


What do you think Microsoft needs to focus on in web advertising?

VidaBox vAutomation adds Powerful, Semi-Automatic LiteTouch Lighting Integration

Westbury, NY – March 11th - VidaBox is proud to announce support for LiteTouch®, an innovator in residential lighting controls, on their vAutomation™ control and integration platform.  All of the standard lighting controls can be integrated onto a single VidaBox TouchClient™ or vPad™, providing the convenience of whole house lighting control from any location.

“Not only did we develop a driver for LiteTouch®,” says Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC, “but we’ve created a semi-automatic, integrated solution where virtually no programming is needed.  First, every lighting station and button can be configured within the LiteWare software. Next, by running a special program we’ve developed, this configuration is then exported for use by the CQC driver, and presented on our vAutomation templates.  These custom templates automatically generate scene keypads with LED status feedback, along with scene buttons for each LiteTouch® station.  This solution makes it extremely easy to set up LiteTouch® on vAutomation™ touch interfaces without any programming.”

“We are excited to work with VidaBox in providing an excellent whole home automation solution,” says Kevin Davidson, Corporate Training Manager of LiteTouch, Inc.  “VidaBox provides a simple interface and a powerful platform which allows LiteTouch to maintain our focus in providing the very best and the most reliable lighting control solutions in the world.”

“By choosing LiteTouch® and VidaBox vAutomation™,” Cheung continues, “dealers can offer a tightly integrated solution that allows lighting control to be added easily, without any complex programming.  This tremendously minimizes installation time without sacrificing quality.  Combined with integrated support for media centers, audio servers, and other smart home technologies, the vAutomation™ platform provides a truly all-in-one, complete solution.”

vAutomation support for LiteTouch® is available now.  For more details and information on this innovative automation platform and VidaBox’s comprehensive line of media servers, extenders, and complete entertainment and control solutions, please visit their company website at http://www.vidabox.com, or contact them at 516-730-7500.  For more details on LiteTouch and their lighting solutions, please visit their company website at http://www.litetouch.com.

About VidaBox LLC
VidaBox LLC is a digital entertainment and controls solutions company focused on manufacturing premium media centers, audio servers, and integrated home control & automation solutions.  VidaBox is on a mission to create user-friendly, stable high-performance Media Center systems that work right out of the box and integrate seamlessly with multizone audio and smart home technologies.  For more information, visit www.vidabox.com or call 1-516-730-7500.

About LiteTouch Inc.
LiteTouch lighting control products offer real-world benefits including convenience, security, time-savings, safety, energy conservation and design aesthetics. “Experience Lighting Control”, an online tour detailing many of these benefits is available at LiteTouch.com LiteTouch, a lighting control industry leader for more than two decades, is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

VidaBox Launches the Affordable RoomClient:SE Media Server

Westbury, NY – March 4th – VidaBox has launched the new RoomClient:SE system, an entry-level, Vista-based media server.  Starting at $2248, the RoomClient:SE stores movies, pictures, music, and more for on-demand access via an on-screen, remote controlled interface.  Cover art from movies and music titles are automatically downloaded along with every archival.  Complete with 1080p upscaling and full Dolby Digital and DTS support, it’s designed to deliver a stunning entertainment experience without compromising quality.

“The RoomClient:SE is the perfect entry-level unit,” says Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox LLC. “It has all the features and capabilities of our larger systems, such as storage and playback of DVDs, music, pictures, video, and TV – all in a compact-sized form factor.  What’s even better is that integrators can expand upon the RoomClient:SE at a later time by offering their clients various upgrades, such as more storage, additional extenders for Blu-ray support, etc.  The RoomClient:SE strikes a great balance between being feature-rich, easily expandable, and affordably priced.”

Based on Vista Media Center, it includes enough storage for about 150+ unencrypted DVDs, 900+ hours of TV, or tons of music and pictures.  Multizone AV distribution can be done by adding other VidaBox extenders, making the system flexible and expandable.  Integration of IPTV and other internet-based media on the RoomClient:SE interface provide access to a myriad of content out of-the-box.  The addition of third-party applications to provide and add more features make the RoomClient:SE an even more appealing choice for dealers and consumers alike.

“Integrators and tech-savvy customers can even add support for Netflix’s ‘Watch Now’ feature on our systems,” Cheung continues. “Media Center-based third-party apps like these allow clients to access and choose from thousands of movies instantly.  With its vast multimedia storage & playback capabilities and great price point, the RoomClient:SE is an excellent choice for any AV project.”

The new RoomClient:SE is shipping and available now.  For more details and information on the RoomClient:SE or other VidaBox media servers, extenders, and complete entertainment and control solutions, please visit the company website at http://www.vidabox.com, or call 516-730-7500.

