Ballmer Sees 'Good' Home Opportunities For Solution Providers

Microsoft chairman and CEO Steve Ballmer said he expects the home networking opportunity to be "pretty good for VARs over time." Microsoft, he added, is still trying to figure out how it will structure a channel program to attack the emerging segment. He expects consumers to pay solution providers between $80-$120 an hour to help install and integrate the wide range of digital network technologies.

"It's a growing opportunity and how we work with the channel and channel entities is still somewhat up in the air," he said.

Meanwhile, vendors such as ViewSonic, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Dell showcased new products at the Media Center 2004 launch.

ViewSonic, for instance, is developing a digital home system integrator channel program scheduled for launch later this year, said Donna Ogilvie, director of business development ViewSonic's Advanced Technology Group. Program details were not available.

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"We're going to focus on the systems integrators who are installing networks and additional PCs in the home," she said.

As part of the Microsoft launch, ViewSonic announced its new Media Center M2100 PC with video inputs on front of the system to allow easy connection to cable set top or satellite boxes. Part of the company's NextVision M Series of digital media and entertainment solution bundles, the system, priced at $1,599, also includes digital audio 5:1 surround sound.

Industry executives who attended the launch said the second generation of Microsoft's media center software is a dramatic step up from the first generation. Among the improvements are easier DVD storage and recording capabilities.

HP at the launch also announced new additions to its home entertainment PC line, including the HP Media Center zd7000 widescreen, wireless notebook and the Media Center m300 Photosmart desktop, which includes FM radio reception and ability to print photos directly from a remote control. The desktop also accepts an integrated camera dock, sold separately.

Kevin Frost, vice president of mobile marketing and business planning for Hewlett-Packard's mobile notebook business unit, foresees a new wave of home solutions being powered by TiVo-like digital recording capabilities now available through Windows XP Media Center.