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Exceptional Innovation and Others Advance Media Center Platform at CEDIA

Sep 17, 2007 8:00 AM

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Microsoft set up tent in the Exceptional Innovation (EI) booth at CEDIA this year, surrounded by nearly a dozen third-party providers of Media Center PCs. According to Scott Evans, group manager for Windows Media Center, Microsoft’s presence at this year’s expo reflects custom installers’ increasing support of the Media Center PC platform.

Notably off the floor this year was HP, which changed course earlier this summer and chose to focus efforts on its own MediaSmart TVs, multimedia servers, and extenders.

That left Exceptional Innovation, a software home control company dependent on Media Center, scrambling to come up with a new hardware vendor. The company looked inward and launched its own brand called Life|media. EI came to CEDIA with a dozen models under the Life|media name, starting with the $3,500 LMS-200. The entry-level Windows Media server is due in Q4 and is targeted to smaller installations and single-room applications.

The flagship Life|media LMS-754 ($15,500) packs four HD CableCard tuners, an Intel Core Extreme Quad-Core processor, 4GB DDRAM, and a 4TB hard drive. EI also demoed a Media Center Extender made by D-Link. Up to five extenders can run off a four-card Media Center PC.

Life|media PCs were joined by Niveus Media as the first companies to offer quad-CableCard versions of Microsoft Media Center PCs. According to Evans, only the CEDIA channel currently has the expertise to handle the four-card PCs, which can be more difficult to set up and manage than the current dual-CableCard versions in the market.

HP’s withdrawal from the Microsoft Media Center PC platform left holes that various smaller brand companies are hoping to fill. Eleven PC companies showed Media Center PC products at CEDIA, showing various applications and styles designed to appeal to different factions of the custom market.

Alienware showed models designed for gamers, home control company Crestron announced it would become a Media Center PC supplier in 2008; Moneval showed designer-type, tube-shaped PCs; and Russound took the wraps off a Media Center console that integrates with the company’s distributed audio system.

On the software side, Exceptional Innovation debuted Life|amenities, a concierge amenities program for installers working in the multi-dwelling unit market. The program integrates building and local services into the Lifeware user interface. From the same GUI, users can select music and record TV programs as well as make restaurant reservations, spa appointments, and tee times; buy movie tickets; and interface with the building manager.

According to Mike Seamons, vice president of marketing for EI's Lifeware, the company wants to expand beyond the typical single system profile of the custom industry. EI sees big opportunity in the MDU market, which Seamons cites as the fastest growing segment of the custom business. Netting an MDU contract brings in 300 to 400 units at a time, he says, since a technology contract typically goes to a single provider. EI is also targeting the hotel industry with the Life|amenities product.

EI is building out the partner program now, Seamons says, and will announce partners at CES. Business models will include monthly homeowner association fees, capital expense structures, and residential maintenance fees.

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