About VidaBox LLC
VidaBox LLC is a digital entertainment and controls solutions company focused on manufacturing premium media centers, audio servers, and integrated home control & automation solutions.  VidaBox is on a mission to create user-friendly, stable high-performance Media Center systems that work right out of the box and integrate seamlessly with multizone audio and smart home technologies.  For more information, visit www.vidabox.com or call 1-516-730-7500.

Short Bits: DivX, Links, News

You might have noticed I’ve been quiet for the past month, sadly that might continue for another month but I’ll be sure to try and fill the gaps (meanwhile tons of other Media Center blogs covering everything new out there).


I’m not sure yet when it will be posted, but in a few weeks several of us in the Media Center community will have a big surprise that everyone will be interested in.  You’re going to want to watch here for that.


On a completely separate side note, if anyone involved with Yahoo’s Connected TV Widgets please let me know via e-mail.  I’ve got several questions on the technology and signing up online hasn’t yielded any results.


One of the best articles I’ve read in the past month is Davis Freeberg’s analysis of DivX’s downfall.  If you have a few minutes it is a really good read.  As DivX is based off of MPEG-4 ASP I’ve always told people that even if the device doesn’t have a DivX logo on it doesn’t means it will not play DivX (likewise with Xvid).  Davis is right that as soon as the DivX brand loses value they are in huge trouble (eg. for this exact reason).


Some other interesting links and post.


How to automatically download and import HD to Windows Media Center [Engadget HD]


Big Screen EPG : PVR Ratings (Some Initial Results) [Mobilewares]


How Ben Drawbaugh uses Windows Media Center [Ben Drawbaugh]


Interview with Doug Berrett on Webguide [New England Digital Media] via Entertainment 2.0

CableCARD Takes First (Unofficial) Step to DIY PCs

A fair amount of headroom has recently been made for CableCARD support on non-OEM machines.  CableLabs regulations have limited only Microsoft approved OEMs to build and sell CableCARD machines using well outlined stipulations including a special BIOS and additional product key.


Smart thinking guy’s at The Green Button cracked open the public CableLabs specs to find out more.  As I’ve talked about before, the BIOS is actually a OSFR table which in theory can be put in any motherboard BIOS.  Turns out Asus might have shipped a revision of their P5K with the table present and populated.  Two fun threads to follow for more are here and here.


Now, getting the BIOS “hacked” doesn’t mean too much.  The hard part of this equation is the OCUR PID that will be much harder to hack.  Right now people are recycling their Dell XPS 420’s PIDs to home build a custom CableCARD mahine.


I will caution everyone, Microsoft and CableLabs are supposed to have a method to remotely disable this stuff and your PC is also supposed to check every so often to ensure everything is cool.  If you spend a lot time and money getting into something like this and one day it just breaks don’t get too mad.

Unlikely That Hulu is Holding Out for Microsoft

Julie Jacobson at CE Pro speculates that Hulu (who has been all over the news for killing third party apps) is holding out for Windows 7 Media Center support.


As great as this would be, don’t get your hopes up.  Hulu has very few reasons to even look at Microsoft here.  All Microsoft really brings to the table is a very small number of users (none of which are really going to add new pageviews that Hulu isn’t already getting).  Microsoft internal numbers are actually quoting a good amount of users, but I’m not really convinced that the numbers represent the whole picture.


Bottom line here is that Hulu isn’t looking to target any third party application (yet).  Jury is still out on if Hulu has any interest in being more than a browser based application.  I think the market is there in several different forms, but yet again this could come down to NBCU, Fox, et al fighting to keep the web from replacing traditional broadcast TV.

Short Bits: Power DVD, Sage TV, Updates

Engadget HD got some shots of PowerDVD 9, or rather what we now know is the extent of the “native” Media Center Blu-ray integration announced CES.  Native is a bit of a stretch as I figured it might be.  Instead of native playback we now have a native MCML UI that launches PowerDVD (a la Play Movie, TotalMedia, etc).  It’s a start, I guess.  I’m not really that impressed with what is being offered.  On the plus side, word is video decoding is pretty top notch which is good to hear.


If I can ever find time I’ve got to do an in-depth Sage TV review.  Why?  Because not only have I been impressed with them more and more over the past year but they have also just added Blu-ray streaming to their Extenders.  That’s a huge step forward that a lot of people are looking for.


If you haven’t checked it out yet, Media Browser is one of my favorite new plug-ins.  I don’t do a lot with ripped DVDs, but an add-in that automatically finds cover art and metadata about my ripped content without me doing a single thing is a beautiful thing (did it just based on folder names).


Microsoft released the February update for Media Center a few weeks ago.  Big item here is a fix for CableCARD machines that was introduced way back in October.


February 2009 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista


February 2009 Cumulative Update for Media Center TV Pack for Windows Vista