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PCs, gadgets scrap for home dominance

PC makers take on the consumer-electronics industry in the battle for the living room, putting Apple and Microsoft in the unusual position of being on the same side.

LAS VEGAS--The battle for the living room is on.

The home computer, tired of being relegated to the office, is trying to put on new clothes so that it can hang out with the television, the set-top box and the DVD player. Meanwhile, those gadgets are also trying to grab more leverage in the home, adding new abilities to record and edit the images and videos they're playing.

The debate over whether the gadgets or the PCs will win out took center stage at the Comdex Fall 2002 trade show on Tuesday as PC makers took on the consumer-electronics industry in a panel discussion. The event also put Apple Computer and Microsoft in the unusual position of being on the same side.

"The personal computer has already won as a place to manage your digital music...(and) digital photographs," said Phil Schiller, an Apple senior vice president.

Michael Toutonghi, vice president of Microsoft's eHome division, agreed, adding that more than a third of PCs are in the family room or living room. Last year, the number of home networks increased 33 percent, he said, noting that seven in 10 people installed a home network for personal--not business--use.

An executive from DVD chip maker Zoran who represented the consumer-electronics industry made the case that there will be multiple digital centers in the home.

"The PC and Mac, we believe, are best positioned for creativity and productivity," said Camillo Martino, chief operating officer for Zoran, which makes the chips that are found in nearly two-thirds of DVD players. "The living room is different. It's more passive. It's more viewing and listening."

While the PC has its advantages, the consumer-electronics industry can offer low costs and simplicity. Martino said DVD players and recorders have the potential to reach more than 90 percent of homes in short order and developers will have the ability to add features such as music jukeboxes and the ability to do image editing on DVD players.

However, Schiller rebuffed the notion that the DVD will soon expand beyond its current role.

"I don't think we're going to be able to edit digital movies on our DVDs anytime soon," Schiller said. "Over 95 percent of homes already have toilets, but that doesn't mean you are going to edit videos on them."

Schiller said many devices like digital video cameras can be made more useful by connecting them to a computer, while some devices like an iPod require a computer. As a result, the computer is becoming a necessary intermediary between a large number of digital devices.

"That's already occurring," he said.

Schiller said the next big step is allowing consumers to access digital media from one device that is stored on another device. Apple's answer is Rendezvous, a technology designed to allow networked devices to automatically discover each other and make services and files available. More than 50 companies are incorporating Rendezvous in their products, Schiller said.

Microsoft's Toutonghi highlighted the

Analyst Tim Bajarin, who moderated the debate, gave the early edge to the PC companies. "They are light years ahead of the consumer-electronics industry in trying to make this happen."

The event provided a rare haven for some of the show's Macintosh fans, who are not used to seeing Apple at Comdex.

"I'm very surprised to see Apple," said Ismael Rosales, president of North Hollywood, Calif.-based Green Building Concepts. "Who would have thought you'd see Apple. I saw Phil (Schiller) there--I was like, wow."