Cool Homes
6 Windows Media Center Servers Fuel Texas Home
Convenient audio, video and photo access throughout this massive networked home show why it was the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install winner.
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December 28, 2009 by Julie Jacobson

When you see a freakishly large, automated home in Electronic House, you usually see a very expensive Kaleidescape movie server somewhere—or everywhere.

Not in this 17,000-square-foot Odessa, Texas, home. Instead of a Kaleidescape system, Lubbock, Texas-based integration company Vision Audio specified Windows Media Center PCs. The project won the top prize in the 2009 Windows Media Center Ultimate Install contest, sponsored by the Media Center Integrator Alliance.

“Originally, our bid was for Kaleidescape,” says Vision Audio general manager Dustin Anderson. “But [the homeowners] wanted to add home videos and pictures.”

Kaleidescape does not support content beyond DVDs and CDs, so Vision Audio went with six Pro Series Servers from Niveus. While not exactly cheap—the Niveus Pro Series starts at about $5,000—the products are still less expensive than Kaleidescape, and they offer all manner of digital content and online services.

Media Center gave the homeowners their first taste of Pandora, the free online music service. Now their favorite “radio stations” blast tunes (including their Hindi-language stations) to 30 audio zones.

All of that Media Center capability comes at another price, though. Unlike Kaleidescape, Media Center can be a challenge to configure. “It is definitely more complicated to set up and get working,” says Anderson.

All of the media content in the home is stored on a Niveus Cargo server. The machine uses the Windows Home Server platform for automatically backing up content from the Media Centers, as well as from every other PC in the house. When someone downloads photos onto their own PC, for example, the images automatically find their way into the “My Pictures” folder on the server, ready to be displayed on any TV in the house. There is also Crestron control, with Autonomic Mirage software being the special sauce that integrates WMC content.

How’s it going so far? “It seems to be a very stable platform. It’s working out very nicely,” Anderson says.

What You Can Do with Media Center That You Can’t Do with Most Servers

  • Get up-to-the minute scores and stats on all sports currently airing, and view real-time numbers for your fantasy sports teams.
  • Browse through the entire Netflix library, add movies to your queue and watch instantly.
  • Set the system to record a specific movie, if and when it airs.
  • Watch broadcast news in snippets, according to the criteria you set.
  • Create slideshows and set them to music.
  • Add new (free) applications as they become available.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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