Outlook Cautious For Media Center PC

The number of PCs equipped with Microsoft's Windows Media Center operating environment, and media-focused hardware, such as combined TV tuner and remote control, is expected to reach 5.85 million units this year, International Data Corp. said. The value of the market is estimated at nearly $6 billion, with the U.S. market accounting for more than 46 percent of the total.

Longer term, shipments of media center PCs, most of which will run premium editions of Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system, are expected to reach 27.5 million units worldwide by 2010, including 9.5 million in the United States. The market value is expected to reach $29.4 billion globally and $12.6 billion in the U.S., IDC said.

The success of the PC as the entertainment hub for the home will depend on the amount of content that's pushed to consumers. Movie studios are moving slowly to the Internet, and have only recently started offering some new films for download the same day they are released on DVD. The vast majority of films, however, are not available for download to a PC.

Nevertheless, the pace could quicken. Apple Computer last month started offering Disney movies through its iTunes store, and sold 125,000 in the first six days, IDC said.

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"Today's shipment levels of PCs that serve as digital hubs in living room entertainment systems remain too low to be a factor in the overall consumer PC market," IDC researcher David Daoud said in a statement. "However, shipments of media center-equipped PCs are increasing at a phenomenal rate."

Nevertheless, consumers have yet to show much interest in using the devices as entertainment hubs. Instead, the PCs are primarily a complement to the traditional living room entertainment system, Daoud said.