COMPUTERS THAT ACT LIKE A TV

And Also Like a Gaming Console, DVD and MP3 Player

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Every week MediaWorks’ Media Morph looks at how emerging technology is changing the way consumers get their information and media companies and advertisers present their messages. This week: Media Center PCs.


WHAT IT IS: It’s really just a computer at its core, but it’s not just any old hard-drive-and-monitor combination. Media center PCs usually have larger hard drives and faster processors, and all have operating software, usually Microsoft’s Windows Media Center Edition, that make the machine entertainment friendly. The idea is that a media center PC acts as an aggregator of content from movies to photos to music, stores it all, and allows access to that content from other viewing screens in the home.

WHO’S BEHIND IT: Microsoft began its quest to deliver digital content to home consumers via the media center PC in late 2002, backed by partners such as Hewlett-Packard and Gateway. However, sales didn’t take off immediately, partly because of confusion about the benefits and a lack of wireless peripherals.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Entertainment on a PC means more ways and places to consume content. As media center PCs continue to grow in popularity, the units will become the hub for all digital content in many homes. While the final ways and means of advertising has not been determined, TiVo-like experiments where long-form commercials can be accessed or Internet service provider models where consumers agree to watch advertising for a reduced price are likely to occur with media PCs as well.

SALES SO FAR: By mid-2005, about 2.5 million media center PCs were shipped, according to analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technology Associates, not exactly the anticipated rush predicted at launch. Still, interest is growing, especially from premium-end home buyers, and Mr. Kay said he estimates some 53 million shipments by 2009.

WHAT’S NEXT: The new Windows operating system, Vista, is set for launch in 2006 and will have a media center functionality built into its premium version, spurring adoption as consumers migrate to the new OS. The addition of high definition in 2007 should add even more interest.

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