Will Windows Power the Living Room?

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Home Concept PC.
SEATTLE -- Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are showing off at a developers conference here some Windows XP concept devices intended to replace a consumer's video recorder, CD player, answering machine, and telephone.

The Windows Home Concept is expected to make its debut in the opening talk by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates at the annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) this week.

The hub of the Windows Home Concept is the Home Center PC, which looks more like a fancy video recorder than a PC. Unlike today's Windows systems, the device can turn on and off instantly and operate silently. Also, it does not need a mouse or keyboard; all access is through an intelligent remote control that features a color screen, fingerprint reader, microphone, and speaker, according to Microsoft and HP.

The Windows Home Concept is an evolution of Windows XP Media Center Edition, says Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows.

"The improvements in Windows combined with new hardware will enable devices that we will be happy to put in our living room," Sullivan says. Media Center PCs allow users to use a remote control to provide access via TV to photos, video, and music stored on their PC, as well as selected Internet services such as movie downloads.

Multitasking Device

Microsoft has a grand vision for the Windows Home Concept. Through the fingerprint reader on the remote, the Home Center PC will automatically show an individual user's favorite TV shows and computer games. The screen on the remote will let users to select shows to record, even while the PC is doing something else.

HP prototype.
When connected to a phone line, the Home Center PC can display caller information on the TV when a call comes in. The user can then decide whether to take the call, with the remote acting as a speaker phone, or have the PC answer the call. TV can be paused while a call is answered, using the system's digital video recording features.

The HP concept Home Center PC boasts a DVD burner, high-capacity hard disk drive, and other features, says Ameer Karim, HP's director of worldwide product marketing. It also has a display on the front, much like traditional consumer electronics devices.

"Think of this as replacing your DVD recorder, VCR, CD player, TiVo, and potentially your AV receiver in the future," he says. "This is the PC turned into an entertainment device." For a separate den room as well as the office, HP will continue to make and sell regular PCs, he says.

The Home Center PC will also function as a wireless access point for other PCs in the home to access data and to share its broadband Internet connection. Aside from the Home Center PC, the Windows Home Concept also includes a Home Tablet PC that will come with a docking station and can synchronize with the Home Center PC.

The vision for the Home Tablet PC is similar to that of the Smart Display, the wireless PC displays that Microsoft dropped in December, only a year after the first Smart Displays shipped.

"The Home Tablet PC is a more compelling scenario," Sullivan says. "There is a notion that the ability to take my content with me and it still be usable when I am away from my home network is an important feature." The comments echo the broad criticism of Smart Displays, which were found to be overpriced, dumb mobile terminals.

Just a Peek

Just as with concept cars at auto shows, the Windows Home Concept devices won't be found at retailers soon, Sullivan says.

"This is not a product announcement; it is a demonstration of a concept," he says. "Over the next 12 to 18 months you will see many of the technologies that we are showing here shipping in PCs. The full end-to-end scenario of the concept, we're thinking is kind of a 2006 scenario."

A step closer to the vision will be reality later this year. Several hardware makers, including HP, plan release Windows Media Center Extenders before the December holiday shopping season. The Windows Media Center Extender removes the need to physically connect the TV to a Media Center PC or even have it in the same room.

At WinHEC, Microsoft tells hardware makers where it is headed with Windows and related software products so they can allocate resources accordingly.

In addition to the Windows Home Concept, Microsoft plans to provide details about Web services for devices such as printers and digital cameras as well as its plans for products including Windows Media Digital Rights Management, Windows XP 64-Bit Edition, and Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP.

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