HP Hopes to Reach the Living Room
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Long considered a premium brand in the home office, Hewlett-Packard is hoping to extend its reach into the living room with the introduction of the HP Digital Entertainment Center -- a hybrid, digital audio device that bridges the PC and consumer electronics realms.
HP's Entertainment Center, which will be due out this fall in time for the 2001 holiday shopping season, is a standalone device that operates on an Intel 566 Celeron processor with the Linux-based OS. Designed to resemble a component in a regular stereo rack, it comes equipped with a 40GB hard-drive, CD-RW, 3 USB ports as well as the standard S-video connection and RCA video jacks. For the home networking enthusiasts, the device connects to the Internet (or personal area networks) by way of a V90 dial-up modem, Ethernet port or HPNA (phone line) connection. The device is expected to sell for under $1,000.
With the introduction of a digital home audio devices, the Silicon Valley-based stalwart is certainly throwing its hat into an increasingly crowded ring. Last November, Gateway announced its Gateway Connected Music Player -- a peripheral that plays music through a PC's hard drive and is wired to the home through HPNA connections. Dell has also made similar offerings. But HP officials emphatically insist that they are introducing an non-PC device and that their device is more geared more toward the consumer electronics market.
"This is not a gateway device and certainly not a peripheral to your PC," said George Prokop, Product Manager of HP Digital Entertainment Center. "This is our first product in what will be a family of products."
And this is supposed to be good for business?!?
By that measure, it means that, in addition to the Gateways and Dells of the computer world, the product launch also jolts HP into the completely new battlefield of consumer electronics with a slew of long-established competitors -- very well-known names like Sony, Pioneer and Philips/Magnavox.
However, Prokop insists that HP has the brand recognition, quality and reliability to win over the consumer's trust. Based on internal testing, the company is confident that customers will see that HP's vast experience in the PC market will translate into strengths in the electronics space -- expertise like the PC maker's development and roll-out of CD-RW.
"For HP...while this is a new market, this is a step...not a leap," Prokop told InternetNews.com.
Indeed, the device extends HP's relationship with RealNetworks by using the RealPlayer or RealJukebox software to power the audio recordings and playbacks. It will also support the popular MP3 format. And with its memory capacity, the Entertainment Center can store (not to mention catalog) up to 750 CDs or about 9,000 tracks.
Still, one analyst expressed caution about any product targeted at so-called "early adopters."
"Beyond the PC, a lot of people see the [cable] set-top box as the first consumer electronic device to embrace home networking technology," said Kurt Scherf, vice president of research at Parks Associates, a Dallas-based market research and consulting firm. "How many boxes are consumers willing to put up with?"
"I think there is consumer demand for specific applications but I don't know if it's this kind of Internet connected music player. TiVo or Replay are a hit but the problem is they are too expensive at this point," Scherf added.