LAS VEGAS--The "bleeding edge" in personal computer technology is probably best represented by the PC-TVs on display here at Comdex.
PC manufacturers such as Compaq Computer and Gateway 2000 and consumer electronics companies such as Philips Electronics are showcasing their newest PC-TVs, hybrids of cutting-edge PC technology and the newest in home electronics. At the same time, Cyrix is touting technology for inexpensive PC-TV hybrids. PC-TVs are currently priced well over $3,000, but Cyrix is shooting for systems closer to the $1,000 mark.
Packing many of the most advanced PC technologies, these PCs represent an experimental market for computer manufacturers.
The PC-TV is known as a "convergence" product, possibly representing an early manifestation of the PC of the future, fusing consumer electronics and computing technology into a single device.
On the show floor, Compaq is demonstrating an upgraded version of its PC Theatre PC-TV that includes a DVD-ROM drive. The PC Theatre 9100 also comes with an accelerator built around an "Mpact" chip designed by Chromatic Research. It serves as a DVD video accelerator, according to Patrick Griffin, manager of market development at Compaq.
The system includes a 200-MHz Pentium MMX processor, 40MB of memory, a 3.8GB hard drive, 16-bit stereo sound, and a 36-inch digitally enhanced monitor from RCA. The 9100 will retail at $5,299.
Despite the rise in price, the cost of these types of systems will likely begin to fall over time, Griffin said. For example, the PC Theatre 9000 was originally priced at $4,999 but now retails for $3,999, though it will be phased out.
Sales for the product lines have met internal expectations, but the high cost has prevented them from becoming a widespread seller, Griffin said.
In debuting its flagship PC-TV at Comdex, Gateway 2000 is highlighting digital satellite-signal reception technology that takes the convergence of personal computers and televisions into new territory.
Gateway's Destination Digital Media Computer (DMC) offers a digital satellite receiver card that connects PCs to portions of the Web via satellite and makes possible video streaming of movies.
Manufactured by Adaptec, the Satellite Express receiver card allows high-speed data downloads via satellite of digital high-resolution TV programming, broadcast Web sites (known as Webcasting), and data-enhanced TV programming, according to the company. Adaptec has said in the past that satellite services are available for pay-per-view shows, sporting events, and downloadable software and games.
The card feeds digital satellite service programming and information into PCs at speeds of up to 30 megabits per second. By comparison, modems today download only 56 kilobits per second.
Gateway's DMC also features DVD and, in anticipation of its availability, digital TV. These technologies are expected to replace CDs and analog TV, respectively. The DMC comes standard with an Intel 300-MHz Pentium II processor, 64MB of memory, a high-end graphics chip, an 8.4GB hard drive, and a wireless keyboard and mouse.
A 36-inch screen and a surround-sound system highlight the home entertainment components; the unit also includes three audio-video connectors that let users connect VCR, stereo, and audio equipment. Other connections include microphone inputs and a Universal Serial Bus port.
The DMC will cost just under $5,000. Already on the market, Gateway's Destination PC-TV, with a 31.5-inch monitor, costs about $500 less.
Philips announced a PC-TV convergence box that can serve as the centerpiece of a home entertainment network. As reported by CNET's NEWS.COM in September, Philips is manufacturing a PC-TV called the DVX8000 Multimedia Home Theater that features a 233-MHz MMX Pentium processor from Intel, digital surround sound, and a DVD drive that can play back movies and DVD-ROMs, as well as CD-ROMs and audio CDs.
The DVX8000 can be hooked up with a user's existing big-screen television. According to Philips, the unit includes technology that will offer better picture quality when displayed on a television set. This is important because to date TV screens have not offered the image quality that users have come to expect with more precise PC monitors.
The unit essentially serves as the center of a home theater system because the computer comes with built-in connectors for stereo equipment and can control other pieces of equipment through either a wireless keyboard or a remote control. A user interface gives access to audio and video functions, including VCRs, cable boxes, and satellite receivers. Philips also offers hookups to any other audio-video equipment a consumer has already purchased.
Users can view television broadcasts and Internet content on screen simultaneously in resizable windows, but the PC doesn't have to be running to watch TV. Philips says the DVX8000 is selling through audio and video specialty retailers at a suggested retail price of $5,000.
Finally, Cyrix released a reference design for the MediaCenter, a PC Theatre-like product built around that company's MediaGX processor.
A big difference is cost. Initially, a MediaCenter box will sell for around $1,200 without a monitor. Within a year, retail prices will sink to $999 and then to $699 or $799 within two years, predicted Steve Tobak, vice president of corporate marketing for Cyrix.
Cyrix itself will not manufacture MediaCenter boxes. Instead, it will try to encourage PC manufacturers and electronics makers to build devices around the reference design.
Like PC Theatre, MediaCenter lets customers watch TV, surf the Internet, and send email as well as perform normal computing tasks, such as developing spread sheets.
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