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Dell plans new LCD TV models

PC maker aims to be tech contractor for the digital home.

Dell plans to broaden its efforts in consumer electronics later this year with several new digital televisions, including its first plasma screen.

The PC maker plans to expand its television line in time for the holidays with at least one plasma TV model and several additional LCD (liquid crystal display) TVs in different sizes, company executives said during a briefing Monday.

Dell, which entered the consumer electronics market last year with the TVs and products such as its Dell DJ portable music player, wants to establish an early presence in the so-called digital home. The digital home is a concept envisioned by companies like Dell that would have consumers connecting a range of computer and electronics equipment, including a PC, a television, and other devices like music players via a home network. Once connected, the devices can all share content, such as video clips or pictures.

Dell and other PC makers, including Gateway and Hewlett-Packard, are eyeing the digital home as their next major marketplace. HP is also expected to begin selling TVs this year, while Gateway has been offering televisions and other consumer electronics gear for some time. Still, the relative newcomers will have to take on established consumer electronics makers, including Sony, none of which are going to give any ground willingly.

Dell aims to use price to its advantage. The company, based in Round Rock, Texas, typically enters a new market with a product that costs less than that market's established competitors, thus attracting customers. Dell executives said the plasma TV will be aggressively priced. The low-price approach has helped Dell sell large numbers of units quickly, to rapidly gain market share and force competitors to respond by lowering their prices.

One criticism of Dells' digital home strategy has been its direct-sales-only approach, as consumers often want to view a big-ticket item such as a television before buying it. But Dell argues that customers are getting more comfortable buying expensive items online or via phone. Mike George, general manager of Dell's U.S. Consumer Business segment, said during the briefing that Dell has been "really pleased" with sales to date of its LCD TVs.

Dell will also expand its kiosk program from 65 to 85 kiosks by introducing 20 new kiosks in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco this summer. The kiosks, usually in retail areas such as shopping malls, display Dell products. Customers can order products to be delivered to their homes, or to create an online shopping cart they can access from home later to complete sales.

Dell plans to augment several other products to boost its digital-home pitch. It will add new features to its Dell Media Experience software, deliver new consumer-oriented printers, and put new features into the Dell DJ music player, plus improve its MusicMatch music service. New features will include the ability to print photos, import digital videos and access the music service's play list. The software, also introduced last year, creates a simple interface for multimedia files on Dell PCs and can be operated with a remote control. It comes installed on all of Dell's Dimension and Inspiron desktop and notebook models for consumers.

Dell will also mount a greater effort to market Media Center PCs, models that come with Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system, for the holidays. Media Center PCs also offer a special interface for multimedia, but they add several additional capabilities over Dell's Media Experience, including the ability to record television programs.

Dell will offer more information on the new products at a later date, the executives said.