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Compaq, Intel preach harmony

The industry giants push the PC industry towards convergence with consumer electronics by announcing interoperability standards.

Compaq (CPQ) and Intel (INTC) are attempting to push the PC industry towards convergence with consumer electronics by announcing they are working on common standards.

The "PC Theater" intitiative for melding home entertainment and PC products is intended to establish "plug-and-play" standards that let consumer electronics audio/video devices and PC-based devices work together. Plug-and-play products built to this standard, such as a VCR, would be designed to be used immediately upon plugging them into the hub device, such as a home computer that incorporates the same standard. Today, plugging in peripheral PC devices usually means hair-pulling configuration procedures.

Compaq and Intel say that PC Theater products will have TV, Web, and DVD viewing capability on a large TV-type screen with surround sound audio. By implementing this standard, VCRs, CD jukeboxes, and telephony equipment could be controlled from a single system interface.

Other key computer and consumer electronics industry participants include Hitachi, NEC Technologies, Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba and Philips Electronics. Thomson Consumer Electronics, which markets products under the RCA, ProScan, and GE brand names, is also a participant in the intitiative.

Some of the companies are involved in separate but similar initiatives such as the Home Plug and Play Task Force, which is working on specifications to assure that PCs and home-control products work in conjunction with household lighting, climate control, and burglar alarm systems.

The participants are hoping that by working with the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) to form open industry standards, new and innovative products will result.

The first goal is a system interface that will allow large displays to connect with computers. Picture quality is an issue to be addressed, along with methods for controlling audio functions and integration between the system unit and display, the companies said.