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HP's new hard drive to go

Latest media center PC has docking areas for a camera and a secondary, portable hard drive. But is the price right?

In the latest bid to help consumers manage their digital entertainment, Hewlett-Packard introduced on Monday new PCs with docking areas for a camera and a secondary, portable hard drive.

HP also unveiled a 160GB portable drive--the HP Personal Media Drive--designed to be slid into a docking slot on the new PCs whether the computer is on or off. The drive can plug into other PCs through a standard Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection, HP said. It is slated to sell for $219. Prices for preconfigured versions of the new HP Media Center m1000 series Photosmart PCs are expected to begin at $1,049, after a $50 mail-in rebate, HP said.

The combination of products is part of a broader computer industry push into consumers' living rooms, with products that can store and manage digital photos, videos and music files. Randy Giusto, analyst with researcher IDC, says a portable hard drive makes sense because consumers will look to take their digital content beyond a single PC. He also said HP's new product is ahead of the pack with its camera and drive-docking features.

"They're clearly differentiators for HP right now as far as design is concerned when it comes to media centers," he said.

Giusto said demand has been "pretty steady" for media center computers, machines that run special software from Microsoft that allows consumers to do such things as record and pause live television.

But to spur higher adoption rates, Giusto suggested, HP as well as other makers of desktop media center products--such as Dell and Gateway--ought to get their pricing into the $700 range, not counting the display. Giusto also said media center devices could face competition from a Linux-based technology, which conceivably could be low-cost.

HP said the camera docking station area on its new PCs allows users to attach an HP digital camera and download videos and pictures to a hard drive without the need to attach and re-attach camera cables. The new PC also is designed to read a variety of digital media cards, which often are used to store digital images in cameras.

Retail versions of the new PCs are slated to be available starting July 18, while configure-to-order models can be bought beginning June 23 from HPShopping.com or retailer kiosks, HP said.