June 20, 2001 12:10 PM PDT

HP moves toward home entertainment

Get ready for HP in your living room.

Hewlett-Packard plans to show off a prototype of an Internet-enabled digital entertainment center for households next week at the Tech X NY trade show in New York, the company said Wednesday.

The device, dubbed HP Digital Entertainment Center, marks another step by the company into the home entertainment market and comes during a difficult time in the PC market. HP's efforts to diversify into home entertainment echo those of Compaq Computer, Dell Computer and Gateway, all of which have shown off home entertainment equipment in the past year.

HP's entertainment center is a standalone appliance that will allow consumers to download music from the Internet and then play it on a home stereo. It will also let consumers view music selections on a TV screen and select them using a remote control. Once downloaded, the music can be transferred to CD or various MP3 players, handheld devices and memory cards, the company said.

HP launched the device to meet the demands of customers who want to use the Internet to beef up their stereo and get more from their PCs, said Perry Ralph, a product-marketing manager at HP.

"What customers are saying is they've spent?money on making their stereo sound good, not their PC," he said, pointing to the increasing role PCs play for entertainment and leisure.

The device will use a customers' Internet service provider to connect with a portal that will supply the device with its online services, including e-commerce, artist information and streaming audio and video.

HP is also working to bring additional "tier 1" content, including music from well-known artists supplied through major record labels.

"We're talking to a number of different organizations, including the labels," Perry said.

HP has been hinting at the product since since last November. The new product fits squarely HP is in the midst of a major push to take on not only PC and printer makers but also consumer electronics giants such as Sony.

Another major element of HP's consumer push is "Superdrive," the code name for a drive that will be able to write DVDs using the DVD+RW standard HP backs. Superdrive, which also will be shown at the TechExpo conference, is expected in late summer or early fall, representatives for HP said.

HP's new Digital Entertainment Center dovetails with a plan streaming media RealNetworks announced Wednesday that allows the transmission of copyrighted information. HP signed a deal in March letting the company use RealNetworks software on the Digital Entertainment Center.

The entertainment center, designed to become part of a home stereo system, can store up to 9,000 songs. Using an Internet connection, it can also access artist information, the RealJukebox and RealPlayer services from RealNetworks, and other streaming video. The device can use dial-up, DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable connections to access the Internet, HP said.

Though exact pricing will be set when the entertainment center ships later in the year, it will retail for under $1,000, Perry said.

The device comes with a 40GB hard drive and is based on the Linux operating system.

Compaq has a similar offering in its iPaq Music Center, which is meant to be part of a home stereo system and uses a television interface. The device can store up to 5,000 songs on a hard drive and uses a dial-up connection to connect to the Internet. It will ship on July 15 with a price tag of $799.

HP will demonstrate the entertainment center device in its booth at the show. It is scheduled to go on sale at retail stores for the 2001 holiday season. Pricing will be announced at that time.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

 

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