Better known as a monitor maker, the company is expected to jump into the desktop PC market this week by unveiling a computer running Windows XP Media Center.
Known primarily as a monitor manufacturer, the Walnut, Calif.-based company in recent months has expanded into computers as a way to defend, and even enhance, its position in displays. By designing and marketing its own computers, the company can highlight the advantage of its CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors and flat-panel displays. For years, the company's marketing slogan was "ViewSonic on top," a takeoff of chipmaker Intel's advertising tagline, "Intel inside."
ViewSonic representatives would not comment on the upcoming computer, but sources said the company will unveil the new PC at the CES. Other companies are expected to unveil new Media Center PCs as well, according to sources. Media Center is a variant of the Windows XP operating system that makes it easy to record television shows and to catalog music, pictures and video clips.
ViewSonic's computing push began in earnest in September, when the company released a Pocket PC. In November it unfurled a tablet PC, a portable Windows-based PC with the capability to recognize handwriting.
ViewSonic has also pledged to develop a Smart Display, a portable screen for reading Internet material on the go. The first Smart Displays are expected to come out at CES, which begins Wednesday night with a speech from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
ViewSonic's timing is curious, considering the PC has been mired in a prolonged slump. When told that ViewSonic was moving into the market, one analyst paused and simply asked, "Why?" PC sales dropped for the first time in 15 years in 2001 and grew only slightly in 2002, according to various market research firms.
Unit shipments are expected to improve in 2003, but manufacturers must also contend with dramatic price declines. A top-of-the-line Hewlett Packard PC with a 2.5GHz Pentium 4 chip, 512MB of memory, a 120GB hard drive and a DVD writer with Microsoft's Media Center OS sells for $1,649, for instance. Notebook computers can regularly be had for under $1,000.
In 2000, ViewSonic tried unsuccessfully to sell Internet appliances. To be fair, every other manufacturer also failed.
Still, the company won't be the first to use a PC to sell monitors. Sharp, the Japanese electronics giant, participates in the notebook market partly as a way to show off its display technology. The company is currently demonstrating a 3D screen that will likely appear in commercially available notebooks toward the end of the year.