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Comdex to push TV on a PC

Compaq, Panasonic, and others will show off hardware for viewing digital TV on a computer, while smaller players will tout low-cost systems.

At the sprawling Comdex trade show next week in Las Vegas, companies will try to convince you to make your next TV a PC, while small PC makers will hawk sub-$700 computers.

Compaq and Panasonic, among others, will show off hardware next week for viewing digital TV (DTV) on a PC, a convergence trick that the computing industry hopes will establish computers as one of the first big markets for receiving high-quality broadcasts.

Early next year Compaq will offer the hardware--which consists of two add-in cards--as options for its Presario line of consumer PCs. Pricing for the two circuit boards is expected to range between $800 and $900, Compaq said. A digital high-definition TV, by contrast, will initially cost well over $5,000.

A personal computer is almost a ready-made DTV as the technology is already digital. All that is needed is some additional hardware to receive the signal for viewing on a computer display.

Intel and Philips Semiconductors are also trying to promote DTV on a PC. In addition to a DTV tuner card, Philips will be demonstrating a prototype DTV tuner that plugs into a computer via an IEEE 1394 high speed connector.

Despite these exhibits, many of the major vendors will not be presenting new consumer PCs at Comdex. Instead, a number of smaller players such as Emachines will try to make an impact in their absence.

Emachines, for example, will be showing its eTower 266 and eTower 300 systems at Comdex, both of which will hit stores the week of November 16. Emachines has lined up Office Depot and Best Buy to distribute its systems.

The eTower 266 features a Cyrix M2 "performance rated" 266-MHz processor, 14-inch monitor, 32MB of memory, and a 2.1GB hard drive for $499. The Emachine 300 features a 300-MHz Intel Celeron processor, 14-inch monitor, 32MB of memory, and a 3.2GB hard drive for $599.

"There's no doubt about it, we're selling at or below cost," said Steve Dukker, CEO of Emachines, adding that he expects to begin making money as component prices continue to drop next year. "We made the determination that in launching a new brand, you can spend $5 million on advertising or you can take that money and invest it in the bill of materials."

In the back of the booth, the company is expected to show the "eNote" notebook which will be introduced in the first quarter of 1999. The eNote will include a 13.3-inch active matrix display, 266MHz MMX Pentium processor, 32MB of memory, a 3.2GB hard drive, for $1,999.

Dukker's startup will not be showing its eStation, the integrated PC and 15-inch monitor is strikingly similar in looks to the Apple iMac. The eStation is also expected in stores early next year.

HP already played its cards in the consumer PC game in October. HP is now offering systems such as the Pavilion 6355, which features a 333-MHz Celeron processor and 64MB of memory, for $899, and will try to build on its momentum going into the Christmas sales season.

IBM is the top big-name vendor in the game of lowball so far for the Christmas season--Big Blue is offering a $599 PC with a Cyrix-compatible chip with performance equivalent to a 300-MHz Intel system, the company said.

Compaq is also rolling out new AMD-based Presarios in the Comdex time frame.