Windows Media Center Platform
Scott Evans | Microsoft
When the Denver Bronco's were playing on Sunday during the CEDIA Expo, we showcased Media Center's integrated Sports feature where live TV can be augmented with real-time scores and information. The football fanatics were amazed and instantly saw the power of combining internet content with broadcast TV through the Windows Media Center platform.
Microsoft had a booth at CEDIA EXPO for the first time in many years. What led to that decision, why now, and what did you gain from the experience?
Windows Media Center has grown in mainstream popularity (there are 60 million Windows Media Center PCs at last count), and while Microsoft remains primarily focused on meeting the needs of the average consumer, we recognize that the CEDIA channel presents a unique opportunity for a portion of the market to experience much deeper whole-home connected entertainment through custom installation and specialty retail. A professional installer provides the end-to-end experience, even if that requires integration of products from a number of manufacturers, along with a single point of contact for customizing the installation to the specific needs of the consumer and delivering personalized training and post-installation support. Working with a CEDIA installer is the best way to get the Windows Media Center experience in every room in the house. Participating at CEDIA EXPO is a great way for us to engage and hear directly from the installer community to help shape our future investments.
What is the eHome Division?
eHome is the group inside Microsoft that brings you Windows Media Center and Extender for Windows Media Center. It's part of the larger Entertainment & Devices Division, which includes a wide range of consumer products such as Xbox 360, Games for Windows, Zune, Windows Mobile and even the Microsoft Mouse.
Why should custom installers trust a Media Center system over well-established systems like Crestron or AMX? How can a custom installer best convince his client to incorporate a Media Center system in his/her home instead of a Crestron or AMX system?
First, custom installers shouldn't think of Windows Media Center as mutually exclusive with systems like Crestron or AMX - quite the opposite! A Media Center system works great as an entertainment source feeding into the control, distribution, and automation capabilities of AMX/Crestron. Crestron even announced at CEDIA that they will be producing Windows Media Centers in 2008, which is a great endorsement of Media Center in this type of application. An alternative option for custom installers is to use a Windows Media Center add-in such as Life|ware to enhance the capabilities of Media Center to directly support more advanced whole home automation and control. There are several benefits to this approach, including the ability to leverage Extender for Windows Media Center to provide a consistent user interface at every TV in the home.
At CEDIA EXPO, Microsoft partnered with many of the biggest names in the CEDIA channel. What do these partnerships mean to the Media Center platform? Who are some of these partners and how can other companies approach Microsoft to get involved?
Windows Media Center isn't just an exciting set of capabilities for consumers, it is becoming established as a foundational technology for the next generation of entertainment experiences. It is fantastic to see long established CEDIA channel brands like Crestron and Russound announcing Media Center products, joining the original Media Center pioneers in this channel such as Niveus and Life|ware. These partnership expand Media Center into a variety of hardware form factors, and expand the reach of Media Center into a extensive set of dealer networks. Windows Media Center is also available to a much broader set of partners through the Microsoft System Builder channel, which enables a wide range of companies to bring Media Center products to market with very little overhead. I even discovered a company at CEDIA who is producing custom Windows Media Centers and Windows Home Servers for the luxury yacht market.
What was the most interesting question you got from a custom installer at CEDIA EXPO?
We get a ton of interesting questions at CEDIA, my favorite interactions are when we show an installer something fundamental they didn't know was possible - it is like watching someone discover the benefits of PVR for the first time. A good example of this is when the Denver Bronco's were playing on Sunday during the Expo, we showcased Media Center's integrated Sports feature where live TV can be augmented with real-time scores and information. The football fanatics were amazed and instantly saw the power of combining internet content with broadcast TV through the Windows Media Center platform.
Is it true that we finally have Extenders that aren't Xbox 360s?
Yes! The Xbox 360 is still a terrific Extender, and a great choice for an environment such as a family room where gaming is a plus. Now we are showing additional options in the form of consumer electronics devices from our partners such as Linksys, D-Link and Niveus - these are devices that directly incorporate the Extender capability into a variety of form factors such as digital media adapters and DVD players. And we will have even more devices and partners building Extenders down the road.
What will Quad CableCARD, which is now available on Media Centers from Life|ware and Niveus Media, enable custom installers to do?
