Launch Slideshow

New Perspective

After two failed attempts to corner the market on TV and PC convergence, Microsoft's Vista operating system will try to make the third time the charm.

New Perspective

After two failed attempts to corner the market on TV and PC convergence, Microsoft's Vista operating system will try to make the third time the charm.

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    Life|ware controls a home’s lighting, security, climate, and digital entertainment options through a simplified user interface.

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    Life|ware makes all electronic media in the house instantly accessible. Files may be stored on a central server or spread across the network on a variety of Media Centers.

To broaden the system's appeal, EI is working with builders to offer a good/better/best approach for new-home packages. With a Category-5 cable network as the lifeline, a starter system might include a Media Center PC, a 42-inch plasma TV, a networked camera at the front door, a single-zone music system, a smart thermostat, and six light switches. A higher-end package might include a Media Center PC, a 50-inch TV, an Xbox 360, 28 light switches, two thermostats, three security cameras, and four music zones.

The company also encourages builders to use Life|ware in model homes as a sales tool for technology packages, as well as for the builders themselves. “The entertainment aspect of it is key,” Seamons says. “It's most effective when builders have customers sit down, pick up a remote control, and experience it themselves.” He also encourages builders to use the Media Center PCs and TVs to run videos about their companies.

cost of living

Pricing for a Life|ware system typically runs $1 per square foot for a basic system to $2 per square foot for a complete installation. EI also offers homeowners three tiers of support packages, beginning with automatic software updates, which run homeowners 9 percent of the cost of Life|ware software per year. (Life|ware software is priced according to the number of devices and clients on the network.)

Control support accounts for an additional 12 percent of the software cost. If the light switch doesn't come on when it's supposed to, customers can call the support center for remote diagnostics. If it can't be fixed remotely, the support center calls the dealer to arrange for a house call.

Media support covers PC or DVD player issues and other entertainment-related problems. Such support runs an additional 9 percent of the software cost, bringing a complete support package to 30 percent of the cost of the software per year.

Seamons sees consumer awareness and manufacturer support as key challenges to Life|ware's success. “Manufacturers need to embrace WSD and put it on thermostats and on lighting-control systems,” he says. “You can imagine the initial reaction from companies that are making proprietary products,” he notes. “They say, ‘If I subscribe to this common language, my competitors will be just as good as me.'”

EI hopes the “rising tide lifts all boats” aphorism will take hold—a tough sell in an industry defined by proprietary, custom solutions. “When we create a platform where everyone can play, the consumer gets more opportunities and buys more, so everyone sells more,” Seamons says. “As an industry, we grow.”

Rebecca Day specializes in writing about home electronics. She can be reached at customhomerd@aol.com. A version of this article originally appeared in residential architect's sister publication CUSTOM HOME.