The rise of the Media Center PC may finally be at hand.
The music and video-oriented PCs, which are based on Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP Media Center Edition, are showing signs of life, thanks to efforts by Microsoft and PC makers such as Dell Inc.—which will roll out several new Media Center models later this month—Gateway Inc., and Hewlett-Packard Co.
Media Center desktops, which are at the center of many PC makers digital home strategies, have come down in price from around $2,000 at their introduction in 2002 to closer to $700, recently, thanks to Microsoft relaxing a requirement for selling the machines (which come with a special user interface for accessing multimedia) with a television tuner card.
The lower prices—right now, a TV tuner adds around $100 to the price of a PC—have made the machines more appealing to consumers, sparking retail sales, analysts say.
That move, led by Gateway Inc., which began installing Media Center on all of its Gateway-brand desktops sold at retail this past summer, brought responses from HP and Dell. Gateway-brand machines generally start at $699.
Now, between a raft of new and lower-priced media center models expected from companies like Dell for the holiday season, greater availability of Media Center notebooks and the early 2006 launch of Intel Corp.s Viiv brand—pronounced "vive," the brand will promote high-performance home PCs based on Intels dual-core processors and Microsofts Media Center—in addition to Microsofts forthcoming Windows Vista operating system, at least one analyst believes the category is headed toward a growth spurt.
Shipments will rise from less than 5 million this year to top 50 million units in 2009, Roger Kay, president of EndPoint Technologies Associates, wrote in a new report released this week.
"Home buyers want PCs primarily for communications and entertainment. That is, I think, why Media Center functionality is a space that wants to be filled. Its because home users, whether they watch TV with it or not, are entertaining themselves with a PC," Kay said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet.
"A lot of people just use PCs as DVD players. But they want a nice interface for that. Theoretically, if there was zero premium [for the Media Center OS], itd be on 100 percent of home PCs."
Dell will be one of the leaders in the next wave of Media Center PCs. The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker is expected to launch four new Media Center PCs, later this month, under its XPS brand.
XPS has become Dells new brand for premium desktops and notebooks, a move the company hinted about earlier this year.