Digital integrators looking for an inexpensive alternative to Windows Media Center PCs may want to look at the MediaReady 5000 from Video Without Boundaries. The Linux-based system offers media distribution, PVR, Internet and other capabilities.

While the system's overall feature set and design seem impressive, integrators should note the vendor provides little channel support and a very limited warranty.

The MediaReady 5000 uses a proprietary interface to provide access to multimedia content as well as an online TV program guide. The device is designed to pull and push content to and from other devices on a wired home network. It does not include built-in wireless, though integrators can add it via the device's PCMIA slot or USB port. The MediaReady 5000 also includes the Firefox Web browser, AOL Instant Messenger, Thunderbird e-mail client and Skype VoIP software.

Resembling a DVD player, the Media- Ready 5000 includes a processor and chipset from Via Technologies, a 120-Gbyte hard drive and many ports and connectors for multimedia devices. The device can play MPEG-1, 2 and 4 video, and includes bidirectional support for the CableCard, which allows it to access digital TV and other services without a separate set-top box.


While many in the industry are looking to Intel's Viiv multimedia PC platform and other PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition as the answer to home media use, David Novak, vice president of sales and marketing at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Video Without Boundaries, says the company intentionally set out in the opposite direction with its products.

"We try to differentiate ours, to make it more like a DVD player than a PC. People don't want the item to look like a PC with their TV and they don't want issues having to do with a PC like the blue screen of death, viruses, etc.," Novak says. "We're an alternative to a Windows-based solution. All of Viiv is about Windows. We aren't. We're an alternative to that sector of the industry."

Video Without Boundaries also is hoping for success with the low price of its products. PCs running Windows Media Center cost between $1,200 and $4,000, while the MediaReady 5000 costs $699.

The product's price and rich feature set were key factors for Santa Ana, Calif.-based distributor Ingram Micro when it recently decided to offer the MediaReady line to its integrators, says Irene Chow, Ingram Micro's category manager for digital home and signage products.

"The average consumer is starting to look to a central location for managing their stored media files, such as pictures, music and videos," Chow says. "At the same time, these customers will still want the most bang for their buck from their household PC."

Video Without Boundaries also offers the MediaReady 4000, which has a smaller feature set and costs $449. Next up is the MediaReady 6000, which the company expects to launch in the second quarter this year with a price of $1,249. The 6000 will include a 200-Gbyte hard drive and new features such as a built-in videocamera and microphone for VoIP conferencing.

Video Without Boundaries is aiming for 80 percent of its sales to go through retail stores and as licensed products sold by content providers, with the remainder being sold by integrators.