SAN JOSE, California--Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer provided a look ahead this week at the next generation of the consumer PC, a product of the marriage between PCs and consumer electronics that is due for arrival next year.
Both the HP and the Compaq prototypes are based on Microsoft's Simply Interactive PC (SIPC) initiative, a set of guidelines for building a breed of "idiot-proof" consumer PCs that can be used as easily as a TV or stereo. The SIPC goal is to provide an "appliance experience...[for a device that is] always and instantly available," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said during his keynote address here.
Microsoft refers to such computers as "sealed case" PCs because users wouldn't need--or even be able--to open the computers to insert add-on boards or devices such as modems. Instead, users could add new functions by attaching more devices to external hookups or "device bay" openings in the PC.
A typical SIPC PC, such as the computers that Compaq and HP demonstrated this week, will likely come standard with a large hard disk drive, MPEG-2 support, a powerful processor, and a DVD-ROM drive, a kind of fast optical storage device due in the fall that can hold as much as 8.5GB of data, compared to the 0.6GB on a CD-ROM, said Carl Stork, director of the Windows PC platforms group at Microsoft.
A typical SIPC computer is also expected to use Intel's next-generation, hyperfast P6 Lite processor due in early 1997, sources said.
The Compaq and the HP systems also featured:
--Texas Instruments chips that support 1394 and PCI connectivity standards
--the FlexiBus architecture for controlling 1394 devices
--1394-compliant Sony desktop cameras.
Compaq, for its part, envisions a SIPC computer as a "entertainment center component" PC that works in conjunction with a large-screen monitor or TV. Its prototype used 1394 connectivity technology and a Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound system.
But SIPC-compliant computers could use a number of different connectivity standards for add-on devices. For example, Hewlett-Packard's version of a SIPC-compliant system uses a connectivity method called the Universal Serial Bus for devices such as joysticks and scanners and another, called 1394 connections, for more data-intensive products like camcorders and VCRs. The HP computer also uses Microsoft's newly submitted Device Bay specification to let users plug in or unplug a battery, for example, while the computer is on.
The Hewlett-Packard SIPC computer also boasts digital audio and Microsoft's new Win32 driver model, which supports common device drivers, the software that communicates PC instructions to hardware devices, across both Windows 95 and Windows NT.