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5 Reasons Windows 7 is Good for Installers

Windows 7 release will lead to more competition, more integration with A/V components, more automation functionality, more system design options and more revenue for CE pros.

With the launch of Windows Vista in 2007, Microsoft took an incremental step towards creating a platform custom installers could use as a base for everything from home automation to media distribution.

Vista was met with positive reviews, but it failed to deliver in areas that were beneficial to custom installers.

With the official release of Windows 7, this could mean the start of a revived movement towards Media Center-based products.

Here are five reasons Windows 7 is good for installers.

Competition is Good for Bottom Line

Microsoft has opened up Cable Card support to all system builders. This means CE pros won’t be stuck paying a premium for a Cable Card-equipped systems. By doing a little searching, chances are you can find an OEM system builder in your area willing to design and sell you a Media Center at a fraction of what the “big boys” charge.

While ‘White Glove’ vendors do provide an extended level of service and support, such as training, the benefit of a local supplier is in the speed and accessibility of support when it is needed. Don’t be surprised to see a whole new generation of Media Center builders popping up in the coming months.

As for the features, the new Guide and Record features in Windows 7 are a nice improvement over Vista. And the ability to move Cable Card HDTV recordings between Media Center systems is smooth and long awaited.

Automation Options Still Plentiful

The real benefit of a Media Center installation is the ability to control multiple aspects of the users experience through a single portal or GUI.

By installing third-party applications such as the ones available from Exceptional Innovation, Autonomic Home, Embedded Automation, or Cortexa, installers can expand the functionality of any system and boost margins substantially while reducing the number of components that require support.

Improved Netflix Integration, Internet TV

Netflix has also pumped out a new GUI for its streaming movie services to coincide with the Windows 7 launch. Combined with CinemaNow, which will be offering 3D content in the future, and Blockbuster’s movie services, a Windows 7 Media Center is the most complete and full-featured content delivery platform on the market.

If you did not get a chance to play with the Internet TV features in Windows Vista, you owe it to yourself to check it out on Windows 7. With an expanded catalog, users can access content such as CBS TV or even concerts. And, of course, you can always access Hulu, which might start charging users to view content, from a Windows 7 system.

Blu-ray & Catalog Integration

While early Vista Media Center systems could leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth when it came to Blu-ray playback, today’s DirectX 11-capable video cards and third-generation Blu-ray playback software are nearly bulletproof. Add in the ability to catalog (albeit controversially) your movies, including Blu-ray, using applications such as My Movies or AnyDVD and you’ve got an all-in-one entertainment machine.

Groundbreaking Integration with Other Components

In August, Onkyo announced three Windows 7-ready amplifiers (TX-NR1007, TX-NR3007, and top-of-the-line TX-NR5007) that have built in a tremendous level of codec support, giving users the ability to stream audio from their PC directly to a 9-channel amp via the network.

If this is a sign of things to come, CE pros can expect improved compatibility, connectivity, and usability as more products begin to communicate openly over the home network.

Microsoft Windows 7
5 Reasons Windows 7 is Good for Installers
Windows 7 will lead to more competition, more integration with A/V components, more automation functionality, more system design options and more revenue.
Windows 7 Launch Party: CE Pros Gone Wild
With all that hootin' and hollerin' over Windows 7, we wonder how these guys can call themselves pros!
10 Useful Add-Ons for Windows 7
Add Hulu to Windows Media Center, tweak hard-to-find settings and more."
Stream HBO Over Internet with FiOS, Windows 7
Windows 7 support for Copy Freely, coupled with Verizon FiOS's generous content protection scheme, enables Windows Media Center to stream premium content over the home network or the Internet.
Hands On: Windows 7 With 'Copy Freely' Support
In the past, you could not share CableCard content -- even non-protected content -- from a Windows Media Center PC; now you can (and skip commercials, too!).
Microsoft: Add Own CableCard, Switched Digital Video, Copy Freely
Microsoft at CEDIA Expo 2009: Easy to add digital cable tuners (DCTs) to any Win 7 machine, fixes for switched digital video, and the ability to copy freely for tagged content.

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Article Topics

News · Networking · Software · Networking · Media Center · All topics

About the Author

Arash Marzban
Arash Marzan is with Inovix, Inc., an IT consulting firm based in Addison, Texas.

10 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by AccessNetworks  on  10/28  at  11:13 PM

One reason its not good for installers: first time it blue-screens on the end user and guess who has to fix it (for free)?

