RealTime IT News

Microsoft, HP Unwrap Media Center PCs

Microsoft and partner HP Tuesday took the wraps off their latest play to become a powerhouse in the living room: a PC designed to be an audio/video entertainment hub.

HP unveiled its new lineup of HP Media Center PCs, equipped with Microsoft's latest version of the Windows XP operating system, Windows XP Media Center Edition (formerly code-named Freestyle).

The new machines are intended to bring together the television, stereo and PC, allowing the user to play DVDs and music CDs, manage a digital music library, and even store digitally recorded television on the PC -- all controllable with a remote control.

"This is a bit of an experimental product for Microsoft as a way to extend the reach of the PC in the home into new areas," said Michael Gartenberg, Research Director for Jupiter Research. "The key to success will be the ability to position the Media Center PC as a new breed of personal information appliance with the emphasis on entertainment and not on running Word and Excel."

However, that may not be as simple as it sounds, especially as the current machines range in price from $1,350 to $2,000.

"The challenge is at the price point," Gartenberg said. "Consumers don't know they have a need for this functionality. It's going to be up to Microsoft and HP to educate the consumer and explain the value of the integrated PVR functions along with the other entertainment features."

He added, "The ability to navigate from a 10 foot distance via remote is a key feature that makes the PC more consumer electronics-like in nature. Look to see support from third parties as they tie other entertainment applications into this experience and leverage off of the features of the 10 foot interface."

Microsoft began shipping Windows XP Media Center to HP and Samsung Electronics in September.

HP's new Media Center PC lineup utilizes Pentium 4 processors. All three PCs also feature HP's six-in-one media card reader on the front panel, allowing users to transfer digital data from all common flash media formats. In addition, they come with an HP remote control, DVD+R/+RW or CD-RW drives, a floppy drive, a PVR TV tuner card, a Media Center keyboard, an infrared receiver, TV-out, one front-access and four rear-access USB 2.0 ports, one front-access and one rear-access IEEE 1394 port, an IR blaster to control a set-top box, a 10/100 Base-T network interface and an optical mouse. All three models also boast 512 MB DDR memory.

The value-priced 863n model, features an 80GB hard drive, as well as CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives. It will be available as of Nov. 3 at retail store kiosks and hpshopping.com for $1,349.

The 873n model features a 120GB 5,400 rpm hard drive, a DVD+R/+RW drive, a CD-ROM drive and Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 THX-certified 200-watt speakers. It is available Tuesday at retail stores and HP's Web site for $1,649.

Finally, The 883n model features a 120GB 7,200 rpm hard drive, a DVD+R/+RW drive, a CD-ROM drive and Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 THX-certified 500-watt speakers. It is available Tuesday online for $1,999.