Dell, Gateway Settle into the Living Room

Computer manufacturers hope a combination of collaboration, evolving technology and better deals will drive holiday sales of media center PCs, which were the focus of announcements from both Dell and Gateway this week.

Dell cut the price of a software upgrade to Microsoft’s Media Center Edition 2005 to just $19 on its Dimension 3000, 4700, 4700C, 8400 and XPS systems. The offer is good through next week. That brings the price of a media center PC — designed to hold and play music, pictures and video — down to the $500 price range for the first time.

For its part, Gateway announced two new media center PCs — the 3250X and 7200S — priced at $800 and $1,400, lower than previous media machines.

The offerings come at a time when original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — including Dell, HP and Gateway — are joining with chip makers such as Intel and software vendor Microsoft to provide momentum for media center PCs.

While some analysts say the lower prices and advanced technology may help move the computers designed for music, video, digital pictures and more, others believe the PC is still a long way from the family room.

“If you are talking about the media center PC in the family room, it’s going to be a disappointing experience,” Gartner research vice president Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld. “Families are still not going to want to buy a $1,000 computer to replace a $100 TV.”

Unfit for Family

Reynolds said despite the improved and valuable capabilities of media center PCs, which can be transformed into televisions or stereo players while performing traditional PC computing duties, they are still likely to be relegated to bedrooms, dens and home offices.

“There is potential there, but as an individual PC, not for the family room,” Reynolds said. Although he praised the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 user interface and the new PC’s improved capabilities, Reynolds said the sector missed an opportunity by not providing high-definition television (HDTV) as an enticement.

Nevertheless, media center PC promoters pointed out that consumers are looking for a way to manage the various media they use, including digital photos, music and video.

Dell, Gateway and others are also hoping technological enticements and cost savings will widen the market for the media center machine.

“The price will enable more consumers to tap into the power of their personal computer as an entertainment device and is part of Dell’s aggressive effort to give holiday shoppers more enjoyment from the PC for less money,” Dell said in a statement.

Quiet, Cool, Customized

Gateway said its new media center PCs — which can be used to record CDs, listen to FM radio, view television with a personal video recorder (PVR) and more — could be customized with processor, display, memory, hard drive, graphicscards, audio cards and memory card readers.

The company also indicated the Intel BXT architecture of the media PCs provides superior cooling in a quieter box.

“Our new BTX-based PC is a great fit with the Media Center software,” said Gateway senior vice president of product planning Ed Fisher in a statement. “The system is so quiet that it’s barely audible in a home environment, yet it’s powerful enough to handle demanding tasks.”

IDC analyst Alan Promisel told TechNewsWorld that OEM, hardware and software support for media center PCs had finally reached a point where the devices will get serious consideration from consumers.

“This media center idea really helps attract attention back to the PC platform,” Promisel said. “Media center technology will definitely bring consumers over to the desktop PC again.”

While he added that the media center PC must compete with mobile and wireless computer sales that are still dominating, Promisel indicated the real challenge is for PC makers to sell the idea and usage model for the media PC.

“PCs will still face competition from digital cameras, MP3 players and all of the other gizmos, but I think low prices will certainly help [media center PC sales],” Promisel said.

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