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Crestron & Microsoft to Take Media-Centric Automation to ‘Whole New Level’

After Microsoft decided to standardize on Crestron for boardroom automation, the two companies began development on a major home integration initiative.


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Crestron and Microsoft are doing something big together. The two companies are expected to launch some kind of media-centric control platform that will take their offerings "to a whole new level," says Fred Bargetzi, VP of technology for Crestron.

He and Crestron executive VP Randy Klein, however, refused to say just what kind of solution the two companies plan to introduce. They won't divulge their entire plans at CEDIA, but the duo will at least reveal the depth of their partnership, and may hint at their direction.

Crestron has been warming up to Microsoft for years. It started back in 2004 when the company introduced the Isys i/O line of touchpanels running Windows Embedded OS.

Crestron's next generation mobile Web/control interface, the XP-enabled TPMC-8X, introduced in September, 2006, was an even more striking Windows implementation, where Internet functionality was tightly integrated with home controls. For example, a Skype call might trigger a movie to pause and the lights to turn on.

As for Windows Media Center, Crestron demonstrated an automation interface a few years ago, but stopped short of rolling out a formal Media Center-based solution.



What started out as mere standardization on Microsoft platforms, however, has taken Crestron deep into the Microsoft realm. Things really took off when Microsoft decided to standardize on Crestron's RoomView .NET-based resource management system for its thousands of boardrooms around the world.

A deeper relationship between the two companies evolved from that process and now, "We're working with Microsoft to bring solutions into people's homes," Klein says. "Crestron and Microsoft are going to take it to a whole new level."

Again, Crestron won't say what "it" is. We expect at least some kind of clarification at CEDIA, where Crestron will also reveal some equally "industry-changing" initiatives, so they say.

Crestron as Direct OEM



Whatever "it" is, Crestron needed to become a direct OEM partner to do it. Direct OEMs have special access to certain Microsoft-related privileges. We hear the term most often as it applies to CableCard. You need to have a direct OEM relationship with Microsoft to build CableCard capabilities into Media Center computers.

"Quite some time ago, we realized we had to be a direct OEM," says Bargetzi. "If you want to be able to handle DRM [digital rights management] content, you can't build a system without it."

Getting to be a direct OEM provider is an incredibly difficult feat, and only a few of the relatively small PC builders have garnered the status—Niveus, Velocity, and most recently Exceptional Innovation to name a few. A very few!

With Crestron having never built a traditional PC before, and showing little interest in Media Center in the past, the company should have had a particularly difficult time securing a direct OEM partnership.

"It wasn't easy," Bargetzi says, "until we got to the right people."

As it turns out, the right people were thrilled to get Crestron on board. Klein says, "They [Microsoft] recognized that they needed the A/V industry to proliferate, to move their initiatives forward. They looked to us as a leader."

Consequently, Microsoft approved Crestron in record time saying, "We've never done this so fast," as Bargetzi tells it. "Microsoft said: We want Crestron to make a product with Microsoft in it. It's not even about sales. We know you're a leader in this industry."

Again, Crestron won't say what it's doing with Microsoft other than that, "We're working on a technology together, and we're going to bring it out together."

Pure Speculation



So I'll just speculate: Sometime in the near future, we'll probably see a solution in which home automation is an integral part of Media Center. With Vista, Microsoft added some great features that allow developers to "hook" into the Media Center environment.

Some manufacturers have already done a nice job of implementing Media State Aggregation Service (MSAS), which enables a Media Center to respond to different "states," such as the on/off status of a DVD. Pausing a DVD after sunset, for example, could trigger the lights to turn on.

I suspect, however, that Crestron and Microsoft have an even more seamless solution for integration.

I'm hoping, too, that they will have some sort of DRM fix that addresses the limitations of Media Center as a whole-house A/V system. Currently, for example, you can store protected CableCard content on a server, but you can only play it through the Media Center that recorded it. Because DRM has kept many high-end automation players out of the Media Center game, I suspect the issue will play a key role in the ultimate Crestron/Microsoft solution.

While they're at it, perhaps the duo can make Media Center more amenable to whole-house audio in general.

Plus, I bet Crestron will come out with some good user interfaces for Media Center, which is sorely needed. How about some in-wall keypads with Pika (Media Center Extender) technology built in? Perhaps some handheld remotes with SideShow?

And maybe this "thing" that Crestron is doing with Microsoft will allow integrators some leeway to create their own custom interfaces, as Crestron dealers are wont to do.

And, finally, maybe we can obsolete this recent editorial: Media Center’s Identity Crisis: How Vista Undermines the Entertainment Platform




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Article Topics

News · Product News · Home Automation and Control · Media Center · Exclusive · Home Automation · Media Center · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

12 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Ed Tsvik  on  07/31  at  01:24 PM

Julie - I understand there isn’t much more information to provide, but what do you think this means for Life|ware?  Do you suspect this will be a competing product or perhaps a whole new custom Media Center interface?

