Media Center Convert Enjoys Array of Options
A Lifeware media server runs this Clearwater household, providing a vast array of entertainment options to the family and offering a way to control the lights, security system, thermostats and surveillance cameras with the click of a mouse or handheld remote.
With 12 audio zones and access points including touch panels, Xbox 360's, TVs, and even an Ultra-Mobile PC, this home features the best of Windows Media Center.
Keith Clearwater was not what you’d call a huge fan of Microsoft Windows. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the operating system; he had just never really felt the need to use it. “He was pretty much an Apple user,” relates Tyler Jennings of Imperium Smart Systems, the Pleasant Grove, UT, firm hired by Keith to add a whole-house entertainment system to his 8,500-square-foot abode. But that was before Keith saw Windows Media Center in action. “When we showed him how easy and clean the Media Center interface was, he was ready to convert,” says Jennings.
“Until Media Center, I had never run across an offering that could organize all of my entertainment content and would be easy enough for my entire family to use,” Keith acknowledges. There was just one issue: Media Center is an operating system that traditionally runs on a Microsoft Vista PC, a setup that would have required the six members of the Clearwater family to huddle around a tiny computer monitor to hear a song, watch a movie or view family vacation photos. “A better solution for our family would be one that would let us access the content from anywhere in the house,” explains Keith. Ready to extend the reach of Media Center to several individual entertainment areas, he and his wife, Sue, hooked up with local home systems installation firm Imperium Smart Systems. The result would be an entertainment-rich network where every TV screen could function as a Media Center navigation menu. Using a handheld remote, the family would be able to scroll through their music, video and photo collections as easily as they were able to navigate using the mouse on their family computer. And here’s the best part: Whatever the family chose to watch or listen to would be delivered directly to the appropriate TV screen and room speakers. “The system is smart enough to recognize where you are,” says Jennings, “and send the entertainment there automatically.”
Content Is King
Entertainment options run the gamut in the Clearwater household. For starters, there are the hundreds of CDs that were ripped onto the hard drive of the family’s new Lifeware media server, a machine developed by Exceptional Innovation to work with Microsoft Windows Media Center. The 2-terabyte hard drive also holds personal videos and digital photos. The Clearwaters can also use the Media Center interface to access TV shows stored on the Media Center digital video recorder, DVDs loaded in a Sony megachanger, tunes stashed on an iPod, or anything stored on or plugged into one of two Media Center PCs. “My music choices are through the roof,” says Keith. “And all the options are right at my fingertips. It’s the ultimate toy, and I’m the biggest kid in the house.” Keith, Sue and the kids can also tap into a Russound whole-house audio distribution system to hear AM/FM radio and cable stations in any of 12 independent listening zones. Because the Russound system is tied to the Lifeware server, the Clearwaters can use the Media Center navigation screen to select which zones to have the music sent to.
The Lifeware media server has unlocked other conveniences for the family as well. For instance, while one server handles the entertainment, another automates the lights, thermostats and other devices. The dedicated Lifeware home control server displays a similar Media Center–style interface on the Clearwaters’ TV screens. “We just click on the lifeware icon, and we’re in control of our house,” explains Keith. Using a handheld remote to navigate the control menu, the family can operate their Insteon light fixtures, DSC security system and Aprilaire thermostats. Engaging the camera icon displays images from three surveillance cameras on the TV screen.
To make things even easier for the family, Imperium Smart Systems programmed several scenes into the Lifeware software. These scenes allow the Clearwaters to command multiple devices by clicking on just one button on the Media Center interface. A particularly useful scene to the frequently traveling Clearwaters is goodbye. That command arms the security system, turns off the lights, and sets each thermostat to an energy-saving mode. When they’re hanging out at home with friends, entertain can gussy up the house in seconds, piping songs from a preselected CD at a preset volume level to every speaker, turning on lights in the main living areas, and adjusting the settings of the thermostats.
Critical to the Clearwaters’ whole-house Media Center setup are Media Center extenders. Without them, DVR recordings and music, movies, and photos stored on the Lifeware media server would never be able to travel to multiple TVs and computers. As long as a display has a Media Center extender plugged into it, it can receive anything on the Media Center entertainment network. In the Clearwaters’ case, the Media Center extenders take the form of Xbox 360 gaming consoles. Given the ages of the Clearwater children—22, 19, 14 and 13—having an Xbox on every TV has turned out to be an added bonus for the family. “We can play the same game on every TV,” explains Keith. “It’s such a fun way to play that my son’s Boy Scout troop will be holding a housewide video competition here in a few days.” The Clearwaters’ system was also recently named the winner of the Microsoft Ultimate Install Contest. Selected from entries nationwide, it’s a badge of honor the whole family can be proud of.
Imperium Smart Systems
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Pleasant Grove, UT