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HP MediaSmart Connect due in July for $349

Hewlett-Packard discloses the price and release window for its MediaSmart Connect digital media adapter.

HP MediaSmart Connect with open front panel
Behind the MediaSmart Connect's fold-down front panel is a USB port and a slot for an optional removable hard drive.

Hewlett-Packard's line of MediaSmart TVs includes the built-in ability to stream digital media from your home network and the Internet straight to their screens. But for the vast majority of us who don't own an HP TV, the company will soon have a second option: the MediaSmart Connect. The little black box connects to your home network (via its built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet) and streams a wide variety of digital audio, photo, and video files--including content from compatible Internet services (including Live365, Vongo, CinemaNow, and MovieLink).

The MediaSmart Connect should be able to pull digital files from any UPnP and DLNA compliant storage devices on your home network--beyond standard Windows PCs, that includes network attached storage devices such as HP's own MediaSmart Server and Media Vault. It can also double as a Windows Media Center Extender when interfacing with Media Center-enabled versions of Windows Vista--allowing the streaming of live or recorded TV at HD resolutions. The MediaSmart Connect doesn't have any on-board storage, but users can use the box to pull compatible media straight from an HP Pocket Media Drive (found on the company's PC desktops) or a standard USB flash drive.

The MediaSmart Connect will be available later this summer for $349, and is now available for preorder. (If it looks familiar, it's because HP has been teasing us with it since January's Consumer Electronics Show.) It'll include a learning remote that can control up to four other devices, an HDMI cable, and a $20 CinemaNow coupon. To drum up publicity for the product's launch, HP is offering a trade-in program where 100 people can exchange their old digital media adapter for the MediaSmart Connect. The company is also teaming with Microsoft to offer a series of four online "webinars" to demonstrate the product's features over the next few weeks. Feel free to check them out, but don't be surprised if you're just getting an infomercial for the product in question.

We'll be doing a detailed hands-on review of the MediaSmart Connect once we get a final production sample in July. (Also on deck: the similar Linksys DMA2200.) Until then, the floor is open: do you have any interest in the MediaSmart Connect, or in Windows Media Center Extenders in general? Is the whole idea of streaming media in the home just a niche market that will never go mainstream? Or would you prefer to go with an Xbox 360, which handles nearly all of the same media streaming functions, and adds game playback to boot?

HP MediaSmart Connect product page