Media Center PCs Make Headway

Microsoft is hoping manufacturers will bring Media Center PCs running its software to four new European countries and Australia later this year as it continues its efforts to snag a spot in consumers' living rooms.

The media-focused PCs, which combine traditional word processor and spreadsheet functions with live television, personal video recording, DVDs, pictures, and digital video and music playback will be introduced in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Australia, Microsoft said Monday.

Media Center PCs, which come with software offering traditional word processor and spreadsheet functions, but also feature live television, personal video recording, DVDs, pictures and digital video and music playback will be introduced in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia, Microsoft said Monday.

Aiming for Set-Top Boxes

Microsoft and the manufacturers are hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of digital media for a renewed push into the consumer home market.

Among other growth possibilities, the so-called media center category is forecast to overtake set-top boxes when it comes to offering video distribution to the home, according to a September 2003 report from researcher IDC.

"Everyone has been talking about the convergence of the TV and the PC and the Media Center PC is all about convergence," says David Weeks, Microsoft's Windows marketing manager in Europe.

According to Weeks, the Media Center PC is gaining fans on retail floors, where consumers can play around with the device and discover how to access their media by remote control.

"When we first released it we had more technically engaged users in mind. We were surprised when more people took it up, but once they see it and understand what it can do, they love it," he says.

Predicting healthy demand, Microsoft plans to have Media Center PCs available in the five new markets by October--well in time for the holiday shopping season. The company plans further country rollouts next year, Weeks says.

Recent Promotions

And vendors have not overlooked the opportunity to sneak out of the office and into the living room. Just last week, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates kicked off the company's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle by unveiling a new "Windows Home Concept" which the company claims is an evolution of Windows XP Media Center Edition.

HP has also recently updated its line of Media Center PCs with lower-priced models in the hopes of drumming up more demand.

Weeks acknowledged the Media Center PCs are currently skewed toward the premium end of the market due to high-cost components such as TV tuner cards. He says he expects costs to come down as supply grows.

Since the Media Center PCs were rolled out in 2002, Microsoft has gradually been expanding the software's availability, adding European markets such as the U.K. and France, as well as Asian countries like Japan and China, to its list.

Microsoft intends to offer consumers around the globe the capability to access songs, movies, photos, and television from their sofas, the company says in describing its media PC mission.

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