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New XP Media Center gets dedicated PC range

Microsoft has launched its Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system alongside a new range of Hewlett-Packard Media Center PCs.

Windows XP Media Center Edition can be operated via remote control, allowing consumers to use their PCs as the nerve centre of their multimedia equipment. The operating system will let users watch DVD movies, manage digital audio and video files, and play, pause and record live television.

The software is now available in North America with three new HP desktops. The HP Media Center PCs come with Intel's Pentium 4 processors and nVidia's GeForce4 MX420 graphics card, and special keyboards for access to select entertainment applications. The PCs also feature five USB 2.0 ports and two IEEE 1394 ports for peripheral and video downloads, respectively.

The HP Media Center PC is likely to be a niche product, appealing to college students and those seeking consolidated multimedia features, said IDC analyst Al Promisel. "We're not going to see big sales volume," he said.

However, Promisel praised the system's ease of use, and said the price is reasonable for the range of features offered. An HP spokeswoman declined to comment on HP's sales forecast for the Media Center PC.

While the new PC range was officially introduced yesterday (29 October), units have been available at some stores throughout the past week, as HP allowed retailers to begin selling the PCs as they arrived. The HP Media Center PC was the number one best-selling PC in Comp USA stores this weekend, HP and Microsoft executives said.

Steve Louro, general manager of a CompUSA store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that's among the chain's busiest, said shopper interest in the HP Media Center PC has been strong.

"It just stands out," he said. Consumers tend not to pay attention to PC brands, but the HP Media Center PC "is really, obviously different" from other models crowding the shelves, he said.

While no other partnerships have been announced, HP is not the only vendor that will be building PCs around the Windows XP Media Center Edition, said Jodie Cadieux, marketing manager for Microsoft's Windows eHome Division.

"They were the most enthusiastic about getting a product to the market," she said. While Microsoft is not disclosing details on any other development deals or devices, more are on the way, Cadieux said.

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