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HP sharpens projector focus

After grabbing a small slice of the digital-projector business in its first year in the market, Hewlett-Packard is setting its sites on becoming the market leader by 2006.

After grabbing a small slice of the digital-projector business in its first year in the market, Hewlett-Packard is set on becoming the market leader by 2006.

That's an ambitious goal for the computing giant, which by its own estimates has garnered just 2 percent or 3 percent of the $6 billion market since launching its first devices last April. The company took a small step toward achieving that goal Monday when it unveiled new models that expand its reach at both the high and low ends of the market for such presentation devices.

HP is not the only PC maker to recognize the business potential of projectors. Dell Computer and Toshiba also have entered the market in recent years. Compaq Computer also had its own line of projectors before being acquired by HP. Although both companies' products were maintained initially, HP plans to sell future projectors under the HP brand.

HP is hoping the experience it has in reproducing color in the printer world will help it gain an edge in projectors. For example, HP says that new high-end models will use two color wheels (instead of one) which should make them brighter while allowing them to still faithfully reproduce colors. "It was our understanding of image science that led us down that path," said Mark Van Order, HP's worldwide business manager for digital projectors.

HP has another plan to improve its position--help drive projectors into the home market. While such devices are used today primarily to help executives deliver PowerPoint presentations, similar technology could be used to make a nice home theater system as well. That idea has been floated recently by Shane Robison, HP's chief technology officer.

Van Order said it is too soon to talk about HP's plans for the home projector market.

"I can't tell you how far along we are," Van Order said. "It's definitely an area of interest. We will be addressing that market in the future."

As for its new business systems, HP's new high-end system--the xp8010--is slated to be available next month for $4,999 and features Margi Systems' Wireless Presenter-to-Go presentation software, an Ethernet port for connecting to a wired network and the dual color-wheel technology. A $700 option allows the system to connect to an 802.11b wireless network and also provides an extra compact flash-memory slot that allows presentations to be played on the projector without a PC at all.

HP plans to sell the xp8010, as well as an improved model expected by year's end, exclusively through audiovisual resellers. Although computer stores and dealers represent a growing outlet for projectors, resellers that specialize in audiovisual equipment still account for more than half of projector sales, Van Order said.

HP's new low-end models are the vp6110, with SVGA resolution, and the vp6120, with XGA resolution. Those models will sell for $1,499 and $1,999 respectively.