Posted by Tim Cutting  on  10/29  at  11:58 AM

I really hope the article is referring to large multinational companies with its “big boys” reference, and not smaller CEDIA focused companies like Niveus and S1Digital. If CE Pro is suggesting custom installers go to the local “white box” PC manufacturer to build them a media center, then I think they are really missing the value a “CEDIA Friendly” Windows 7 Media Server Company brings. CEDIA Friendly manufacturers focus on engineering differentiated solutions, developing software and hardware technologies that allow for a custom solution, as well as provide the business support required by an integrator, such as profit $$$, advanced support, and often, a voice back into the Microsoft organization. From what I’ve seen of white box builders… there is no voice back into Microsoft, amateur support techniques, almost ZERO profit margin, and ZERO proprietary component add-ons. One is basically purchasing something they could have cobbled together themselves. Honestly, do custom installers approach any other product category they carry that way? Do custom installers really want to be deploying white label products in customers’ homes?

My point in writing this is a call to action to CE Pro, and others in the custom install channel. This channel faces many challenges ahead, both economic and one of being relevant in an IP world. If this channel is going to survive, it needs to focus on supporting its own ecosystem. Manufacturers need to continue to reinvent themselves to be relevant to the integrators in this channel, and the integrators need to focus on “CEDIA Friendly” manufacturers. We need to support the marketing engines of this channel, as well as the training organizations that support this channel.

So just as I would’t recommend dropping CE Pro for some mainstream product magazine or blog, I don’t recommend integrators drop support of their CEDIA Friendly manufacturers for a white box local PC builders that doesn’t know your business smile

Posted by Danny Noonan  on  10/29  at  12:51 PM

I think you’ve missed a big one – Native Support for non-DRM protected Apple iTunes Plus music in Windows Media Player 12 (and hence Windows 7 Media Center). It’s hard to find a manufacturer that builds products for the custom install channel that has not done something to try and support the proliferation of iTunes, iPhones & iPods.  While it hasn’t been widely publicized, AAC files are now supported in WMP 12 allowing integrators to tackle what was previously a significant compatibility challenge when selling a Windows Media Center solution to an ‘Apple family’ who had made an investment in an iTunes library. With Windows 7, music purchased with iTunes can now be seamlessly integrated with the rest of a family’s music content in the ‘Music’ section of Media Center. Big win for integrators selling the Media Center platform!

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  10/29  at  04:57 PM

Tim, I certainly agree with you. The level of support I’ve received from my own vendor, S1Digital has been nothing short of spectacular—and not because they knew who I was. And they could help me with aspects of my whole-house system, not just the part that was theirs. I know Niveus and similar channel-friendly vendors provide similar service.

Also, I’ll have to disagree with the author about Internet TV on Win 7. There are barely any full episodes in the guide, but a ton of clips. Who watches those? And Hulu isn’t seamlessly integrated—there is simply a kludgy fix.

I’m sure the content will improve down the line.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  10/29  at  05:46 PM

Danny, are you an integrator? If so, can you please shoot me an email? jjacobson at ehpub dot com. Thanks

Posted by MCE INTEGRATOR  on  10/31  at  11:48 AM

Kudos to companies like Niveus, S1Digital, E.I. and others.  We owe a lot to their hard work and dedication.  They’ve spent a lot of money (as well as those that purchased their expensive computers) in order to be a beta tester for Microsoft’s cable card experiment.  They are pioneers in the media center realm of our industry.  I’m one from a small group, which believes someday Microsoft will rule this industry, though I think we have some years to go.  Microsoft media center is compelling because of its advanced features, open platform, and potential to be a low cost powerhouse. (Yes it is an open platform when you make comparisons).  Windows 7 finally has a lot of great features we’ve been waiting a long time for.  The downside is Microsoft is still a bit off, and they seem to work at their own snail pace. We’ve still yet to benefit from this new announcement of cable card availability and we’ve been sitting on the satellite announcement for years now.  Julie is right, when cable card becomes available to the general public; prices are going to slide drastically.  While Tim makes some compelling arguments as to why you should buy one of his Niveus computers, I just can’t justify the extra thousands to get some of the same features you can find in My Movies 3.  Having completed many Media Center installations, experience and knowledge of computer hardware and the Windows O.S. is a must.  If you’re not willing to go through the learning curve, you can bypass most of these problems by using a custom computer builder like Niveus and the like.

Posted by Tim Cutting  on  10/31  at  01:25 PM

It’s definitely been frustrating to see Cable Card launch in Vista with some many issues out of the gates. I think its fair to say that the fragmentation in the Cable Industry was a challenge Microsoft was not up for at Vista’s launch. Creating a solution on the television platform of a reluctant partner (Cable MSOs) proved to be more of a challenge than anyone anticipated. Add to that the lack of Copy Freely… Vista + Cable Card was not easy for us, nor for our dealers. I don’t think anyone is arguing the road behind us has been tough, I think the invite is for dealers to take a fresh start on Windows 7. Just like Niveus has beta tested Windows 7 over the past year, dealers should always beta test their own solutions as well. We invite dealers try out Windows 7 and see for themselves whether Windows 7 is up to the challenge of their up coming projects.

