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WinHEC takes up PC-TV mantra

How many engineers will it take to move the PC into the living room? The Windows Hardware Engineering Conference will get the call Tuesday.

One of the critical themes at the trend-setting Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) Tuesday will be getting the software and hardware necessary to move the PC into the living room.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will deliver the keynote address, which is slated to include insights into his company's directions for PCs in the consumer markets.

Microsoft (MSFT) will continue pushing the PC industry to make computers more akin to consumer electronics devices like televisions or stereos. To underscore this trend Microsoft, along with Compaq Computer (CPQ) and Intel (INTC), have detailed a strategy for combining interactive content in a digital-TV format at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, back at WinHEC, the main technologies to be covered include the following:

  • Microsoft will give an overview of its Entertainment PC98 initiative, which is centered on technology for building future PCs truly worthy of a family's living room. Newfangled PCs based on these guidelines might look very different from today's PCs; could plug into large-screen monitors, VCRs, and camcorders; and may come with a host of new technologies such as IEEE 1394, or FireWire, for peripheral interconnection, in addition to superfast Pentium II processors.

  • OnNow technology will provide improved power management for PCs and the ability to turn a PC on and off instantly like a TV.

  • Entertainment video experts will address how the PC could be used as a pure entertainment device to view high-quality video on large screens.

  • For high-end consumer-electronics quality audio, both Microsoft and Intel will be discussing next-generation audio technologies on the PC that rival or surpass consumer high-end electronics audio technology.

  • Next-generation 3D graphics such as Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port technology and Microsoft's Talisman and Direct3D technology will be discussed.

  • Broadcast architecture specialists will talk about replacing TVs with PCs as the platform that will receive audio, video, and digital content from broadcast networks of the future and will speculate on the kind of hardware that will be required.

    Separate from discussions of pushing PCs into the living room, the future of the PC in corporate networks will be addressed. Tuning PC and server hardware such as disk drives, multiple processors, and server clusters to run with Windows NT will be one hot topic.

    Although initial iterations of Windows CE devices have been limited to handheld PC companion devices, manufacturers will be exploring what other kinds of devices can be built using the scaled-down version of the Windows operating system.

    On Intel's side, details about designing NetPCs will be a major topic of discussion, with major PC manufacturers having only recently fleshed out the basic design guidelines. The role of the Windows operating system and Microsoft's Zero Administration initiative will also receive attention.

    NetPCs are "sealed-case" systems that will have no floppy disk drive or expansion slots. The Zero Administration Kit for Windows NT Workstation 4.0 allows IS managers to do things like prohibit users from installing applications and allow applications and data to be accessed directly from the server.

    In related news, a French company called Advanced PC Technologies (APCT) announced Monday that it is offering OEMs a NetPC-compliant platform.

    The NPC 97 platform will incorporate a CD-ROM drive for starting up the operating system as well as a smart card reader for gaining secure access to the network. Pentium processors at 133 MHz to 200 MHz and 32MB or 64MB of RAM will be offered as a part of the design. No pricing was disclosed.