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Dell, Sony to launch Media Center PCs

The two companies are expected to launch their first Media Center PCs this fall, sources familiar with the companies' plans told CNET

Dell and Sony are both expected to launch their first Media Center PCs this fall, sources familiar with the companies' plans told CNET

The two companies did not offer computers using the initial version of the Windows XP Media Center operating system, but are expected to enter the market once Microsoft introduces a new version of the operating system later this month. Microsoft has scheduled events across the United States on Sept. 30 to unveil the next version of Media Center, code-named Harmony.

Dell is planning to offer both laptops and desktops, according to the sources. A Dell representative declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Sony is expected to offer PCs that combine the Microsoft OS with its own GigaPocket software for recording TV shows and burning them to DVDs, according to a source familiar with the company's plans. A Sony representative also declined to comment.

Microsoft is expected to use the multicity event at the end of the month to announce new hardware partners, new models from existing partners, as well as the update to the Media Center operating system. Media Center is a custom version of Windows XP that allows certain tasks, such as recording TV shows, playing music and displaying photos, to be managed using a remote control.

With the new version, Microsoft is expected to address early criticisms of the OS, as well as add new features such as more support for streaming media.

With Dell and others expected to enter the market, analysts say the entry-level cost for such PCs will drop. Thus far, Media Center PCs have often fetched more than $1,000 for a desktop machine, although Hewlett-Packard has offered some models for below that price.

"Many of the key components that you would want in a media center have come down in price," said NPDTechworld analyst Stephen Baker, referring to items such as DVD burners and fast processors.

Dell could offer a new line of PCs, as HP did, or it may offer Media Center as an optional upgrade to existing high-end machines such as its new Inspiron 8600, a wide-screen notebook.

Media Center made its debut last October, with HP offering the first systems. Gateway, Alienware and others quickly followed suit, while Toshiba introduced the first laptops running Media Center. HP has said it will offer a Media Center laptop later this year.