IN JANUARY, AT THE INTERNATIONAL Builders' Show, home builders got a first glimpse of how Microsoft's new platform for home entertainment and home control, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, could very well become a strong force in the home building industry.

The large software maker had its latest goodies on display at the NextGen Demonstration Home, where it showed how its new computer—the Media Center PC—lets homeowners watch and record TV shows; download digital, audio, and video files; store and present digital photos and home videos; and play and burn CDs and DVDs—all from a single remote. Media Center users can also run standard Microsoft Office applications, browse the Web, and send and receive e-mail.

These special PCs have been shipping for several months. But of great interest to home builders is Media Center Edition's home control icon—My Home—a link that potentially can be a platform for managing a broad range of lighting, security, HVAC systems, and appliances.

“Microsoft aims to make Media Center the platform that will bring home automation to the mass market,” says Leila Toplic, digital home manager in Microsoft's Windows Consumer Group.

Toplic says Media Center PCs are available from major computer manufacturers for less than $800, although models best suited for home automation typically sell for about $1,400. Computers geared to run higher-end home entertainment and automation features sell for around $2,000, but that's still several thousand dollars below many of the available media servers.

HOME CONTROL: Home buyers can now access HAI's security, temperature, and lighting applications through Microsoft's new Media Center PC and operating system.
HOME CONTROL: Home buyers can now access HAI's security, temperature, and lighting applications through Microsoft's new Media Center PC and operating system.

At the show, Microsoft demonstrated several collaborations with other home control–oriented businesses. Westerville, Ohio, software company Exceptional Innovation, which makes LifeWare, offers software that integrates home control applications into Media Center and that delivers distributed audio. New Orleans–based HAI integrates lighting, security, and HVAC. And TMIO, a maker of digital ovens based in Cleveland, displayed an oven that can be managed via Media Center on LCD panels placed throughout the home or on a TV screen.

Exceptional Innovation showed how LifeWare is compatible with Lutron lighting, GE Security systems, Aprilaire climate controls, Axis security cameras, and NetStream's audio systems. The plan, says Mike Seamons, vice president of sales and marketing at Exceptional Innovation, is for Life-Ware to also be compatible with prevailing home-control standards such as Z-Wave and ZigBee.

“Our goal is to support a large variety of hardware partners,” says Seamons, who points out that LifeWare will ship in the second quarter of this year and be marketed to builders through low-voltage contractors.

Jay McLellan, president of HAI, says the home-control company adapted its Web Link interface to Windows Media Center for lighting, temperature, and security products.

“We try to make HAI work with the most popular items,” says McLellan, who adds that HAI sells primarily through custom installers.

“First, it was cell phones, then it was Web Link for the Internet, and now, it's Windows Media Center,” says McLellan, who explains that the PC is ideal for home entertainment and control systems because they are easy to swap out.

Builders can also get Microsoft's Media Center technology before their customers through partnerships with national retailers such as CompUSA and Best Buy. Both retailers have been working closely with builders for several months and see increased opportunity to sell home technology with the advent of Microsoft's push into home entertainment and automation.

For more information on Media Center, visit

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Cleveland, OH.