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Technology Convergence Takes Center Stage at CES

Feb 5, 2007 12:00 PM

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Convergence took center stage at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as manufacturers from the PC, custom installation, and consumer electronics industries stepped beyond their traditional product lines to target emerging market opportunities.

Russound celebrated its 40th anniversary by taking the wraps off a Media Center (MCE) product the company plans to launch in June. In a private suite off-site, Russound Vice President Jeff Kussard told reporters the move is pre-emptive as more computer companies target the coveted high-margin custom electronics market.

The Russound Smart Media Consoles will differ from Vista-based Windows Media Center PCs in design and build. “Russound SMCs are designed and built to fulfill the expectations of residential systems installation contractors who know the Russound brand,” Kussard said.

The company didn’t release supplier information, but Kussard said Russound is addressing normal concerns of operating system stability and vulnerability of homeowners’ data in unique ways. “Nobody wants to lose or be responsible for losing the family photo album,” he said. To reassure dealers, he said, “We are also implementing designs specifically intended to minimize and simplify any required service support.”

At the same time, improvements in PC technology make now an opportune time for Russound to enter the market. “Recent evolutions in technologies and standards like UPnP, DLNA, [Intel] ViiV, and the latest evolution of Microsoft MCE in Vista bring us to believe that the PC is mature enough for Russound to support the platform and keep with our profile for product reliability, serviceability, and consumer satisfaction,” Kussard said.

Despite the influx of Media Center PCs even from traditional custom electronics companies, Kussard doesn’t believe products like the Smart Media Console will replace the standalone music and video server in the custom channel because too many consumers prefer systems architectures consisting of devices with dedicated functionality. “We don’t expect the dedicated media server category to erode in any meaningful way.”

Target price points for the Smart Media Consoles are $7,000, $4,000, and $2,500, the company says. The PCs will be offered with Exceptional Innovations Life|ware bundles as options.

Niveus Media showed an add-on dual-tuner Digital Cable Receiver for its line of high-end media servers. By upgrading Niveus Media Centers to the Vista operating system, Niveus customers who purchase the CableCard-based Digital Cable Receiver will be able to view and record two premium HD cable channels simultaneously. Previously, MCE PC customers were restricted to recording HD from off-air antenna only. Niveus Media Centers range from $3,499-$14,999. Niveus also threw its support behind the HD-DVD format at CES.

HP gave journalists a peek at a new home server product designed to supplement the family PC. The server would help a family manage and store its digital content and provide access to that content from outside the home. Family members could tap into the networked device from outside the home, and friends and relatives could access photos, for example, directly from the server without having to go through a photo-sharing site.

HP Media Center PCs are central to Exceptional Innovations’ recently announced retail offering, a $15,000 package sold by Best Buy’s custom division that includes the Life|ware control software. Mike Seamons, VP of marketing for Exceptional Innovations, said the package is limited in scope to allow for a simple one-day installation. The Best Buy package is not expandable compared with the line for the custom installation channel, which includes more control features and a virtually unlimited number of modules and scenes. The $14,999 tag for the Best Buy ConnectedLife.Home package includes a $3,000 licensing fee for Life|ware software, $200 support fee, and installation.

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