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/01  at  05:11 AM

One of the chief challenges of selling Media Center-based automation is a lack of understanding of Media Center itself, so the more acceptance of the platform, the better for everyone including EI.

In any case, Exceptional Innovation (Lifeware) is equally connected within Microsoft, and EI has always been focused on Media Center. That’s a pretty big deal.

I don’t know exactly what Crestron is up to so I can’t answer your second question, but it’s a good one. I hope whatever they’re doing is something that benefits the entire Media Center community.

Posted by ControlCode  on  08/01  at  07:48 AM

Well get ready everybody!! Once again these guys are on top of things. While I work at a Crestron house and am not always a fan they always seem to one up everybody. They sat back and let the guys from EI run their course and show people there is an interest and flounder on what they can, or want to do. I’ve questioned what type of company EI is and wants to be. Are they software, as they said they wanted to be in the beginning, or are they hardware? Or are they both? They don’t seem to be geared up for this and that shows in all the product delay on every hardware front.

Now once again guys at Crestron did it again. Sit back, watch the mistakes and then POUNCE. I assure everybody that these guys will have a serious show of product and shock people on how much they have together that does what their dealers want. My sales people here have seen it time and again that when they worry about Crestron looking slow to respond and then…..BAM products that do what they need, work and all the support tied to it. Yeah it hurts me to say this but they have a big machine that knows how to do what it’s doing.

So the question. What does this mean to EI, BIG TROUBLE. We thought with their resources and history of success for the owner they would hit the market hard. But sorry to say from where we are they are behind on all fronts. Product, integration and even people. No doubt they have done a ton. But that doesn’t always mean success into this market. They did Crestron and I would imagine AMX a huge favor. Spend millions on launching, introducing CEDIA market to MCE, introduce Microsoft to more information about CEDIA and allow these two to then jump in when and with what they know their dealers want.

All I can say next is when is the IPO for Crestron? 1 Year, 3 years…....?? If they pull off what we think they might be they then jump into a new level for them and CEDIA automation. While I shouldn’t be I AM SHOCKED that once again competition under estimated what they can do and how fast they can do it.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/01  at  12:37 PM

Big trouble for EI? EI should be delighted. EI has worked very hard to get reluctant integrators to embrace Media Center, and Crestron’s involvement is validation of the platform (assuming that is in fact what Crestron is doing).

It’s good news for all those companies in the custom channel who are selling and supporting MC-related products.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/01  at  12:42 PM

Some people just can’t get it right.

An Australian-based blogger who focuses on home technology read this story and got it completely wrong. I won’t provide the Web address because I don’t want them to get the benefit of the traffic.

Here’s what they said, and they apparently based it on my story.

Title: New Windows MC/OS To Be Launched With Crestron

Wrong.

It now appears that the two Companies have spent the last 12 months developing a new media center standard that will see Microsoft’s media center software embedded into a new suite of Crestron tablet controllers.

Wrong.

It is expected that Crestron will deliver several versions of the controller as well as a Windows development kit that will allow installers and organizations selling into the home automation market to develop custom capabilities.

Wrong.

Posted by Joel Winarske  on  08/01  at  01:14 PM

I imagine Crestron will be implementing media extender code in their touch panels.  As an extension to the Media Server it allows a very flexible UI.  The UI (XAML) file can be modified on the fly.

There is a limitation to the number of HD streams from a Media Center Server.  Two years ago there was also a limit to the number of simultaneous media extenders.  I discussed the matter with the MS Media Center product manager at NAB two years ago.  The concept I was pushing was to allow many media extenders, and implement media extender software on all touch panels.  I still have his card.

A Crestron cable box with content services.  Not sure this would be so great.  Panja tried content services and failed miserably.

Those interested in directions of Media Center check here:
http://blog.mediacentersandbox.com/

Posted by Harald Steindl  on  08/01  at  01:37 PM

Hello Julie!

You stated three big bold “WRONG” statements.
May I kindly ask what knowledge your post is based on? What if one or two or even all three statements turn out to be TRUE?

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/01  at  01:47 PM

Forgive the confusion. What is wrong is that the information came from my story, which was the basis of the article. But there are indeed some false statements in there based on my sources.

Thank you for pointing that out, Harald.

Posted by ControlCode  on  08/01  at  02:16 PM

I understand your position Julie. Sure the corporate line would be “Thrilled” that others are accepting what EI has been pushing so hard. I love your work Julie but I also think the EI team missed the mark so hard and that is why the integration network has been so reluctant. They could get around the MCE issue but when we looked closer at the “nuts and bolts” such as Media Center issues with HP and lack of direct RS-232/relay/IR. Come on if somebody in that team didn’t stand up and scream bloody murder that you can’t attempt to win over dealers and ask them to “Piecemeal” an IR/232 solution with some other company black box??!! Other automation products have come and gone that had more going for it from an engineering value and still failed. We’ve been at this for 20+ years and had our hands on almost all of the new products. If you were going to begin an automation company that has to be one of your top 10 items. No matter how hot you are if you can’t make it easy for this control without being a patch work of boxes, cables and software you’ve done something wrong. But let’s be real…...The last thing they need is one of the entrenched AMX or Crestron to remove some of what makes them so special. That is what is going to happen here if my prediction is accurate.