I think MCE INTEGRATOR is correct, dealers have a choice… you can either become a manufacturer and build your own systems OR stay an integrator and work with manufacturers for your product portfolio. I’m not making an argument for purchasing Niveus systems, I’m making an argument for focusing on integration, and let the manufacturers focus on building product and supporting it. Dealers that go with a mature media center manufacturer bring a 2nd tier of support & expertise into their jobs, and a partner on the platform. An example would be that MCE INTEGRATOR mentions that the Cable Card updates are still not available… that may be so for the general public, but Niveus Dealers have had access to Cable Card Updates for as long as Niveus has been approved for re-distribution. Manufactures have the ability to make their dealers “insiders”.

Regarding price, I actually believe prices will remain the same as they currently are. Pricing for a CEDIA manufacturer is usually a simple formula… cost of materials + Dealer Margin + Manufacturer Margin. There is no decrease in cost due to the Windows 7 non-OEM requirement to build a Cable Card system. ATI/AMD are expected to keep prices in line with historical pricing. The only way for prices to come down is to lower or eliminate dealer or manufacturer margin. I’ve already commented on the cons of eliminating the manufacturer, I’m sure Dealers would be eager in this economy to lower or eliminate their profit $$$. I believe pricing will remain relatively the same.

Julie, thanks for the post. I also agree with you on Internet TV. It’s in its infancy, and can only improve over time. Personally I’m using the Hulu Desktop with the Media Center Start Menu Hack. It’s a quick and easy way to get at shows you missed or didn’t record. Hopefully in the future we can eliminate the “hack” part of the integration.

To all reading, I’m starting to write these posts to get the dialogue going. Both Julie, and MCE INTEGRATOR, are knowledgeable about Windows 7, and are figuring out how it can help and support the Custom Install business. As MCE INTEGRATOR states, Windows is slowly winding its way through the product fabric that makes up this industry. Every integrator in this industry should consider Windows 7 a fresh start on the platform, and should begin to evaluate how Windows 7 will play a role in their installs over the next year.

Posted by Tim Cutting  on  10/31  at  01:27 PM

Oh, and to Danny Noonan…. aren’t you the kid from Caddyshack?

Posted by Paul Heitlinger  on  11/01  at  01:59 PM

Just thought I’d chime in here too. You can always build your own. Not all of our dealers (I’m with S1Digital) purchased one of our Media Centers only to watch TV (although a lot do). They purchased from us because they don’t want a cheap, DIY system with off the shelf components. They could have been doing that for years with My Movies.

They purchase from us (and Niveus, et al) because they want to focus on selling, installing and providing the customer relationships. They don’t want to be manufacturers for a complex product like Windows; they want the manufacturer to do what they do well, while the dealer can concentrate on what they do well.

If dealers/installers want to take on a manufacturing role on top of everything else they do, then that’s great, and I’m sure a lot of dealers will do that. But if you want to continue providing top notch sales, service and support to customers and let organizations that have the resources, developers and relationships with Microsoft and hardware vendors to ensure the best in class media servers, then there will be a place for us too.

Like Tim said, I don’t think this will reduce the price of media centers from existing media center OEMs (you have always been able to purchase lower priced PCs with CableCard tuners) because we’re still working on bringing the best solutions to market and want to ensure resellers continue to make their margins.

Just my 2c.

Posted by MCE INTEGRATOR  on  11/02  at  12:15 AM

I don’t want to take this thread too far off course.  Tim and Paul have great points. You have to understand where I come from.  My company has built our own machines, with the exception of cable card computers.  We feel comfortable with the process, and have had great results. (at a significantly lower price) A majority of our installations are remote homes that lack the option of cable; therefore we haven’t had a problem with building our own.  In the few installations requiring cable card we have purchased our computers from a cable card certified builder at a significantly higher cost than what we build ours for.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand the higher cost for the computers. In order to be cable card certified you had to pay a chunk of change for that certification, and in order to make that investment back up you have to charge more for your computers.  You also have to cover the costs of service and warranty, and your custom sexy cases.  When pci cable card parts become available to the general public and the barrier to entry is lifted, there is no way the prices can’t go down.  Paul commented on low cost machines always being available, which is true if you don’t mind a desktop form factor and a single cable card.  With this being said, I’m not trying to take away what a good CE computer manufacture can offer, especially by way of experience, expertise, service and margin.  It seems a lot of integrators are terrified of integrating a computer into their installations.  You have to consider that you’re taking a Microsoft operating system that is designed to be so generic as to work with hundreds of thousands of different fields, and you’re customizing it to become a reliable dedicated appliance in your living room.  If you don’t know what you’re doing you can run into problems that could have easily been solved by going with someone who knows what they are doing i.e. a manufacture that can turn this complicated computer into a simple dedicated CE device.  This is where the Niveus and S1digitals of the world come into play, but it will cost a premium.

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