Personal Computers

New Dell XPS 420 Desktop Takes Page From Apple’s Playbook

Dell on Tuesday announced the XPS 420, “a premium multimedia PC” designed to let users go semi-pro in editing their pictures and videos and posting them online with the pre-configured system.

“Our goal is to help people turn their digital lifestyle dreams into reality, whether its viewing family moments and memories, telling your story with photos and videos for social networking sites like YouTube, recording TV shows or converting vinyl album libraries to digital files,” said Karen Plotkin, director of consumer desktop marketing.

“The combination of the XPS 420 and the Adobe Elements Studio software makes it easy to harness the creativity and imagination and share ideas, style and personality,” she continued.

Form Meets Function

The XPS 420 comes loaded with the bells and whistles a photo and video editing enthusiasts would often have to purchase separately. In an exclusive tie-up, Dell has pre-installed Adobe’s Premiere Elements 4, Photoshop Elements 6 and Soundbooth CS3 on the system. The company said the bundled software will “simplify multimedia creativity” whether users are “producing a slide show, editing a family video or cleaning up audio recordings.”

On the hardware side, the 420’s glossy black front and top panels enclose a system powered by Intel’s Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme processors with the Intel X38 chipset running Windows Vista Ultimate or Premium. The system comes with up to a maximum of 4GB of dual DDR2 SDRAM memory and as much as 3 terabytes (TB) of storage.

Video-wise, Dell offers either ATI’s 2600 XT and 2400 PRO or Nvidia’s 8000GTX or 8600GTS video cards. Users who want a high-def experience can opt for an ATI 650 PRO comb TV tuner card as well as a Blu-ray disc player to record and watch HD content. Dell’s exclusive Xcelerator technology, another add-on, can make transcoding recorded video speedier. Converting video for portable media players is 25 percent faster than a processor alone, according to computer maker. The technology also reduces the drain on system resources during video conversions by up to 86 percent as it does the bulk of the processing work on its own.

The 420 also includes a small color display integrated into the front panel, the XPS MiniView screen. The 2-inch by 3-inch LCD screen displays calendar information, system details as well as direct access to stored media such as songs, photos and videos — no keyboard or mouse needed. The tiny screen is compatible with Microsoft’s SideShow and supported third-party Windows Sideshow Gadgets, enabling users to customize the display with RSS feeds, news and more.

Dell included a deck-top device storage area to make syncing a portable device with a dock or cables less of a clutter for users.

The XPS 420 has a starting price of US$1,499 and is available immediately.

In addition, Dell rolled out a new 20-inch display, the SP2008WFP, designed for a wide variety of multimedia activites. The display features an “ultra-fast response time” for complex gaming and motion video without ghosting or delays and a maximum resolution of 1680 x 1050. It also sports an integrated 2-megapixel Web cam that can capture resolution up to 1600 x 1200.

The display retails for $280.

Breaking Away From the Crowd

With the XPS 420, Dell is trying to offer a system that will stand out in a market crowded with similarly configured boxes, said Richard Shim, personal computing research manager at IDC.

“We’ve been encouraging PC OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to develop an expertise in software, and obviously that’s difficult for a hardware OEM, but this partnership with Adobe for this more tightly integrated hardware/software solution is a step in the right direction in terms of bringing a unique experience to the consumer,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“From a hardware perspective, the industry continues to innovate, and certain players are very good at innovating. However, increasingly these systems are looking very similar. They all use the same guts. They all use the same suppliers, and in many cases they all use the same strategy. The window of opportunity to differentiate is closing, but there is plenty of room on the software side to create a unique experience whether it through an interface or through applications you bundle with the system,” Shim explained.

The multimedia-focused PC is also a recognition by Dell of an increasing trend among consumers, said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates.

“The bundling of the Adobe Elements Studio is a real acknowledgment of the growing presence among consumers of what we call ‘creative computing consumers’ who are active in media creation, editing and sharing.”

A study conducted by Parks Associates found that among broadband users is a large percentage of media consumers who reported being active in digital photography applications, Scherf told TechNewsWorld. “The fact that the display embeds Web camera capability” with the MiniView display “is an acknowledgment that consumers are communicating in new ways.”

Bobbing for Apple?

The 420 also represents the first PC that attempts to provide consumers with a software experience more analogous to that provided by Apple’s Mac computers, which have shipped with the company’s iLife bundled software for years.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Apple set the standard for selling a system that comes with everything that consumers need to hit the ground running with media creation and sharing. So, yes, I would imagine that this is set up as an alternative to a Mac,” Scherf acknowledged.

“The Macs are probably a lot of where this is coming from,” Shim explained. “Folks are looking at what Apple has done with its Macs, and they are saying ‘OK, this is a good template for how tightly integrated software and hardware can lead to success in the industry.”

Gaming PCs that have been around for a several years are a very good example of a successful PC customization and software integration, John Barrett, a Parks Associates analyst, told TechNewsWorld. They also point to an effort by the industry to take advantage of the power in today’s computers.

“Most people have more PC than they really need in terms of storage, CPU and all of that,” he explained. “It is the dirty little secret in the industry, is that people keep going out and they buy PCs with more and more clock speed, cycle speed and all of that, and really at the end of the day our surveys suggest they’re hoping that will make their Internet faster.”

In order to continue to sell high-end computers, manufacturers need to give consumers a reason because “only so many people are going to go out and buy the increasingly powerful high-end computers if they are only checking their e-mail,” Barrett continued.

“Gaming chews up a lot of processing speed, and video editing is something else that uses up a lot of horsepower. Unlike gaming, video editing is popular among a wider segment of society. What you’re seeing is Dell taking the high-end computer and [trying to appeal to a broader audience].”

Over the next several years, gradually consumers will see more and more offerings from manufacturers targeted at specific PC buyers, Shim said.

“It’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it without upsetting the current ecosystem,” Shim stated. “What we will likely see is OEMs trying to create a balance and attract enough new customers with entry level systems while selling highly configured, more expensive systems to [more tech-savvy users].

“We’ll see greater diversity of price point and features from the low end to the high end, and as consumers become more educated about what these high-end systems offer versus these low-end systems, I think they will have to decide for themselves if that experience is worth the additional money. That makes the idea of creating a unique experience that much more significant,” he concluded.

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