QandA: Axonix's President On The Failure Of Media Center PCs

DC: How is IT technology changing the commercial and residential A/V installation markets?

KIHM: The IT market has four areas that are slowly melding into the A/V market. First with LAN protocols. Ethernet, wireless, WiFi are now being effectively applied to the A/V market to distribute media, instead of using traditional structured wiring, such as setting up a TV to coax [cable], or setting up analog music and wiring. It's all going digital. That's the first major obvious trend. What that means is once it all goes to digital and you have a common set of wiring, and all of the media is in digital form like movies, mpeg, what that does is it simplifies everything. The whole market is going towards simpler, cheaper more reliable methods of distributing media. The end result we're seeing in certain products out there, is they have true digital distributed audio, and you end up with a much lower power loss over lines, because you're doing it all digital at the tranducer.

In displays it's all digital. The industry is going to the HDMI framework for digital media, which includes DRM. Once it's all digital and you have a common method for wiring devices, you can do it in a distributed setup. Devices can be either centrally located or distributed. That's how we provide our products. [Customers] can choose either putting client playback devices in a central location or distributed, so it gives you a lot of flexibility

Second, the Internet. Everything in my opinion will be Internet centric. There's no choice, it's a much more cost effective way to distributed media in terms of purchasing and licensing media. It's a function of time. Once the bandwidth catches up to the demands of the consumer, eventually it will be all over the Internet, in 20 or 30 years. Instead of the traditional A/V method of loading media, via a CD or DVD, you will just get online, via Rhapsody, iTunes. You purchase your media, and it melds into some really cool features that only the Web can provide, exciting new utilities and Web services, such as not only being able to instantly get whatever content you want, but you have Web services that personalize Internet radio stations. This is only being provided over the Web. You pick out a song or artist and it automatically intelligently predicts whatever other relevant music you want to listen to. Or your own media stored locally. It can create a personalized preferential schedule. These are unique Web services that are being applied from the IT market via the web into the A/V market.

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Also meta content retrieval. Cover art, synopsis regarding the media that you're sharing or playing on your system. As this media becomes more available online in a legitimate fashion, there will also be a requirement to provide an effective way to provide multi user licenses. iTunes, the upcoming Windows Media DRM 9, these are functions you need to provide with a media server or device that it will play your media. You need to have this web-centric functionality integrated into A/V device

Third, PC functionality. That's getting further integrated into A/V devices. It's probably best exemplified by media servers' attempt to integrate Web browsing and other PC functionality such as playing games. The storage that we got from the PC market, you have an open architecture of storage whether you expand your storage with JBOD, or networked attached storage or drives, I think that's a pretty useful feature that's being integrated into A/V products. Other uses like e-mail and other PC functions are also being integrated in A/V products.

Fourth, TV. Traditionally A/V has been very effective in TV, and there's never been a real challenge by the IT side. [Windows XP] Media Center has tried, but from what I've read it's failed in the marketplace in acceptance, especially because of lack of compatibility with HD and other formats that have been supported by A/V products. That will change but it's still a major challenge for integrators

At Axonix we're taking a different approach. We're not trying to take away the TV functions, but are trying to providing most functions in a centralized location. You can play back video, audio, and watch live TV in same unit with the same storage as other features.

The goal of the new class of media servers like Axonix's Media Max is to merge the best of both A/V and the IT world. To have high quality multimedia and ergonomics and the reliability of the A/V world with cost effective, open architecture that has the future safe and expandable features of the IT world. DC: Does the Media Center PC model have a potential for success in the A/V distribution space?

Kihm: We try to make sure that we distinguish ourselves from Media Center PCs. We're a traditional media server, with the best features of PCs without the unreliable features.

What we found is the Media Center PC just really hasn't been able to handle the tasks. It's not really designed to be an appliance. What we designed ours to be, 24 x 7, 365 days a year, it has to be on, reliable and bulletproof. If it's not, it will not be accessible to the market.

We're open architecture but we control what's open. We are able to connect and be compatible with the protocols of the PC market, and media formats and services on the web, but at the same time we embed it, componentized the OS so it's guaranteed to run. That's been our methodology and philosophy.

We only sell what the customer wants when they want it. We don't close the architecture such that when you buy the product you have to buy it in one terabyte amounts and then you're fixed and you have to buy another server if you need more space. [Our products are ] open in that regard, but not to let a young child get on there and start attracting viruses or shutting down the media server that is controlling your home automation.

DC: What new devices are coming from Axonix?

Kihm: We just introduced two new products. One lowers the cost of our media server. In the Media Max Spectra, we've kept all of the really high-quality features for luxury homes media serving, took out some of the functions that people don't need, and limited the number of rooms, shrunk it from a $10,00 to a $5,000 box. We'll come out with less costly version for just audio. We're providing a real nice upgrade path so there's really no reason to use multiple servers to do movies, music, CDs and web surfing. You can start off at really low cost with basic functions and expand up into movies as needed.

Also the AudioDeck. It's a low-cost entry point for music users which gives real music distribution. Instead of the Media Decks which retail for $1,200, these Audio Decks retail for $600. If you need movies, you can get a Media Deck.

For meta content support from online services, we currently have what we think is the world's largest collection of DVD cover art.

With the AudioDeck, you can get personalized Internet radio station service. Just type in the name of a song or artist, and it instantly creates your personalized radio station that streams music to you. That's where the market is going, it's getting back to making things easy to use, reliable.

DC: The digital signage market sounds like a strong opportunity for Axonix's products. Does Axonix plan on expanding into the market?

Kihm: The whole dynamic digital signage market has changed rapidly like the media server market has been changing. Traditionally they've always been using single servers to distribute media to dynamic signage applications. That's going now in my opinion to more of a client server installation, where you have a server and put all these inexpensive clients all over the place. It's like in the home where you've been limited to two to four zones for music. In digital signage, you get four to eight zones out of a server. If you need more zones you need another server.

We hope that we'll change it, because our product is perfectly matched for that market. We have controls for virtually any control system, AMX, Crestron, CasaWorks, Control4. You can use a simple control system with our client system, and there will be completely scalable digital signage solutions. You'll see that more in the next year. Our products can be scaled up to high def, which most digital signage applications don't offer. We also support new licensing methods. Our products do all de-encrypting on the fly, and we have the ability to increase that based on the bandwidth of the stream.

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