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January 13, 2011

CES brings wave of connected media devices thanks to Windows Media Center in Windows Embedded 7

Most consumers may not know what Windows Embedded is, although many of you have interacted with it somewhere along the line. Windows Embedded is a componentized version of the OS that we offer to manufacturers who can then optimize it for use in specialized devices. It runs everything from automotive systems to retail point of sale machines, digital signage and industrial equipment.

So last April, when it was announced that the latest version – Window Embedded Standard 7 – included the Windows Media Center feature, not too many consumers took notice. Over on, however, our enthusiast community certainly did.

With Windows Media Center as a key feature of Windows Embedded, manufacturers can now design set-top boxes and other fit-for-purpose devices that provide the Windows Media Center experience directly out of the box. A product like that has the potential to bring all sorts of content together into one crisp, living room friendly experience. For consumers this means that with one box, you can access Internet-based content, social media, broadcast TV, as well your own pictures, music and movies, but without the set-up, planning and system building that has marked Windows Media Center adoption to date.

Sure enough, last week at CES we saw the first wave of such products from the likes of Haier, Reycom, Prime Time, Acer Gateway and Evolve, all of whom are using WES7 to do innovative things with connected media devices and set-top boxes, creating a centralized hub for your entertainment experiences.

The first box we can anticipate seeing in the US may well come from Swiss company Reycom, which plans to bring its REC 100 set-top box to the US in the first quarter of this year. The unit sports dual ATSC tuners for HD over-the-air TV, and has a BluRay player option. (Pricing and availability details are still being determined.)


Above: A new set-top box: Reycom’s REC100 is expected to arrive in the US in Q1, 2011.

I was also excited to see the embedded offerings from the UK’s Evolve Media, in part because I had a chance to check out their media servers and take in a presentation by Evolve’s David Simpson on best practices for building a great HTPC this past June at the UK Windows Media Center-Windows Home Server Meet up. Evolve makes absolutely beautiful machines, so I’m excited to see them now working with Embedded.

Haier also piqued enthusiasts’ interest with a TV that has Windows Media Center built in. Michael “Mikinho” Welter, one of our Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVPs, checked it out for Missing Remote.  Missing Remote’s Mike Garcen (also an MVP!)  provided this summary of HTPC-news from CES, here.

A preview of a unit from Acer Gateway got a lot of attention because it was rocking a CableCARD™ tuner from Ceton that supports up to six streams of HD broadcast content. Ian Dixon, another Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP, checked it out on video, here, and got a good look at some other embedded devices, here. Ian’s CES coverage is always must-see, must-read for an enthusiast.

And speaking of CableCARD™, CES was also the first time we saw folks get hands-on with the forthcoming HDHomeRun Prime, a networked CableCARD tuner from Silicondust that supports three streams of channel tuning goodness.

So while many of you may not have heard of Windows Embedded before, the coming year looks to offer some great connected media products for you to check out. One last note for those of you who are aspiring system builders – you can check out the preview version of Windows Embedded 7 SP1, here.