Multimedia Windows XP Takes Microsoft Out of the Office
Microsoft wants to conquer your living room. Its first salvo is a modified version of Windows XP Professional, called Windows XP Media Center Edition, that runs new PCs designed to let you easily capture, organize, and play back TV shows, DVD movies, music, photos, and other types of digital content.
We put the first system loaded with the new OS--Hewlett-Packard's Media Center PC--through its paces. This sleek black-and-silver machine is packed with audio and video gear. It can record TV shows in the style of a TiVo digital video recorder and play DVDs, games, and music (CDs, MP3 files, or streaming audio). The PC can also download photos directly from your digital camera's flash-storage card and connect to other devices via a fistful of USB 2.0 and FireWire ports.
Though existing PCs already can do much of the above, we found that XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) makes interacting with all types of multimedia fairly seamless. Eventually, you also should be able to run TVs and other consumer appliances remotely--if they incorporate Microsoft's technology.
On specs alone, the Media Center PC is impressive. HP hasn't set the final configuration, but our preproduction unit (which HP estimated would cost less than $2000 without monitor) had a 2.67-GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 512MB of RAM, a high-speed graphics card with 64MB of DDR SDRAM, a TV-tuner card, a V.92 modem, Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 high-end surround-sound speakers, a 120GB hard drive, a DVD+RW/+R/CD-RW drive, a six-in-one media reader (for Memory Stick and other flash media), and two dozen ports--ethernet, USB 2.0, FireWire, coaxial (for TV), S-Video, and more. Our test system's sexy 17-inch LCD monitor would add another $749 to the system's price.
Mastering the PC's dozens of connections, from the coaxial cable to the infrared remote, was a bit daunting; HP promises to make that easier in the future with more wire/port color-coding. But using the system to record TV shows, play DVDs, and so on is generally straightforward, thanks to the XP MCE interface, which presents you with big, simple on-screen buttons labeled My TV, My Music, My Videos, Play DVD, and the like. You also get a keyboard (with preset buttons and VCR-like controls) and a multipurpose remote control that lets you run the PC's functions from up to 26 feet away.
There are limits to the magic. Recorded TV shows are locked on the
disk: You can't copy them to a VCR or easily skip past commercials or avoid
recording them. And while HP's new PC is expected to ship before Christmas,
Microsoft won't sell the OS separately (for more info, go to
Purchasing this system now may be worth it if you have the bucks and you need a compact entertainment center. But Martin Reynolds, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, notes that PCs with XP MCE capabilities should cost about $600 within a few years.