MediaMorph: Media-center PCs

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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 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 PCs continue to grow in popularity, the units will become the hub for all digital content in many homes. 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 be the ad model.

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 to adopt 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: Windows' new operating system, Vista, set for launch in 2006, will have a media-center functionality built into its premium version of Windows Vista Home, and high definition is planned for 2007.

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