Quad CableCARD is all about scaling up the Windows Media Center experience for the fully digital home. Windows Media Center already enables up to five remote HD zones through Extender, and now we have the capability to power those zones with 4 simultaneous TV recordings or LiveTV streams. No more fighting over which show to watch or record during primetime!
Microsoft also announced WebGuide and Internet TV at CEDIA EXPO. What do these technologies bring to the table?
InternetTV brings streaming content directly into Windows Media Center and Extender over the internet, for free! If you want on demand access to a movie trailer or past TV episode, you can access that content at your TV without any additional fees or signup, and the video streams right over your broadband internet connection.
WebGuide is all about shifting your Windows Media Center experience to you when you are outside the home. Forgot to schedule the recording for the season finale of Entorage? In-laws asking to see the latest vacation photos when you stop by for a visit? Rather be watching those episodes of 24 you need to catch up on instead of CNN in your hotel room? With WebGuide installed on your Media Center, all of this is possible remotely using a web browser and internet connection. And now the WebGuide add-in is free!
Are there any other Media Center services in the offing that you can give us some insight into?
Windows Media Center has a terrific feature called 'Online Media', accessible directly from the start page. This feature promotes new and exciting 3rd party add-on services that are accessible through the Media Center UI and remote control. There are way too many to list here, but I am personally a big fan of the Vongo service which allows for unlimited movie downloads under a flat monthly fee, and the Comedy Central Motherload service, which gives me free, direct access to recent clips from shows I love like The Daily Show and South Park.
Microsoft's Windows Media Center Ultimate Install contest was announced at CEDIA EXPO. How do installers enter, and what are the prizes?
We are very excited to recognize the great work installers are doing today with Windows Media Center. So often I hear installers talk with great pride of their latest residential project incorporating Media Center, and now it is time we crowned one of these projects the Ultimate Install. Entries are due by November 1st; we will be featuring the wining install and will be flying the winner out to Seattle. The entry process, rules, and prizes are detailed at www.microsoft.com/ceinstaller
Scott Evans, Group Manager Microsoft Entertainment and Devices eHome Division
Scott Evans possesses a wide variety of experience in both IT and A/V. His career began in 1997, when he began the first of two summers interning at Microsoft on the Windows team. From 1997 to 1999, the Cincinnati native also worked as a part-time contractor for Microsoft Research University Relations, delivering tech talks on Windows 2000 to faculty and student groups at various universities while completing his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from The Ohio State University. In 1999, he became a full-time Microsoft employee as a Program Manager in Windows, focusing on system management and mobility features. In 2001, Evans jumped from software to hardware, joining Seattle startup Ahaza Systems, where he ran a small team of engineers building IPv6 routers.
Since returning to Microsoft in 2002, Evans has worked directly with consumer electronics companies on several initiatives. As a Microsoft Program Manager in Windows CE, he worked with hardware partners on the Smart Display program to further the convergence of hardware and software in consumer electronics products. In 2004, Evans moved into Microsoft's eHome Division, where he began working on consumer electronics strategy. He participated in the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), a working group of PC and CE companies authoring guidelines for incorporating home networking into A/V products. The DLNA strategy work evolved into the next generation Extender program, Microsoft's mechanism for incorporating Windows Media Center Extender capability into CE devices; he later became a Lead Program Manager for this effort. In 2007, as Extender entered its final stages of development, Evans transitioned to explore new business opportunities in high-end entertainment, and he is now directly addressing the CEDIA channel.
Evans' interest in consumer electronics predates his professional work at Microsoft. He became a self-described "A/V geek" in college, where he spent a good amount of time hanging out at Progressive Audio in Columbus, Ohio. "I remember saving up to have Ken Whitcomb do an ISF calibration on my Toshiba RPTV," he says. From 1998 to 2000, Evans did work for enthusiast magazine Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, as he and two similarly inclined friends rented a house in Seattle and turned it into an A/V review center. "The living room was converted to a completely black room for critical viewing, featuring only one chair in the perfect sweet spot," says Evans. "The dining room was used for DVD player shoot-offs with lab equipment. We even had a secondary theater setup in the kitchen."
Evans has embarked on several international speaking tours. He started a volunteer project at Microsoft focused on inspiring youth through a national robotics competition (http://www.usfirst.org/). Evans has filed 16 patents, nine of which have been issued.
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