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HP tech support: Live in your living room

New Hewlett-Packard service lets technicians remotely connect to a computer for maintenance or bug fixes.

Hewlett-Packard's tech support engineers will soon be able to take a look under the virtual hood of your PC from thousands of miles away.

The company plans on Monday to unveil a service, called Instant Care, that lets HP technicians remotely connect to a user's PC--with their permission--to diagnose problems, upgrade drivers or teach the basics of PC maintenance, a company representative said. Instant Care is designed to bolster the capabilities of two HP support services already available: an educational service called SmartFriend and a maintenance service called PC Tune-up.

PC companies are starting to understand that consumers are getting fed up with shoddy customer service that keeps them on the telephone for hours or fails to solve their problem entirely. Companies are also recognizing that those customers are willing to pay other companies, such as Plumchoice or Geek Squad, for more personal services like remote diagnostics or even house calls.

Rather than cede that revenue in a low-margin business like the PC market, companies like Dell and HP are starting to improve and expand their own tech support services. Dell introduced a similar service called Dell Connect earlier this year that also links technicians to a user's PC and is free for customers still under warranty.

Instant Care is likewise free for HP customers who have valid warranties. The SmartFriend and PC Tune-up services are not. SmartFriend costs $59.99 for 45 minutes of advice and tutorials, while PC Tune-up costs $99.