Digital Content Is the Next Big Thing for PCs

People will always consider design, price and other bells and whistles when buying a new PC. But content will soon weigh just as heavily, experts predict.

NEW YORK—Sleek hardware, such as Apple Computer Inc.s new iMac G5 and video iPod, Hewlett-Packard Co.s Digital Entertainment Centers and slim Pavilion 7210n, and even Microsoft Corp.s Xbox 360—a hit among young and old who crowded the Microsoft booth on the first afternoon of the DigitalLife show, a three-day consumer technology and entertainment exposition here—all offer looks, prices and computing power to woo consumers this holiday season.

Those systems, all of which were shown on the opening day of DigitalLife, emphasized sleek design and aggressive prices. DigitalLife is being produced by Ziff Davis Media, the parent company of Ziff Davis Internet.

But where price and design remain key factors in new products successes, the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of todays consumers is increasingly being waged with content.

HPs latest Digital Entertainment Center z556, for example, will sell for $1,499 with twin high-definition tuners, a price that Ameer Karim, product marketing manager for HPs consumer PCs and DEC products, said competitors will find difficult to match. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360, which will hit the market on Nov. 22, will start at between $299 and $399.

Apple, which has made a name for itself in music with the iPod, has coupled its new iMac G5, which starts at $1,299, with a new application dubbed Front Row. Front Row allows the iMac, announced last Wednesday, to more easily access, find and manage multimedia, including online content, such as music videos and ABC television programs. The companys new video-capable iPod, which starts at $299, can play many of the same files.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read why Apples latest iPod wont compete with traditional TV or movies.

Just about any consumer can access music videos from Fat Boy Slim or Kanye West via Apples iTunes Music Store, which works on both the Mac and PC. But only those who purchase a new iMac G5 will gain Front Row, whose special, remote-control-driven interface is designed to make accessing iTunes music, DVD videos, photos and other multimedia simpler.

Experts predict that consumers will begin to consider the types of content available and the ability to manage them more carefully before they pony up for a new machine.

The decision to buy an Xbox 360, for example, might seem fairly cut and dry. The availability of popular game titles is typically the main driver of interest in any game console. However, Microsoft has equipped the new Xbox with the ability to access content, including videos, shows and even news from MTV, thanks to a built-in Media Center Extender. The extender software links the console to a PC based on the companys latest Windows XP Media Center Edition software, announced Friday.

PCs based on the latest version of the Media Center software can now access a wide range of online content, including MTV Overdrive, the companys online channel. Several others, including the Discovery Channel, Fox Sports and MovieLink LLC, are also offering previews, downloads and other content for the new Media Centers via the Media Center Start pages Online Spotlight menu.

Peter Moore, vice president of worldwide marketing and publishing for Microsofts Home and Entertainment Division, showed off the new Media Center feature during his Xbox 360-focused keynote on Friday morning.

/zimages/6/28571.gifConsumers are impressed by the expanded multimedia features of Microsofts upcoming Xbox 360. Click here to read more.

Christened Update Rollup 2, the software will be preloaded on many machines—including the least expensive desktop Media Center models, which sell for as little as $599 and come without TV tuners or high-end graphics—to tap the new content-oriented features. Existing Media Center owners can download the update via Microsofts online Windows Update tool.

That content, whether games or MTV programs, could make or break future decisions, according to some younger consumers who attended DigitalLife.

"With the multimedia apps, Xbox 360 is much better than anything Ive seen before," said show attendee Kendal Roberts, 17, in an interview near the Microsoft booth on Friday.

Although hes likely to buy both the latest Xbox and the forthcoming PlayStation 3 from Sony, "Its the combination of better graphics, new games and these multimedia add-ons that make the [Xbox] stuff pretty cool," Roberts said.

The Xbox 360 must be used in combination with a Media Center PC to access the content, however.

Next Page: Methods to lure enthusiasts.