Yes things are changing with IP, networking, extenders, video streaming etc… But when you look at the business side of the challenge facing the new guys in automation the mountain is HUGE. For dealers to switch, learn, support and risk something so new and in our minds questionable in regards to true revenue and profits it is very tough.

If you look at all the pieces of the puzzle the two big guys have and how they all will “go together” it just get tougher and tougher for these new guys. I remember a sales guy from EI bragging at a recent visit that AMX and Crestron had been having conversations with EI as if there might be some use of EI Lifeware embedded like the others are doing (Monster, Russound etc). WHAT are they smokin’. That sounds like some “party meeting” that would take place back in the heyday of Scott and the gang at AMX.

Don’t get me wrong I think this is great for the industry and ultimately the dealer and clients. But it won’t be great for some of the new automation guys. We feel this kind of move, if what we think it might become, could really place a CAP on the market share they will ever get.

All of this is forgetting the other fact that some of these groups are new and automation is the roughest item in our world. ALSO the fact that AMX and Crestron have been designing HARDWARE and software for years and years is HUGE. I don’t think people are placing as much value in this issue as it really is.

I think Joel is right on and very in tune with what the future needs to be. But here is one for thought….Extenders are one thing but also don’t forget that Crestron also has the backbone of audio/video over Cat5 with hires. If you look at the potential of how the entire line can combine in either setting it makes it very difficult for the competition outside of AMX with Autopatch now.

Oh yeah one more for thought. Very smart and very interesting that you don’t hear anything from the boys at Crestron (OR AMX for that fact) over the past year or so about EI and MCE. Then with CEDIA less than 60 days away this “little” teaser that brings the weight of PR from the 800lb gorilla Microsoft. Like I said we have to give credit where its due…..Watch the buzz and “stuff” this will kick up from now until CEDIA.

Meanwhile is any hardware shipping from EI. Don’t mean to sound crabby. We don’t know and just hear the rumor on the street being not really. Not to bash EI but we hear the same about other new guys like Superna, Savant and the others. Yeah Beta projects are nice but… We predict this CEDIA will be the most revolutionary from large step into IT and AV seeing the serious bridge.

Posted by Mogul  on  08/01  at  10:24 PM

Talk about your odd couples!?

I’ll bet pre-CEDIA news of SONY’s new HDDVD player offering will trump this handily, however.

Oops…Did I let that slip…?

Posted by Gary  on  08/03  at  09:24 PM

Well, I must say it is amazing how a personal opinion such as Julie’s “pure speculation” portion can stir up so much controversy.  It is obvious that Julie is an EI fan which is fine.  The problem is and always will be with the existing Media Center solution is that it is built on a computer platform which has proven over and over that it is not stable.  Did you know that even Microsoft recommends restarting Media Center once per day to ensure proper functionality.  Not the type of thing that you would expect from a product in control of your $3 Million dollar home.  The identity crisis of having every computer shipping with Vista now becoming a Media Center is the challenge for integrators and EI.  There is a performance and quality expectation from the customers who spend the money on Crestron and AMX which can not be satisfied with the current Vista/Media Center platform.  Custom is not in the box that hides behind closed doors, it is in the functionality and interface which provides a unique experience for each of its owners.  Funny how you see a Rolex on the wrists of those with money, not the Citizen with a “Rolex Look”.  I hope that whatever we see plays to the strengths of both Crestron and Microsoft which Vista would certainly not.  Can’t wait to see what is shown at CEDIA.  Maybe then we can get some facts instead of the speculation.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/04  at  05:32 PM

Indeed, off-the-shelf Media Center PCs can be unreliable because they come with so much junkware and are generally optimized for productivity tasks, not media-centric ones.

Therefore, you should reboot every so often, as you would do with your regular PC.

However, Media Centers that are MEANT to be Media Centers SHOULD come optimized for the task.

You are right about that identity crisis thing. (Did you pick that up from my editorial Media Center’s Identity Crisis: How Vista Undermines the Entertainment Platform, or do we just think alike?)

My guess is, Crestron won’t be shipping Media Centers that crash when you’re watching a TV show. Ditto for Russound. Ditto, in fact, for many PC builders who cater to this market.

One reason EI decided to make its own machines is to provide a product optimized not just for Media Center applications but automation as well.

For MC-based automation to work, you must invest in a Media Center built for the task.

For its part, Microsoft is investing heavily in the platform, and in ensuring that it is a reliable, robust solution for entertainment and automation. And, no, they didn’t pay me to say that. I used to doubt their commitment to Media Center. WHat I see behind the scenes suggests they are indeed very committed.

I’m sure every major brand in the custom channel will somehow support MC in the next year or so, whether they build/market their own machines, or simply play nicely with them.

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