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Media Center Integrator Alliance Debuts at CEDIA Expo 2008

Oct 6, 2008 12:00 PM, By Rebecca Day


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Seeking to enlarge the reach of the Media Center in the custom installation world, Microsoft has spearheaded the formation of the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA). According to the charter of the alliance, which made its debut at CEDIA Expo last month, MCIA will offer the industry a central point of contact and interaction for all things related to the Media Center platform. A goal of MCIA is to offer installers and manufacturers opportunities to benefit from the best practices, education tools, and certification programs established through the alliance.

Heading up MCIA is Kevin Collins, director of the custom-installation channel at Microsoft, who says the organization was formed at this time to build on the momentum gained in the Media Center arena over the past year. He cited Microsoft’s Ultimate Home contest, which drew entries from the custom install world, along with the expansion of Media Center PCs to include up to eight CableCard tuners and 10 Media Center Extenders. The boost in source/zone capability positions Media Center servers to be the center of a comprehensive whole-house electronics system versus last year’s high-end Media Center PCs that maxed out at four CableCard tuners and five extenders.

Collins cited a scene in the Ultimate Home contest’s winning home that integrated Lutron shade and light operation with the control of a fountain in an outdoor Zen garden. “Normally you’d see that in a Crestron system,” he says. “It’s not that you have all this happening in a scene that’s new. It’s that it’s integrated with the whole Media Center UI." The home also featured an IP-enabled door strike that enables homeowners to unlock the door when arriving guests are viewed via a networked surveillance camera. “That’s the stuff from last year to this year that’s painting the story of how the ecosystem is growing,” he says.

Microsoft hopes alliance members—manufacturers and installers—will pool knowledge to tackle installation issues in the areas of CableCard, networking, operating efficiency and more.

“By ourselves we can’t take the flag and make it an easy system for all the custom installers out there so we brought in AMD which owns ATI, the largest digital CableCard producer,” Collins says. “One of the biggest challenges for custom installers is doing CableCard installations. You can get it done but it is a time-consuming, frustrating process when you’re dealing with the cable company and having multiple CableCards coming in. Niveus Media is known for having the best training program out there and there are still issues they encounter in the field.”

Collins pointed to a copy of CEDIA’s Electronic Lifestyles publication and predicted, “Five years from now, 50-60 percent of these installs will be from the Media Center ecosystem rather than 5 percent. Because the whole ecosystem is compelling enough, economical enough, and easy enough to install, it’s something installers will be more interested in doing.”

He cited booths on the CEDIA show floor that used Media Center PCs to control their demos as evidence of how far Media Center has come in the custom world. “On the show floor you see 2-channel speaker companies demoing speakers through Media Center and there are tons of other companies showing digital content through Media Center. That’s why we feel that having this integration is going to bring in more installers interested in doing this.”

The membership fee for MCIA is $500 annually. Initial memberships will extend for 15 months while the organization ramps up. Initially, MCIA will hold training and education events at established events like CEDIA and EH Expo. As it grows, the alliance could hold its own events regionally, Collins says. There are no criteria for installer membership. “If you’re going to join, we’re going to believe you’re a custom installer, but we’re not doing any credential checking to verify if you’re a CEDIA member,” he said. “I can’t think anyone would spend $500 if they’re not laser-focused on how to make the Media Center ecosystem work for their business.”

The founding members and board of directors of MCIA include Gabe Gravning of AMD, Fred Bargetzi of Crestron, Ameer Karim of HP Greg Schlechter of Intel, Seale Moorer of Life|ware, Kevin Collins of Microsoft, and Brian Paper of Niveus. According to Paper: “The Alliance offers the opportunity for unified information. There might be some things that Niveus has learned from our experience that may or may not align with the others. So this allows us that forum to put our heads together and figure out what really is the best practice and send the same message out to the integrators.”



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