More Media Center PCs On The Way

The effort would extend the Media Center PC's reach to France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Japan, according to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. More than 20 companies--including Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung Electronics, Toshiba and ViewSonic--already offer Media Center PCs in various form factors to customers in the United States, Canada and Korea.

Companies slated to introduce Media Center PCs include Absolut Technology, Elonex, Granville Services France, Hewlett-Packard, Kesa Electricals, Packard Bell, PC City, Peristyle, Toshiba, Unika Computer and Yakumo in France; 4MBO International Electronic, Actebis International Distribution, Fujitsu Siemens, HP, Gericom, Hyrican Informationssysteme, Medion, Packard Bell, Tarox Systems & Services, Toshiba, Vobis Microcomputer, Wortmann and Yakumo in Germany; Centerprise International, CFL Media Center Systems, Elonex, Evesham Technology, Hi-Grade Computers, HP, Hugh Symons Group, iQon Technologies, Mesh Computers, Packard Bell, PC World, Quantum Microponents, Time Group, Toshiba and Yakumo in the United Kingdom; HP and Toshiba in China; and Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, Sotec and Toshiba in Japan, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft said it's also working with two electronic programming guide providers--Nikkan Hensyu Center in Japan and Broadcasting Dataservices in Europe--to offer Media Center PC users a free TV program guide. With the guide, consumers would be able to search TV listings to choose, watch and record TV programs, movies or sporting events on their Media Center PCs.

Media Center PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition position the home computer as a "digital hub," enabling users to integrate digital content--including live television, personal video recording, music, video, DVDs and photos--in one place for easy access and management. Users also can view digital material from anywhere in the room via a remote control.

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At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans this past spring, Microsoft unveiled a Media Center TV client designed to enable Media Center PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition to plug into a home network and project digital content onto other home entertainment devices, such as televisions, in any room in a house--no matter where the PC is located. The prototype set-top box used ATI Technologies' Xilleon chip, said Dennis Flanagan, product unit manager in Microsoft's Windows eHome Division.

"With this device, one end plugs into the home network, which could be a wired or wireless connection, and the other end plugs into a TV," Flanagan said in an interview with CRN earlier this year. "When I turn [this device] on, I see my Media Center experience. It has my pictures, my TV shows, my music and my videos. And the same remote control that I use to control my Media Center PC will work for this device," he said. "So I have one remote control that works with all my media, including CDs and DVDs, and it will work in different rooms of the house. And I was able to achieve that by having a home network and a Media Center TV client, which is a relatively inexpensive device."

Such capabilities are becoming increasingly important to consumers, according to a Microsoft-commissioned survey released in May by research firm Harris Interactive. Of the 2,070 computer users age 13 and older who were polled, 43 percent said their PC is more important than their TV. They also said their computer is more important than their DVD player (59 percent), stereo (61 percent), CD player (63 percent) and VCR (65 percent). In addition, 69 percent said they would like access to their digital music collection from anywhere in their home, as well as access to their videos (51 percent) and photos (51 percent).